The opportunity of a lifetime is what some might call the chance Brian Vickers has secured for the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series season and he has full intentions of making the best of the opportunity he has been presented. The Thomasville, N.C., native is competing for one of NASCAR's premier organizations in Hendrick Motorsports.
For the first time in his Busch Series career, Vickers will be behind the wheel for a full season as driver of the No. 5 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Prior to joining Hendrick Motorsports, Vickers ran a limited schedule during the last two seasons.
"It's a dream come true for me to be a part of the Hendrick organization," Vickers said. "For the longest time I've wanted to pursue a career in NASCAR and I've been able to accomplish that with some success during the past two seasons, but now things have been taken to an all-new level by joining Hendrick Motorsports."
Look around the Hendrick Motorsports complex and it's easy to understand the commitment to winning -- and winning is something Hendrick Motorsports and Vickers have in common. Despite being just 19 years old; one year removed from high school and the youngest full-time competitor in the Busch Series -- Vickers has already assembled a diverse and distinguished trophy case.
His track record dates back to 1994 when he was just 10 years old. That's when he began racing go-karts and achieving a considerable amount of success. Before graduating to the Allison Legacy Cars Series in 1998, Vickers left go-karts a three-time national champion and accumulated 83 career victories.
"My love of racing developed early, but it wasn't until I grew older that I really began to give any consideration to racing as a career," Vickers said. "My parents and I spent much of our time at the races and I missed out on a lot of things growing up, but looking back I don't regret any of it because I love what I'm doing now."
The awards continued to pile up as Vickers progressed through the ranks. While in the Allison Legacy Cars Series, he captured five wins in just one season before advancing to NASCAR's Weekly Racing Series where the level of competition increased significantly as he began to race competitors much older and more experienced. Those two factors did not prove to be a problem and the 16-year-old continued to turn heads. By the end of the 1999 season he had won six Late Model races and captured 11 pole awards.
"Every race was a learning experience and I did the best job I could to absorb as much information as possible from other racers and the people around me," Vickers explained. "I was only 16, but my age really didn't seem to matter to the other competitors. To them I was just another driver."
Vickers was hardly just another driver. In 1999, Motorsports Magazine voted him as the "Rising Star of the Year" and in 2000 he joined the highly competitive USAR ProCup Series, walking away from his rookie season with plenty of accolades. During his first tenure in ProCup, Vickers won two races and became the youngest winner in series history, taking home "Rookie of the Year" honors at the banquet.
In 2001, Vickers once again captured two ProCup wins and finished second in the point standings. Vickers made his Busch Series debut in July 2001 at The Milwaukee Mile. An early race accident took him out of the event after just 54 laps, but Vickers did manage to compete in three more Busch Series races during the 2001 season before moving on to complete a partial schedule of 21 events during the 2002 season with a family-owned team. His best career result came at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, finishing seventh after starting 38th.
"I learned a lot during the 2002 season," Vickers' said. "We progressed every race and toward the end of the season we really started to click and were able to put together some strong runs. Finishing the season in the manner I did makes me hungry for 2003."
Even though 2003 is Vickers first full season in the Busch Series, he joins an established team with a crew chief who knows what it's like to work with young drivers. Lance McGrew worked with Ricky Hendrick when he first joined the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2000 and followed him to the Busch Series two years later.
"I realize I have a lot more to learn about racing in addition to what I've already tucked away," Vickers said. "I want to go out, complete every lap I can and chase some really good finishes, maybe even win a race or two this year. I feel we've got the equipment and team in place to accomplish some good things."
If the track records of Brian Vickers and Hendrick Motorsports are any indication, 2003 may be very rewarding for everyone involved.