Brian Vickers, who has traveled to Europe and the Middle East to drive race cars, came back to High Point and relived some of the old days on Wednesday.
As part of a media event to promote the upcoming Goody’s 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the 29-year-old Thomasville native, who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing in NASCAR’s premier division, took part in a round of miniature golf at the Putt-Putt on North Main, a place where he said he played frequently as a youth.
He made the stop in High Point after cutting short an appearance as the driver of MWR’s No. 55 at the team’s fan appreciation day. He made the stop the day before action gets underway today at Charlotte Motor Speedway with qualifying for Saturday night’s 500-mile race.
“I had already made this commitment and (the team) realized how important this was,” Vickers said as took every opportunity he could to help plug the Martinsville event.
Part of the reason it was important to Vickers: Martinsville remains special to him because it was the place where he made his first stock-car start, in an Allison Legacy car.
Vickers and Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell served as captains of two teams, which led to good-natured ribbing and clowning around and eventually a friendly wager in which the loser promised to donate $500 to the charity of the winner’s choice.
Proving that he’s pretty good in the slow world of mini-golf as well as the high-speed action of NASCAR, Vickers sank three aces in helping his team win. And he proved to be a good sport, promising to donate $500 to Campbell’s Martinsville Speedway Children’s Foundation while Campbell donated to Clot Connect, which became important to Vickers after his health issues in 2010.
Compared to those days, the issues surrounding Vickers now seem small. In fact, life is very good.
He scored a win earlier this season at New Hampshire, was named as the team’s full-time driver for 2014 and then was moved into that role early when Mark Martin left to sub for Tony Stewart over the rest of the season.
There have been a few hiccups. He was right in the middle of the controversy surrounding MWR at Richmond, when he was ordered to make a pit stop in the closing laps to help teammate Martin Truex Jr. get into the Chase for the Championship. Truex finished the race with a playoff spot but NASCAR took it away when it deemed that MWR intentionally ordered Vickers and Clint Bowyer to take a dive to help Truex. In the fallout, NASCAR told teams it would not tolerate such tricks in the future and the sponsor of Truex’s car, NAPA, decided to pull its support for 2014, putting the future of that team in doubt.
Vickers took issue with NASCAR’s decision.
“MWR is such a an amazing organization with great leaders and such a passion for the sport,” Vickers said. “They didn’t deserve what happened. It wasn’t just. It wasn’t fair. They didn’t do anything wrong. Granted, the rules changed the following week, but they weren’t the rules. Teams have entered start-and-park cars (in the final race) to make sure their driver finished high enough to clinch the championship when they needed to finish 42nd (out of 43).
“I think MWR is going to come out stronger. To those people who made comments and made this a bigger issue than it needed to be, they unfortunately succeeded in costing people their jobs because NAPA left. It’s just sad. ... But I think we will be a better team in the long run.”
Unrelated to the Richmond flap, Vickers’ crew chief Rodney Childers decided to move to Stewart-Haas Racing, where he will call the shots Kevin Harvick next season.
“Anytime you’ve got a new crew chief come in, you have to adjust,” Vickers said. “The team has had to adjust. It just takes time. We’re building up he communication. I’m so proud of my guys the past few weeks because we’ve not had the best car when we started practice and we’ve turned then into a great race cars and that’s a good sigh of a great race team.”
He did finish fourth at Bristol, seventh at New Hampshire, 10th at Atlanta and 12th at Dover. But he was also 38th at Chicago and wound up 32nd last Sunday at Kansas after crashing — a result, he said, of trying to get all that he could out of a car that had been involved in two earlier wrecks.
Now he heads to Charlotte, where he has been very fast at times in the past, and at the end of the month looms another shot at conquering Martinsville, where he has qualified second, third and sixth in three races for MWR but has never finished better than sixth in 16 starts over his career.
“We’ve got to produce winning cars, which we have done, but we’ve got to do it more consistently,” Vickers said of what is needed for him to win again. “And we’ve got to have some things go our way, some of the things that we can’t control.”
He was certainly in control at Putt-Putt on Wednesday.