Back behind the wheel…
After a frustrating 12 months of recovery I was taken off blood thinners and cleared to race. Red Bull, who I had been racing with before my discovery, had a car waiting for me!
I drove in every Sprint Cup Series race in 2011. Then, after the season, Red Bull shut its team down. They wanted to focus on their new soccer team in New York. It was a hard pill to swallow. I and so many others had put so much into building a really competitive team in such a short period; it was heartbreaking to see it end so quickly.
In 2012 I signed with Michael Waltrip Racing, splitting a car with Mark Martin in the Sprint Cup Series. That same year I also raced in the WEC series that year including the famed 24 Hour of Le Mans. While continuing the partnership with MWR and Mark in 2013 for 17 races in the Spring Cup Series, I also signed with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Nationwide Series team to race full time that season.
It was on July 14, 2013 that I found myself back in the NASCAR Spring Cup series victory lane at New Hampshire Speedway. For the first time since my blood clots and for the first time since I had been told that I may never race again, I stepped back into the car and won. It was personally the most important win of my career!
But the good fortune didn’t last…
Not long after the race, I was out with my wife, Sarah, rock climbing when I felt a knot in my right calf. Earlier in the season, I had suffered a foot sprain in an accident at Bristol, after which I wore a protective boot for about a month. And one of the things that can cause blood clots, I had learned, is immobility. So when I felt that knot in my calf, I knew exactly what it was.
The first thing I thought was, “They’re not going to let me back in the car….” So I considered not even going to the doctor.
I thought back to the bike ride in New York and the shortness of breath I experienced in Washington; how I had waited to go to the hospital, and how if I had waited longer, I could have died. In hindsight, that was pretty stupid.
But now, faced with the same decision, I was still contemplating not going…
It’s tough to explain. I guess when you love something as much as I love racing, and you know it could be taken away from you, you just don’t want to acknowledge it. You don’t want to face it. But I knew I had to.
So I reluctantly, but wisely, went back to CMC in Charlotte to have it checked out and I’m glad I did, too. Because unlike the first time, we caught the clot early, so it was easier to get past. I had to go back on blood thinners, and I missed the rest of the 2013 season. I was able to get back in the car for the 2014 season; my first full season in three years.
But now I had two strikes against me, and we all know what three strikes usually means.