The idea behind talking to Brian Vickers was to point out that not long ago he was one of NASCAR’s brightest young stars, and then he nearly died — twice — from blood clots in his lungs and legs, caused by a condition called deep vein thrombosis. And so now at age 30 he’s sort of on the comeback trail.
Vickers, who will drive the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip in today’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, held off Kyle Busch to win his third Sprint Cup race in September. So the comeback’s going well. And he’s finally off the blood thinners.
Before stepping into his comfy motorcoach, I was cautioned that Vickers sometimes speaks in paragraphs. I didn’t know what to make of that. Then I found out.
He addressed the things I wanted to talk about — the blood clots, the comeback, the new perspective on life, the not sweating the little things so much. And then he talked, at length, about philosophy.
Not philosophy on the racetrack, such as the value of making a late pit stop for fresh rubber versus staying out for track position, but the traditional kind of philosophy. The philosophy espoused by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, aka Seneca the Younger, the Roman philosopher and statesman who was born around 1 BC. Or roughly two days after Mark Martin.
Brian Vickers of Thomasville, N.C., with condominiums in New York and Daytona Beach, has read these essays and letters. Sometimes he quotes from them. When he started quoting from “The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca” a wise guy asked if he borrowed that book from Clint Bowyer.
Vickers pulled out his cellphone to read what he had texted a friend who is battling cancer.
“You cannot fear what is next, only continue to push forward; every breath is a blessing for all of us. You and I have the pleasure of knowing how precious they really are.”
That was Brian Vickers. This is Lucius Annaeus Seneca, as read by Vickers in his saved text messages:
“Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardship of life. They are unwilling to live and yet they do not know how to die. For this reason, make life as a whole agreeable to yourself by banishing all worry about it.”
“For our powers can never inspire in us implicit faith except when many difficulties have confronted us. It is only in this way that the true spirit can be tested, the spirit that will never consent to come under the jurisdiction of things external to ourselves.”
Vickers continued to read aloud.
“This is the touchstone of such a spirit. No prize fighter can go with high spirits into the strife if he has never been beaten black and blue. The only contestant who can confidently enter the list is the man who has seen his own blood, who has felt his teeth rattle beneath his opponent’s fist, who has been tripped or felt the full force of his adversary’s charge, who has been downed in body but not in spirit — one who has often as he falls, rises again with greater defiance than ever.”
That, too, was Lucius Annaeus Seneca of ancient Rome.
This was Anthony Wayne “Tony” Stewart of Columbus, Ind., talking about his new Mobil 1 commercial:
“They asked me what my favorite movie was just in casual conversation one day … I said ‘Smokey and the Bandit.’”
This is not to disparage Tony Stewart, because you’ve gotta love his relentless style, how he charges to the front and says what’s on his mind. This is just to illustrate there are two sides to a NASCAR grid. And when it comes to off-track pursuits, Smoke is one side, and Brian Vickers is on another side.
He credits his parents for that.
His father, Clyde, was a business owner, an entrepreneur, Brian said. Before that, he was a used car salesman. His mother, Ramona, was an office assistant, a secretary.
His parents did not finish college, but it was his father who insisted he get good grades, or Brian wouldn’t be allowed to drive around in circles at a high rate of speed.
Vickers said he doesn’t play video games; he reads four hours every day. He skydives, he skis, he jumps off cliffs, he hikes back country, he rock climbs. This was the first offseason in a long time that he didn’t go skiing.
“You don’t want to hit a tree on blood thinners,” he said.
He recently got married to his girlfriend, Sarah Kensington; they went to southeast Asia on their honeymoon. Wanting to better relate to the people he would encounter, Vickers read the teachings of Buddha. He found many similarities between Buddhism and the Bible.
“The lessons are ultimately similar, but Buddha is pretty much to the point,” he said, continuing to blow my mind to bits.
“Buddha is pretty much ‘Don’t touch fire,’ whereas the Bible is ‘This once, there was a man going through the wilderness, and he sat by a fire camp, and he accidentally touched fire, and he found that it burned his hand.’ There’s this whole story to it.
“Buddha, it’s a quick read, you can read the whole teachings of Buddha in the time it takes to read Genesis. Well, maybe not that quick. But it’s pretty quick, an easy read.”
No one will ever charge Vickers with being one of those.
The speedway folks put out a news release that said Jonathan Goldsmith, “The Most Interesting Man in the World” according to those beer commercials, will serve as grand marshal of the Kobalt 400 today.
All I know is he better bring his A-game, because Brian Vickers is starting ninth.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.