On Tuesday, Michael Waltrip Racing announced that Brian Vickers would be the full-time driver of the No. 55 Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2014. Since the beginning of the 2012 season, Vickers has shared driving duties in the No. 55 with Mark Martin and car owner Michael Waltrip. Also in 2013, he made a full-time return to the Nationwide Series, driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
On Wednesday, Vickers participated in a NASCAR teleconference to discuss, among other things, his full-time gig with MWR, this upcoming weekend’s Nationwide race at Mid-Ohio, and some of the obstacles he’s faced in his racing career. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. Tuesday was a big day in your career. Has it set in yet that you will be driving for MWR in the Sprint Cup Series for the next two seasons?
BRIAN VICKERS: I don’t think it has actually. I mean, it’s one of those things similar to the win in Loudon: it just takes time for it to settle in and appreciate all that it is.
I can’t thank everyone at MWR, starting with Michael and Rob, obviously the ownership, leaders of that team, as well as the management, Ty, et cetera. Also Rodney and all the guys from the team that have made it possible for us to run well enough that Aaron’s wants to come back.
It’s a phenomenal partnership that Michael has cultivated over the last 14 years. I’m honored to be a part of it moving forward and be a part of the family.
It’s thrilling for me, especially after everything that’s happened. If everything in the last 10 or so years in my NASCAR career had gone perfect, it would still be a thrilling opportunity. Very thankful and excited about the future.
Q. Switching gears to the Nationwide Series, what are you looking forward to being part of the inaugural race at Mid-Ohio this weekend?
BRIAN VICKERS: So much. I’ve always heard good things about the racetrack. Seems like a really fun place. Unfortunately I’ve never been there so it’s going to be a bit of a challenge for everyone. We’ll have time on the track Thursday.
Something else I’m looking forward to is what Nationwide is doing with their children’s hospital, how it’s going to be part of the race. A lot of the drivers are going to have some young kids riding with us, figuratively so to speak, on the right side door.
Beau is a young man that is going to be riding with us this weekend. We’re going to help raise some money, as well. You can find the link. I believe it’s NationwideKids.org/BrianVickers. I’m going to match the donations up to $2,000 and try to get some great money for a great cause.
Besides just going to a really cool racetrack, what Nationwide is doing for their children’s hospital is one of the coolest parts of this upcoming weekend.
Q. Brian, when you reach the top level, you’re generally good at adjusting to a lot of things. In the course of your time period of coming up, you’ve had to adjust to way more than a lot of people have with the physical problems you had. Could you mention how you’ve gotten over that, share a little bit with others out there that need some of your inspiration.
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, it’s been a long road. I think not to make it too simple, but don’t ever give up. You never know what the future holds. You never know what’s coming next.
It’s tough. That’s part of life. There’s always going to be ups and downs. You’ve just got to keep digging and not give up.
For me, I certainly can’t take all the credit, because it’s been the support of my family, the qualities my parents instilled in me, the support of them and my friends that have helped through all that, surrounding yourself with good people that have your back no matter what, that love you unconditionally, support you through the tough times, whether they’re out of your control or maybe they were in your control.
That’s probably one of the biggest things. I’ve been fortunate to find some quality people and have a great family. No matter what, you just can’t give up. Just keep fighting, keep digging, try to keep a positive attitude the best you can.
You’re not always going to have that, but you just do your best, have faith that the tides will turn.
Q. As far as all the people at Michael Waltrip Racing, can you mention how that is, transitioning into that.
BRIAN VICKERS: It’s been fantastic. The last two years have been a special time in my career. A lot of people have viewed it as, man, that sucks, only being able to run eight or nine times a year. But I’ve seen it as a blessing.
Not how I would have planned it, but it’s a good thing, right? If left to our plans, we would usually mess them up.
I’m thankful for everything I’ve gone through. In hindsight, the expansion has been good for me. Last year I got to race all over the world, meet new people, drive new cars, new racetracks, something I never would have done if I would have been racing full-time.
Also led me to partner with Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip. It’s something I wouldn’t have taken otherwise had it not been for the trials and tribulations in my life. It’s been a blessing.
Mark is just a phenomenal person. Been a great mentor. He’s gone through a lot in his life. Leaning on him, having someone to lean on like that, and Michael as well, both of them have been great for me. It’s led to this opportunity now for two more years. Being full-time this go-around, hopefully we can fight for a championship.
Also working with a Rodney Childers, he’s been phenomenal. We’ve raced together, raced against each other. We wanted to work together in NASCAR for a long time. Working with him now only makes me wish we would have done it sooner.
But things happen for a reason. He has a great group of guys, a great team there in the 55 Dream Machine. We’re excited to go forward, try to chase for some more wins and a championship.
Q. Brian, I had a conversation with Jeff Burton yesterday about how taxing Martinsville can be on a driver. Given the scope of the tracks that you have had the opportunity to race throughout the world, what track tends to be more taxing either mentally or physically for you?
BRIAN VICKERS: The next one (laughter).
I think they’re all taxing in their own way. They’re all unique.
I mean, Martinsville is a tough racetrack. I love that place. First place I ever drove a stockcar. I raced late models there, now NASCAR Sprint Cup cars. I mean, Bristol is tough. Daytona, Talladega are tough. They’re tough for a different reason, right? It’s different physical loads, different mental aspects that it takes to win there, how you approach it.
You know, Daytona, mentally it’s just grueling. You can’t let your guard down the whole time. By itself I don’t want to say ‘easy’ is the right word, but someone with experience with racing it’s easy. But drafting in racing is one of the most difficult things.
Racing in the rain at Spa, racing in the rain at Le Mans is equally as tough. Going down the backstretch in Le Mans with not great headlights at 180 miles an hour with a bunch of other cars on a two-lane road, a European narrow two-lane road, in the trees with no light, and it’s raining, you really don’t know what’s on the road ahead of you, you’re approaching the next corner at 180, that’s tough.
The first time you go through that experience, especially coming from NASCAR where we’re used to having spotters, that was tough.
Like I said, not trying to avoid the question, but really the next race is the most taxing because they’re all difficult in their own way, they’re all challenging.
I think that’s what makes our sport so special. We go to so many amazing tracks with such a diversity and the challenges for the drivers and the teams that it makes it very competitive and always an eventful place.
Q. Brian, it’s an interesting weekend for you that you don’t have to be in Michigan to face the media. You get to be in Mid-Ohio, face a track that you’ve got to learn a lot about. What does that mean to you in being away from the media as far as having to be in Michigan?
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, I love the media’s participation in our sport. The fans are what make our sport special, and it’s the media that gets the information to the fans, delivers the messages they’re looking for. I have no problem with the media, as you mentioned. It’s not that.
But I am excited about getting to Mid-Ohio, going to a new racetrack, a new challenge at a track with such history. Again, I haven’t been there, but it looks like a really cool place.
There will be pretty of media there, especially with what Nationwide is doing with their children’s hospital.
Q. How much was Mark Martin actually involved in the procedure that moved you up into that car full-time starting next year?
BRIAN VICKERS: That’s a great question and probably a better question for him and the folks at MWR. I can’t thank him enough for this. He’s not only been an encouragement and support for me, he’s been an advocate, to my knowledge, behind the scenes. I can’t really speak to say what he has or hasn’t said or done or hasn’t done. But I’ve had many people come to me and say, Wow, Mark has been saying good things about you. That means a lot. Someone that carries so much respect in this sport, anytime they have something positive to say, people listen, especially to a guy like Mark Martin.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR