BRIAN VICKERS, No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
What was your feeling entering the race track today? "Great. It just felt like being back at home. It was probably more strange last night showing up for the first time at Bristol -- for your first race at Bristol instead of Daytona than it really was this morning. This morning was just my normal routine. I really have to thank the guys that have worked with me for that and everyone has just made it feel that way."
Were you surprised that you weren't racing at Daytona? "Yes and no. There was definitely a part of me that was like, 'Wow, this is the first time I have not been in Daytona in a very, very long time.' There was definitely a sense -- there was a lot of emotions going through that experience, but I don't know if surprised, but surprised was definitely part of it. Some of it was -- there was opportunities there, but it was my choice to wait for the right fit. I believe I found it at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). I really enjoy it. I've spent some time at the shop the last couple of weeks and I've known Rodney (Childers, crew chief) for 20 years. I really feel at home here."
How long have you known Rodney Childers? "He probably remembers more than I do -- that's how early it started. I was so young, but Rodney (Childers, crew chief) was part of a group that we all kind of worked together, raced together with manufacturers that we all drove for in karting. Details are a little fuzzy. I remember the big picture stuff, but I was like nine, 10, 11 years old so it was a long time ago for me. Maybe we'll have to get Rodney in on these conversations."
What are your expectations for the six races with Michael Waltrip Racing? "We expect to do well. Rodney's (Childers, crew chief) got a really good car and a good setup for this race track. It's very similar to what I drove in the fall race last year with some stuff that Kenny (Francis) was working on. We were second fastest in practice. We ended up getting in that wreck early in the race. I think the 31 (Jeff Burton) car lost a tire or blew a motor or something on the front stretch and there was like 12 cars in the crash and it was early in the race. That kind of ruined our day. I was really happy with the car. I'm looking forward to it. Our goal is to go out and win the race."
Do you feel like you have to go out and prove yourself in these six races? "I guess if that's how they look at it. I'm sure that's how some people are maybe viewing the situation. For me, it's just to go out there and have fun and try to win. Some people have called it my second chance, but it's really my third or more. When I really think about it, with how thankful I am with all the experiences that have happened in my life -- racing with a couple good teams to Red Bull winning and being in the Chase and being in the hospital the next year and not knowing if I was ever going to race again. Then getting a second chance ride there and now getting really a third chance. Very grateful for all those chances and opportunities."
Do you think the events at Martinsville last year damaged your reputation? "I don't know. I guess it's really a better question for them (other drivers). That didn't seem to be -- the people I spoke to, it wasn't a factor, but maybe to some people it was. For me, that was 2011 and this is 2012."
Has the economy been a factor for you in finding a ride? "I think so. There's been a lot of opportunities where I've worked with owners and we've been really close to putting something together and there's been a lot of interest and they've been very excited, but the sponsorship hasn't come through. That's probably been the biggest factor was really the sponsorship side more than anything. That's really been my personal focus is focusing on is to go get money. That's where a lot of my time has been spent. I wasn't at Vegas because I was going to a meeting about sponsorship. I was in Daytona, but I wasn't there the whole time because of the same thing and same for Phoenix. It's great to walk around the garage and talk to a lot of the owners and a lot of the people on the teams, but that's something I've been doing whether it's in person or on the phone or in the shops in Charlotte or here at the track. Really, the ball is not in their court. They need sponsorship. That's really been my focus."
Have you had to learn how to go after sponsorships? "It was a part of my life early in my career -- a big part of it. Then when I went to Hendrick, it was less of a factor. It was obviously important -- sponsorship is always important, but that was a time in the sport when the sport kind of sold itself. If you were in a good car with a good team, it was just there. Red Bull -- they owned and sponsored the team so it was a non- issue as long as they were happy. I enjoyed that, but the Red Bull lifestyle is not one that is always appealing to other sponsors. It was enjoyable at times for me, but there was a lot of things and the way they presented the drivers that was maybe less appealing to corporate sponsors. Overcoming that a little bit and I had to start over again or reinvent myself from a sponsorship standpoint. I've been working hard on that for the last three months. Really, that should have been my focus and we've come really close. I actually had a letter of intent signed on two deals -- two sponsorship deals that were good to go and they ended up not coming through. That's how close we've been at certain times to putting together something really great. Then again, we're in position right now that we're really close to putting something together."
What did it feel like to watch a race at home? "It was a different feeling. It was -- it was mostly similar. It was a mostly similar experience. To a small extent, different because one was completely out of my control and one was somewhat in my control. There was definitely some factors that were out of my control coming into this year and there were some choices that I made where I could have been here or chose not to, but it just wasn't the right feel."
What are your plans for Sunday's race? "I just want to go racing. Honestly, what's the worst that can happen? I'm not going to have a job? For me, it's just go out there and have fun and just enjoy the experience. I've been through this a couple times now where I don't know if I'm going to race again. I think I'm going to. Through all these experiences, I'v e had -- I've always felt in my heart that I was going to race again, but the fact is you never know for sure, so I'm just grateful for this opportunity. I can't thank Michael Waltrip (team owner), and Rob Kauffman (team owner) and everyone on this team -- the 55. I've got to thank Mark Martin for choosing not to run the whole year and I'm truly, truly blessed and excited to have this opportunity to be in a winning car with a group of people that I get to know -- I haven't spent a lot of time with Rob just yet, more Michael for a long time -- spent some time with them and really the shop that they built. You can learn a lot about people by not even as much spending time with them, but who works for them, who do they hire, who are the people they surround themselves with and I'd say that after spending a couple of weeks in the MWR race shop -- it has been a really pleasant experience. They've got some really good people there. I always kind of bring up Rodney (Childers, crew chief) because I've known him for 20 years -- I've known him since I was nine years old -- and he helped me as a kid start my career. He probably knows more about my racing than anyone in this garage. He's seen it all and we actually tried for a long time to work together in a lot of different areas and now we're getting that opportunity."
Did Red Bull push your extreme image? "I did it for a reason at the time and Red Bull really pushed it and it was what they wanted. I guarantee if you ask any driver in this garage, 'Have they ever done something they didn't want to do for a sponsor because it's what they wanted,' of course -- I would say most guys in this garage. It's what our sport is built on -- sponsorship. The teams can't survive without it and you can't get to the race track without it, so what Red Bull wanted and what Aaron's wants and what another one wants is just all different."
What was the effect of the Maxim magazine article? "Well that was completely a lie anyway. I could have sued them if I really wanted to. I chose not to because I think it was only going to drag the experience out, but I had three witnesses for that interview and every one of them would attest in court that most, if not all, of that article was completely made up. It wasn't even -- some of it was exaggerated. Most of it was just blatant lies. The quotes weren't even real quotes. I think he said something at one time in the article about scotch on the rocks and I've never drank scotch in my life ever. I have no idea where that came from. He just made it up. I think he thought it made the article sound good, so he ran with it. In that particular scenario, the extreme one that you're referring to, that had nothing to do with me or Red Bull. That was just Maxim being Maxim. They just -- they write what they want to write and he was a freelance writer anyway, so I'm not sure there's a lot -- what was I really going to do, you know?"
What did you do to combat the perception of the article? "What are you going to do? I came out and said after the article that it wasn't true, but people are going to believe what they want to believe. People believe -- ultimately, at the end of the day, people believe what they want to believe and what kind of fits for them. The truth a lot of times doesn't have anything to do with it. As far as like sky diving and some of those experiences, yeah, I love sky diving. Did I sky dive when I was at Hendrick? No, because that's not what GMAC wanted. Did I sky dive at Red Bull? Absolutely. Did I swim with sharks? Yeah, because that's what they wanted. GMAC wanted me to do an appearance at a dealership. Red Bull wanted me to swim with sharks. Did I enjoy both? It was kind of part of the deal. Did I enjoy sky diving and scuba diving? Yeah, of course. Would I rather be at a test at Nashville for two days with the race team learning more about the race car? Yeah, but that's not what they wanted. They wanted to be sky diving. That was what was important to them, so it just is part of the sport."