In July of 2001 no one at the Milwaukee Mile knew that they were about to bear witness to the humble beginnings of a Busch Series Champion. The 2001 GNC Live well 250 marked the first series start for the 2003 Champion Brian Vickers. At...
In July of 2001 no one at the Milwaukee Mile knew that they were about to bear witness to the humble beginnings of a Busch Series Champion.
The 2001 GNC Live well 250 marked the first series start for the 2003 Champion Brian Vickers.
At age seventeen, Vickers started thirtieth, and managed to run just fifty-four laps before crashing out.
Driving for the family owned team, Vickers made three more starts that year, and twenty-one in 2002. Managing to graduate high School along the way, Vickers scored his career best finish and first ever top-ten at the fall Richmond event.
Vickers did not break any records in those first twenty- five races, but he met his primary goal, getting noticed.
At the encouragement of Ricky Hendrick, Ricky's father Rick Hendrick, powerhouse owner of Hendrick Motorsports sat down with the Thomasville, NC native after the season finale at Miami, and began to plan a future.
Within a month of that meeting, Hendrick Motorsports announced it had sighed the driver to his first full season ride, and all eyes were on the young driver and his championship chase.
Winning championships is nothing knew to Vickers, in his short life, he climbed to the top as National Champion in the World Karting Association. A title he would claim two more times. He also claimed the North Carolina go-Kart Championship five times before moving on to the Allison Legacy Series in 1998.
IN 1999, at age fifteen, Vickers began competing in the NASCAR weekly series, highlighted by wining six times, and being named Rookie of the Year, and Most popular Driver.
Next, he moved onto USAR Hooters Pro-Cup, again being named Rookie Of the Year, and finishing second in the overall points standing after his second full time season in 2001.
Vickers is the champion who almost wasn't. Team owner Rickey Hendrick makes no secret of the fact that he and his father had a different vision for the team.
"It was tough. I thought Brian had the talent to get the job done and that he had the whole package for the organization", said the younger Hendrick. "If you look at my stats and look at his stats, there was no comparison. My father already had somebody else on his mind and was getting pretty close to the contract."
Seeing the potential in Vickers, father and son, came to an understanding about who was running the team.
"He and I had a conversation and I pretty much told him that these were my cars and my deal, and if he wanted me to be a part of it then this was what I wanted to do", Hendrick said. " If not, and you want to choose your own driver, then you can go ahead but it'll be your deal. And either I was going to get written out of the will and written out of my job, or he was going to go with it. And he went with it."
Something that Vickers appreciates, but also gained respect for the young owner.
"To me, that was the day that Ricky became the car owner. The day that he stood up to his father, which is probably the hardest thing that a man can ever do, and said that this is the way he wanted it was the day he became the car owner. I'm proud of Ricky and what he's accomplished this year as a car owner. I had a lot of respect for him when we raced together. I hated to see him leave the sport but in the long run, it has seemed to work out the best for both of us."
Since teaming together, the Championship season is comprised of stats that any team would be proud of.
The team started in the top-ten twenty-three of thirty-four races. Scored three wins, thirteen top fives, and twenty-one top tens. The team only experienced three DNF'S.
One of which was from the season opener in Daytona, meaning the team started the season forty second in the points standing, and worked there way to number one.
Vickers will move on to the Nextel Cup series, and the Busch team will remain in tact and field cars for another young gun with a promising future, Kyle Busch.
-By: Thomas Chemris