THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 55 MyClassicGarage Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. Vickers has racked up two Top 5 finishes in three starts this season in the No. 55 car and most recently at Sonoma where he finished 4th. His next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start is this Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a track where he owns two Top 5 finishes and one pole.
Brian, you have spent a lot of time in the past few months racing and testing in Europe. Most recently after the 24 hours of LeMans. Can you talk about what it’s been like transitions back and forth from sports cars to stock cars and how it’s helped you gain experience as a driver?
BRIAN VICKERS: Absolutely. First of all, thanks for having me on. I’m super excited to be back in the car this weekend at Loudon and really pumped to have MyClassicCarGarage.Com on the car. It’s something new that essentially is an extension similar to RK Motors. It’s an online personal assistant to manage your cars and everything. It’s a pretty incredible site.
But enough of that. I’m just pumped to be back in the car, period, especially not running full-time now. I can’t thank MWR and the whole team, and Rodney and the 55 crew and Toyota enough for the opportunity. It hasn’t been often, but we’ve made it quality. Just by the effort of everyone at MWR. They’re really running great this year.
Couple that with my experience in Europe, essentially when this year started out, and I read I wasn’t going to be full-time, I love racing so much that I had to figure out how to be in a race car. If it wasn’t in NASCAR or wasn’t in the States, so be it. So I started going down the list, and I had some time off. Now what? Last time I had time off, I was in a hospital bed. So it wasn’t really quite the same time off.
This time I had an opportunity to kind of draw out a list of all the races and cars I ever wanted to drive. Obviously, I didn’t get through all of them as of yet, anyway. But I did get through some of them. I had an opportunity to drive some really cool stuff, and some amazing tracks in Europe from Spa, to Mugello, and Le Mans, and down the list.
24 Hours of Le Mans was a very special race. It was up there with some of the big guys on the top shelf like Daytona and Indy. Just an incredible, amazing experience. I can’t thank, of course, Ferrari, and Rob and RK motors and everyone enough for that opportunity. I feel like I learned a lot from it.
I had to learn how to drive new cars on new tracks, but some of that transitions back over into the States and into NASCAR and some of it didn’t. Some of it I had to unlearn, actually. All in all it was a positive and a great life experience.
Q. My question involved what you have going on in the Cup series with Michael Waltrip Racing. When you went to Bristol, a track where you had led one lap at before, and all of a sudden you lead 125 laps and finish Top 5 in this part-time deal, was there a point during the race where you were so surprised how well you were able to run just stepping into that car?
BRIAN VICKERS: In the Cup series, let me say this, that I think almost any driver would tell you that in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in the competition, it is so intense that any weekend that you go lead the majority of the race that many laps, you’re like, wow. You’re kind of saying to yourself, I don’t care who you are — maybe not Jimmie Johnson, but anyone else — you know, especially when I haven’t been in the car for a while. It’s a testament to the effort by so many people, not just me, but more so everyone at MWR and Toyota. I mean, Rodney and all the guys in the 55 car put an incredible car underneath me, and it made driving Bristol easy.
Q. It seems you’ve got a great thing going right now. You’re running well and get to do all the other racing and what not. But when you start to hear about all the different things going on with race teams and possible seats and all of that, do you react to those things? Do you have someone contacting these organizations? How active are you at looking to get back into a full-time deal?
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, it’s a combination of everything. The answer is yes. At the moment I can’t stress enough how thankful I am for Michael and Rob and everyone at MWR for the opportunity. I really felt like genuinely I found a home there.
I enjoy being there, and I’m thankful for that, and it showed. I think the performance in the car showed not just by myself, but my Mark and Clint and Martin and all the guys there even Michael in the car. Great run this past weekend from Michael and the 55.
So I’m enjoying what I’m doing. Would I want to do it more? Absolutely. When opportunities come up with other teams and I explain those opportunities, absolutely. And Michael and Rob understand that. I want to be there when they want me there, but circumstances don’t always allow that.
For me, I want to be in a race car and I want to win races and compete for a championship. That’s my goal. I just want to race. I think this year sometimes our series is so long and so drawn out that sometimes you forget that or it’s even lost in translation, if you feel or believe that.
Bu this year has been a great year for me for that, just enjoying the racing and driving everything I can get my hands on and making the most of it whether it’s in NASCAR or Europe or sports cars or whatnot. That’s my goal.
If opportunities open up somewhere else, I’m going to explore those, but I’m always going to be thankful to Michael and Rob for the opportunity they’ve given me and present them with the best opportunity that I can and do the best I can for them. Hopefully, I can stay. But if it works out other ways, then so be it.
Q. One of the tracks in our region is New Hampshire. Talk about coming to this part of the country, a place where you’ve raced well over the last few years? Talk about racing in New England at New Hampshire?
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, to start with your question, I always enjoy going to New Hampshire. I have some friends that live close by there and one guy in particular, Carl, I’ve known him since I was very, very young, and he helped me a lot throughout my racing career. He doesn’t live too far from the track.
So it’s always special to be there and it’s such a beautiful part of the country, particularly in the summer. The winters are a little cold, but in the summer, it’s absolutely gorgeous.
The track itself is a great track. I’ve always enjoyed racing there. I don’t know particularly why. I just like the track. It feels good. I like the racing. I think it takes a lot of finesse getting in and out of the corners. It’s really easy to overdrive. I like those kind of tracks. Like Darlington, it’s another track that takes a lot of finesse and it’s easy to overdrive. So maybe that’s why. I’m not sure. In general, New Hampshire’s always a race I look forward to.
Q. Racers and fans in this part of the country are close to their local home tracks. Whether it’s dirt and asphalt or something you’re familiar with, how important is that to a racing community and to building drivers for the future?
BRIAN VICKERS: I think it’s extremely important. And NASCAR has done a great job providing those opportunity as long with a lot of other series. They went on to the next series and on up, and that stepping stone process is important for not only the racers, but all the crew members and working in the same series. It’s great for the communities.
Sporting events are an integral part of the American culture. Racing has to be at the top of that list. Everyone talks about baseball and some of the other stick and ball sports, but you can’t deny that automobiles and its part in racing is an icon of the American culture.
Those short tracks that NASCAR and other series have built and continue to build and maintain and run make up a big part of that. It’s important in so many ways besides just drivers.
Q. One of those local tracks has mentioned to us here at WCAX that you could possibly make an appearance this weekend. Any interest in running any of the short tracks as you’re here for a big weekend in New Hampshire?
BRIAN VICKERS: To be completely honest, I have no idea what you’re referring to. You said someone mentioned to you something about something. I don’t know. You didn’t mention a particular track, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to. But in general my focus is going to be on the racetrack and Loudon and trying to win the Cup race. I’m not going to be racing anything else.
Q. Obviously you heard what happened with Allmendinger taking their medications or any sort of stuff, taking it, and he said that he didn’t knowingly take a good substance. So I’m just kind of curious on how much conversation you had with NASCAR.
BRIAN VICKERS: I haven’t had any conversations with them really about much at all. When they announced the drug policy, I understood it and I tried to abide the rules. Obviously, we eat and drink foods all day long, and I don’t take any substances or anything that I think you’re referring to that I think would be of any concern.
Since having heart surgery, I take a daily aspirin for heart health, but if that gets me knocked out, we’re all going to be in trouble.
Q. Did you get concerned about anything? I mean, obviously, especially with you traveling to other countries and recently to raise concern about maybe something that you would eat that you just went no? Or you’re not sure what might be in something that you’re eating?
BRIAN VICKERS: No, I don’t, not at all, whatsoever. I feel like NASCAR has proven over the years pretty consistently that they approach every situation with as much applied understanding and common sense as possible. I’m sure if it’s nothing, they’ll figure out that it’s nothing. If it’s something, they’ll figure out it’s something.
They have a good policy. I haven’t had any problems with it, and we’ll see. The truth is we don’t really have the information. You’re asking, I’m sure, some good questions that may need to be asked, but none of us have the information on the current topic or the situation. I think it’s very important that we just wait to find out what the results are, and what NASCAR has to say about it before we make any judgments about the policy.
In general, I don’t live in fear of eating food and drinking water and stuff.
Q. How much has Mark Martin or Michael Waltrip helped you in your career info-wise? Like car stuff and whatever, how much have you learned from them?
BRIAN VICKERS: I’ve learned a tremendous amount. I think that’s a great question. You know, it’s interesting. The older we get, the more we realize we don’t know anything. It seems like when you’re 18 you think you’re the smartest man alive and each year that goes by, you realize you know less and less and at the same time, you’re learning more and more.
This year has been one of those years for me working with Mark and communicating with him, talking with him throughout race weekends. We’re in the car, he’s in the car talking with Michael as well, but particularly Mark. Just what an incredible guy. He’s just given me some great advice.
It’s not complex stuff here. It’s not like he tells me how many shims to put in the right front bump stop. But it’s all those amazing years of experience of competing and winning that he’s put into the sport watching, listening, learning sharing that knowledge with me so much. I’m very thankful for it. I tell Mark all the time I appreciate it, and he’s modest about it as much as I’d like to be full-time in so many ways, things happen for a reason.
I couldn’t be happier with how the year has gone, not just from a performance standpoint. All the experience I’ve had from Mark and Michael.
Q. How much, if any, have you learned in the sports car series that helps you in the NASCAR racing, maybe on the road course as Sonoma?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, I’ve learned a lot racing in Europe from so many great phenomenal competitors that have helped me over there, from road racing to how they approach racing in general, the cars, and the tracks, and not just in the car, but out of the car. The crews in every team and every sport and every group has kind of a way of going about things. You find that there is no perfect solution. There are a lot of different ones. Some work better than others, and you kind of pick and choose the ones you really like. Bringing some of that knowledge back to NASCAR and the States I think has helped me.
The reverse is true too. I think it’s important to know too that I mean, wow, some of my experience in NASCAR and Michael has seen the same thing when he drove the car, when he drove sports car stuff, and a lot of the guys that have driven sports car stuff have taken knowledge from NASCAR to them. So it’s been a two way street. I feel like I’ve contributed to bringing some information to the teams I worked with in Europe, but they have contributed so much to me learn and growing as a driver and leader of a team and a road racer, and bringing that back to the States, particularly, obviously, the road racing really paid off at Sonoma.
Some of it is very different. Some of it I had to unlearn going into the race weekend, which is difficult to do. But overall, it was a positive in my performance at Sonoma?
Q. You struggled a little bit last year with team Red Bull, but since coming over to Michael Waltrip Racing, you’ve looked really good. You’ve been competitive. Finished Top 5 in two of the three races, and looked like you could win both of those. Besides changing teams, what else has been different for you this year as a driver?
BRIAN VICKERS: Every year that goes by you learn new things. Every time you’re on the racetrack, you’re learning something. If you’re not, that’s bad. You’re going in the wrong direction. In general, I’m the same driver that I have been in the past. It’s not like I — I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say I took a magic pill or anything going through the off-season.
I think as a person, you grow and evolve through life experiences, for sure. I’m not really doing anything in particular. I’m still kind of working with the team in the same way I always have and turning in the same race reports and trying to grow and get faster and build, and drive hard just like I always have. Sometimes it just clicks, and it just has this year.
It’s clicked for me. It’s clicked for Mark, working with the guys at MWR and particularly on the 55 car with all the guys on the team, the communications there. The cars have been really good when we unloaded, and we’ve made them better from already being good. That just leads to good runs. I think Mark is seeing the same thing in the car and Michael as well. Great run for him this past weekend.
There is never one piece of the puzzle. I’m sure everyone stepped their game up. It’s not like I’ve made them better. It’s not like they just made me better. It’s a combination of all of the above. It’s never one piece. It’s rarely ever one guy is my experience. I think everyone at MWR has stepped their game up this year, Toyota. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better. You combine all of that with good chemistry, and you get performance.
Q. You said earlier you’d like to run the full schedule this year. But being able to race without having to worry about points, is it fun being able to go out and race for the win or is there still that pressure of having to perform well to try to get a ride full-time for next year?
BRIAN VICKERS: I’ve always tried to go out on the racetrack, like my dad told me, and have fun. Do it because you love it and the success will come. I think that still applies.
Do I think about how important this particular race is or this event or this decision? Yeah, of course you think about those things. I’m not a person running for a driver’s championship, but the car’s running for an owner’s championship. There is no reason Mark, myself and Michael can’t go compete for an owner’s championship. So, yeah, you still think about those things and try to make those decisions.
Obviously, not competing for a driver’s championship and some things being different, maybe you rolled the dice a little bit more in some of your decisions, whether it be pit strategy or driving decisions. But in general, we’re out there trying to get the best finish we can every week and be consistent, and get the car up in owner’s points and have good finishes.
Like we talked about earlier, every time you’re on the racetrack — if I’ve learned anything in life, I can remember this interview and the one before this teleconference, but every day in life is an audition. Don’t think that you’re just auditioning at the end of a contract or when you don’t have one, because that’s not just for racing, that’s for anyone and everything in life. Every decision you make every day can make a big difference.
Now you’ve got to keep that in mind and kind of enjoy life. But every day is an audition, and that includes every driver on the racetrack, not just me.
Q. You mentioned your limited schedule with Michael Waltrip this year. I was curious about some of the other things. That and some of the other things that are on your racing calendar the rest of the year. Interested if you may be interested in doing the GRAND-AM race at Indy among other things? What is ahead for you?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yes, if you know of anything, let me know. I just want to race and make the most of this opportunity this year and just race and have fun and try to win. Obviously, the MWR races are a key component of that.
But some of this sports car stuff is a key part of it, trying to work on doing more races in Europe and here in the States. If an opportunity presented itself that fit for any race, for that matter, I would definitely consider it. Obviously, not every opportunity fits and not all for the same reason. Maybe it’s timing or chemistry or connection or budget or money or sponsors or conflicts, who knows what it could be, but, in general, I’m exploring all opportunities on the basis that if we can go win, let’s go. That’s about it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for joining us today, Brian. We wish you the best of luck this weekend in New Hampshire.
BRIAN VICKERS: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me, and looking forward to seeing all of you guys this weekend from Loudon.