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Vickers drops in to Daytona from 5000ft

2 June 2011

For most people, freefalling into the infield at Daytona International Speedway would be a terrifying feat in its own right. But for Red Bull driver Brian Vickers, it's simply a statement of intent to show that he's well and truly back to business as normal.

"This was supposed to happen last season, but since I wasn't able to, it feels great to know I'm healthy enough to jump this year," he said. "I think that's what increases the significance of it for me is that we had this planned last year ... To be able to come back and finish what we started was pretty special."

Vickers was sidelined early last year after doctors found serious blood clots in his left leg, and a heart condition that required surgery. He had to step down from his NASCAR driving for the rest of the 2010 season, and has been taking some time to ease himself back into stockcar racing his year.

The freefall dive into Daytona, then, is a statement asserting that things are finally back to normal and that he's fully back on the top of his game again. "I'm more excited than anything to skydive into Daytona," he said. "I've always wanted to skydive into a track."

The stunt was to help Daytona's PR build up to the Coke Zero 400 on July 2, as track officials are concerned that the spiralling cost of petrol will put fans off travelling all the day to the race.

"Speedways are pushing to promote events more than they ever have, and drivers are kicking in more, too," said the 27-year-old Vickers, who is unsurprisingly the first NASCAR driver in history to arrive at Daytona this way. "It's a group effort from everyone involved in the sport right now." Brian Keselowski and Ryan Newman are also scheduled to make pre-race publicity appearances to help out the Daytona ticket sales push between now and the race.

However, you strongly suspect that Vickers would do the jump anyway, even without any PR reason to justify it. "I've made about 75 jumps, always solo," he admitted, having been into skydiving since 2007. He'd been hoping to have his team mate Kasey Kahne along for the jump, but Kahne is still recovering from knee surgery.

"It's a rush. I mean, it's equal to driving a race car. It's the only thing I've ever found that's close to driving a race car. The adrenaline, the rush, the excitement. Everything about it," he told NASCAR.com.

Managing to pull off the pinpoint accuracy needed to land in an area like the Speedway is no mean feat, either. "It looked tiny, I can assure you ... And not only is it small but there's a lot of stuff to hit around it," he said. "Most drop zones are about that size but there's nothing around them. Here there's grandstands, buildings, light poles, towers, scoring towers, a lot of stuff."

Added to that, it wasn't the best of conditions for him. "We had rain, and the winds were going in different directions at different altitudes." But he said that the view of the 2.5 mile oval from that high up was simply unmissable: "It was incredible ... Absolutely beautiful. This race track is an impressive and amazing facility when you're standing here on the ground but at 5000 feet, it's gorgeous."

Vickers arrived safely in the Speedway, although the sodden infield grass presented a challenge to the actual landing. "The only problem is sticking the landing, when you are sliding through mud, water and grass and tarp." He laughed: "It's not the first time someone has barrel-rolled through the frontstretch at Daytona!

"Jumping into Daytona International Speedway was like my first jump again," he continued, adding that "Your first jump is something you are always chasing, but I think this topped it ... "I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that was incredible. It was almost like starting a race here. It was like my first start at Daytona."

Vickers says that the life-threatening condition he had last year made him more determined than ever to get out there and do the things that he really wanted to, rather than assuming that they could be put off until next week.

"My point is that you've got to take reasonable risks", he said. "Don't do it for the sake of just doing it. But if you really enjoy it and love it, if it makes you happy, go do it. Because you never know. You could miss out on everything you love because you're afraid of getting hurt, only to find out that's not what's going to get you in the end anyway."

Vickers admits that "There were a lot of times when I had no idea if I was going to skydive again or race cars or any of this stuff for that matter," but then insists that the whole experience has had its upside. "I spent all last year training and preparing for this season and taking health to a whole other level. I was in good shape before, now I'm just better ... I'm up for anything now. I skydive, dirt bike, mountain climb.

"I haven't done a bull fight yet, but it's on the list!"


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