DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It took a year for Brian Vickers to fulfill a promise to skydive into the Daytona International Speedway, but like everything else in his year-long recovery from blood clots and a hole in his lung, he made his return in spectacular fashion Wednesday.
The promise was more important to the 27 year-old driver than the speedway. His bucket list was a return to normalcy, all the daredevil things that used to fuel his passion for speed and excitement.
By jumping from an airplane and landing in the rain along the grassy infield portion at the finish line, he scratched another item from his list – and took another step to being alive.
“It’s the same reason why I race cars at 200 mph,” Vickers said. “I love the adrenalin rush, the excitement of it, the energy behind it. It’s something I always wanted to do, but was never allowed to when I drove for other companies. When Red Bull presented the opportunity and said, ‘Hey do you want to go skydiving?’ I jumped at it.”
Vickers not only skydives and drives the No. 83 Toyota for Red Bull Racing in the Sprint Cup Series, spends time away from the track climbing rocks and riding mountain bikes. Next on his list is bullfighting.
“It would be impossible to go through an experience like that and not appreciate things a little more,” he said. “It’s not I didn’t appreciate life before or appreciate the things I was able to do, but when it’s all taken away from you, you really appreciate it. You really learn what’s important, and there are some things that aren’t important anymore; there are a lot of things that aren’t important.”
Vickers abruptly left the sport after 11 races a year ago after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs and leg. He missed the final 25 races while recovering from surgery to his heart, but he was able to return to racing this year at the season-opening Daytona 500.
Jumping from an airplane was another step in his recovery.
“This one’s been a long time coming and I think that’s what increases the significance of it for me is we had it planned last year,” Vickers said. “To be able to come back and finish what we started was pretty special. And it wasn’t pretty.
The jump was delayed by rain. Vickers finally decided to jump anyway, sliding on the infield grass and doing a barrel-roll before bouncing to his feet and raising both arms in celebration. There were 50 people watching, including a group of 25 fans who were taking a tour of the speedway.
“The only problem is sticking the landing when you’re sliding through water, mud, grass, tarps – there’s tarps out there,” Vickers said. “It’s not the first time someone’s barrel-rolled through the frontstretch at Daytona.”
Vickers was helping Daytona sell tickets to the July 2 Coke Zero 400.
“A group of us sat down and came up with skydiving into a race track,” he said. “That’s one way to bring attention to the race. It’s a special race. Any race at Daytona is special.
“It’s definitely a little outside the box. Red Bull was fully behind it. They were encouraging it; they love this kind of stuff. If you’re up for doing it; they’re up for helping.”
From 5,000 feet Vickers said the massive 2.5-mile infield looked small. Adding to the thrill were grandstands, light poles, an infield lake, a garage area, pit road and scoring towers that could have affected his landing. But he hit his mark, although some of it was with his rear end.
And in the process, found a way to embrace life a little more.