Blog: Sponsor backs Vickers

FONTANA, Calif. -- It happens in racing from time to time -- the ironic occurrence during a race weekend that could make a sponsor cringe.

The battery-sponsored car has a sponsor failure.

The fuel-sponsored team runs out of fuel.

But this is a new one at Auto Club Speedway this weekend. Not only is Janssen Pharmaceuticals sponsoring the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 car this weekend, it also is sponsoring the Xfinity Series Drive4Clots.com 300 race.

And the main sponsor spokesman for the weekend isn't here. He's being treated for, of all things, blood clots.

Brian Vickers, who suffered a blood clot Thursday for the third time since 2010, is a spokesman for the company's drug Xarelto. Vickers swears by the product, which he hasn't used since 2013. He cannot race and be on the blood thinner because of the chance of bleeding out in an accident.

But obviously, with Vickers in television ads promoting the product, there is a perception that he has developed the clots while using the product. If Janssen officials are worried, they're not saying, stressing that they are happy Vickers is OK and pledging their support of him beyond this weekend.

"We always knew Brian was at a higher risk," said Michael Moye, the director of marketing for Janssen, at the track Saturday. "He's got great doctors. He's always going to work with his doctors on the best treatment option for him.

"But he's just such an inspirational guy. 'Never give up' is his motto. An opportunity to work with someone like that, who has come back from these things, is working close [with doctors] and very aware of his medical conditions -- we're committed to this guy."

That support could be vital if Vickers wants to continue his racing career beyond 2015. He is in the last year of his contract, and it could be hard to convince most potential sponsors to pair with him because of the chance of recurring clots and Vickers missing races as he will this weekend. He missed the first two races of this year after offseason heart surgery when his heart rejected a patch inserted in 2010 to repair a hole in his heart and try to prevent additional clots.

The key for Vickers' future will be whether he wants to possibly continue risk developing blood clots by getting off the blood thinners in order to race.

"Because he is such a great ambassador for the sport, for people who are at risk for clots, we are very excited to be working with him and will continue to work with him," Moye said. "If he does race or if he doesn't race, we are going to partner with him again.

"He is such a great person to get the word out, to tell the stories. There's risk factors. There's signs of symptoms. There's treatment options. There's a lot of people out there at risk. He's a great guy to get that word out. ... His future, as they line that up, we're going to be with him either way."

A new Janssen advertising campaign debuted this week with Vickers. He was at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and appeared with Arnold Palmer and actor Kevin Nealon for Janssen.

"The campaign [with Vickers] has been successful because he is a real guy with a real story," Moye said. "That's very relatable to people. Anybody that has been through something like this knows that it can be scary."