Vickers recently took up the sport of motorcycle racing when he attended the Yamaha Champions Riding School at Miller Motorsports Park.
Stop for a second and picture this: It’s the opening lap of the Daytona 500 and NASCAR Red Bull racing star Brian Vickers sits strapped into a two-ton box of 800-horsepower steel, three wide and bumper-to-bumper in the draft around the famous high banks. Going nearly 200 mph the car slides on the exit of the tri-oval just as another driver bump-drafts him, pushing Vickers from behind and getting the car loose. With a handful of opposite lock, but without rolling off the throttle even a hair, he saves it, totally focused on not losing the crucial draft of the car in front. Now imagine doing that for 500 miles, lap after lap, with 42 of the nation’s best Stock Car drivers. Talk about the ultimate rush, right? Well, not if you ask Vickers. Yep, that’s right. Brian recently found something that gets his blood pumping even more: Motorcycle road racing.
Vickers recently attended the Yamaha
Champions Riding School at Miller Motorsports Park and came away with a whole new respect and totally different view of the two-wheeled sportbike world – a very action-packed and adrenaline-filled one.
“I think if someone got in a Cup car and went 200 mph at Texas Speedway or got on a bike and did the course at Miller, I think either one would be a tremendous adrenaline rush,” Vickers says. “But for me, the bike is more of an adrenaline rush. Now, some of that has to do with the fact that I’ve been racing cars for so long that the outright stimulation isn’t what it once was, but there’s no question that riding motorcycles at that speed around the track is just plain awesome!”
And while the differences of being strapped into a car and using your body to control a motorcycle would lead most to believe the two are fairly diverse from each other, Brian quickly realized they have more in common than he originally thought.
Because of Vickers' NASCAR racing experience, he had the ability to understand fundamental motorcycle racing skills like corner lines right off the bat.
“There are a lot of differences but there are actually a lot of similarities,” he adds. “Stuff like how to approach a corner, how you race and that mindset, and the sensation of speed – those kind of things that I am used to lent themselves to allowing me to be very comfortable on the bike. There was a respect and a fear of the bike itself, knowing that I could get myself hurt and that’s the last thing I wanted to do with my racing career, but at the same time the place I excelled was my comfort level at a high rate of speed and also being really close to the pavement.”
Yamaha Champions School Lead Instructor, Nick Ienatsch, quickly realized that Vickers had talent, be it four wheels or two.
“Brian completely understood corner lines, opening radiuses up, and got a feel for it right away,” Ienatsch says. “That’s what we see with good car drivers; they show up and are right on the money with lines. And there’s no question we saw that with him.”
That intense drive that lives in all successful racers was quickly apparent in Vickers as well. “Brian was a really focused guy and that affected the whole class,” Ienatsch adds. “He was so intense that the whole class went, ‘Huh, there’s a fast car guy who’s really intense so I’m going to be intense too.’ And that’s what we prefer, so Brian helped a lot with that.”
The challenge for Vickers came in the form of mastering all the precise techniques that come with motorcycle road racing, as he knows full well what it takes to go fast. This was also something he picked up on quite quickly.
Brian had to pickup a few new techniques which were different from car racing. Things like initial throttle pickup and the pace at which you turn the bike in had to be learned.
“For me it was about getting the technique down and really learning about the bikes and how to make a bike work using your body position and getting off the bike at the right time and the right place,” Vickers continues. “Also, feeling comfortable with the tires and getting used to using a lot of front brake took some time.”
Ienatsch’s thoughts echoed those of Vickers himself: “The things he had to get used to were the things that make the difference between going really quick and crashing your brains out. Just the initial throttle pickup and the pace at which you turn the bike in – he wanted to manhandle things a bit, which you understand coming out of a NASCAR.”
One thing is for sure, Vickers relishes his time on two wheels, learning quite a lot. “I think he came into it not knowing what to expect, thinking this was something just to do to see what happens, and then he ended up just absolutely loving going on a racetrack and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up doing track days on his own,” adds Ienatsch.
“It was a course that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it was also something that I wish I had taken a long time ago before I started riding,” continues Vickers. “I now really have an appreciation and knowledge of what a bike is truly capable of, which really has made me a better rider.”
Red Bull went so far as to encourage Vickers' motorcycle racing passion, and allowed him to participate in some risky stunts with his friend Travis Pastrana.
While most would assume Brian took the class during the off-season, as the risk of injury during the NASCAR Cup Series season would be far too high, we were surprised to learn this wasn’t the case. Turns out one of the major perks that comes with being a Red Bull athlete is the energy drink company actually endorses such ventures.
“Any sponsor or team that I have had in the past would not have allowed that during the season,” he says, “but at Red Bull they actually encourage it! They’ve even taken me skydiving with the Red Bull Air Force and I’ve done stuff with my good friend Travis Pastrana – all stuff any other team would have definitely said no to… That’s one of the reasons the Red Bull lifestyle really fits mine.”
Speaking of the Wild Child himself, Pastrana and Vickers have become close friends, the two partaking in quite an array of hair-raising antics. In fact, Pastrana asked Brian to ride shotgun in the Subaru Rally Car that he jumped over 200 feet onto a barge off the Long Beach Pier for his New Year’s No Limits stunt. Vickers nearly took him up on the offer.
When Brian isn't on a track at nearly 200 mph, he regularly hangs out with Tranvis and his crew from Nitro Circus.
“Yeah, Travis invited me to ride along with him (on the New Year’s jump),” laughs Vickers. “But seriously, had he come to me with the offer with a little more than a week’s notice I probably would have taken him up on it! Travis and I have been good friends for a long time and he’s a great guy and I actually wanted to ride with him; it sounded like a lot of fun.”
And although a prior commitment kept the daring 27-year-old NASCAR driver out of the car, it may have been for the better.
“I already had plans with some other friends that I didn’t want to back out on,” he adds. “I also knew if something went wrong the passenger side would be the first to go and sure enough I was right – it was. The passenger side of that car was destroyed (laughs).”
One look at Pastrana’s car after the jump revealed what would have been one wild ride for Vickers, as the slippery landing surface caused Pastrana to slide it into the end wall, passenger side first.
When asked if he had any other crazy stories about Travis and his crew, Vickers simply laughed and said, “Yeah, I’ve got plenty! I’ve done a couple episodes of Nitro Circus and done some really fun trips with those guys. Skydiving in Costa Rica and surfing and some fun stuff at his house, all kinds of crazy fun activities. We’ve had some good fun over the years together and I look forward to many more.”
As for how his 2010 NASCAR season is going, while Vickers and the team may not quite be where they want, by no means is Red Bull Racing having a bad season.
In addition to his motorcycle racing pursuits, Vickers and the Red Bull team are having a faily successful 2010 season of NASCAR.
“It’s going well thus far but we always want it to be better,” Brian says. “We’re not leading the points so it could be better. We’re 12th in the points and in the chase right now but we got off to a little bit of a slow start. Daytona was good but we had a horrible race in Vegas and we’ve been decent this year. The past couple weeks we’ve had really good cars and we’ve had good runs, so I’m looking forward to the year and we’re definitely going in the right direction. We just need to keep heading that way.”
Though Vickers doesn’t currently have a motorcycle in his garage due to the intense 36-week schedule of the Cup Series, the Florida native is in the market for a couple new machines to keep at his home for use during the off-season.
“I’ve had bikes before and I love them. I really want to get a couple motorcycles down in Florida.” Vickers adds. “I wouldn’t mind getting a chopper or something – just a bar hopper type of cruiser – and maybe a sportbike. I’m on the fence. I had so much fun racing those bikes in Salt Lake, but I just don’t know if I really need to be on a sportbike
Vickers is undecided whether he'll get a sportbike or a cruiser, but we can be sure that we'll see him again on two wheels.
street. Now if I get something like that, an R6
-type of fun bike and took it to the track for track days, where I was wearing the right safety gear and the whole setup on, I’d feel more comfortable.”
And while he’s on the fence about getting a sportbike, after his quick track education at Miller, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him at a local Southeast track day this off-season. When talking to the young NASCAR star, it’s obvious the racer within has some unfinished goals on two wheels. Here’s hoping he goes for it, as there’s no question he has the talent.