NASCAR

Bayne's enthusiasm high after illness recovery

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Rea White

Rea White has been covering NASCAR full time since 1998. She has won awards from press agencies in Alabama and North Carolina and formerly served as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow her on Twitter.

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Concord, N.C.

STP 400

Prerace coverage from Kansas begins June 5 at 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

 

Trevor Bayne certainly doesn’t seem like a driver who has been sidelined from racing since late April.

Instead, he still seems like the excited kid carrying a respect for his opportunities and a love of NASCAR and a high level of enthusiasm for everything life is offering him that he has been since the season started.

The Daytona 500 winner has endured quite a ride this season, his first to drive a limited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule for Wood Brothers Racing and to drive full time in the Nationwide Series for Roush Fenway Racing.

One would never guess that he’s been sidelined with a mysterious illness treated only in terms of its symptoms, that he’s had to watch others drive the NASCAR entry he worked so hard to earn, that he’s spent time in the Mayo Clinic undergoing treatments or that he still has another week to watch others race in the cars he hoped to be competing in this season.

He last competed in the Nationwide race at Nashville Superspeedway April 23. Bayne had already been treated at a Charlotte-area hospital for what at that time was believed to be symptoms linked to an insect bite. In late April, though, Bayne found himself battling a series of symptoms, including double vision and fatigue. He spent time at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., undergoing testing and treatment for a myriad of potential illnesses.

Spinal taps. MRI. A variety of tests interrupted his life as doctors sought out the source of his symptoms. They treated things it might have been, but never put a label on the illness.

He is planning to return to racing after Charlotte. Until then, Bayne relies on his faith to help him be at peace with this situation. Although he turned 20 the day before winning NASCAR’s premier race, the Daytona 500, he shows a maturity well beyond his age.

He accepts that there is no diagnosis as of yet for whatever caused his symptoms. He accepts that he had to miss the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and that he has been sidelined for the betterment of his own health. And he not only accepts that someone else will be driving his cars this weekend, but also works to help the rookie replacing him in the Cup ride make the most of the experience.

He’s just that kind of kid.

“I think I finally just had to accept that nobody knows,” he said. “I can promise that if I was just tired or not feeling great I would have still been in the race car because I am a racer. I went to bed Monday night feeling great and woke up Tuesday and I was seeing two of stuff and that wasn’t cool. I went to the hospital and had the best doctors in the world at the Mayo Clinic checking me out and they don’t know. That is all it is. I have had to accept that.

“They treated me for things that they thought it could be, just like that bite, whether it was Lyme (disease) or not, they don’t have any evidence of that. But they treated it just to knock it out and since then all my symptoms have gone away. Everything is pretty much 100 percent back to normal and that is pretty exciting.”

What is important, Roush Fenway Racing team president Steve Newmark points out, is that Bayne is healthy.

“The only thing I would add to that is that the doctors that he has seen -- which has been multiple, particularly at the Mayo Clinic -- have cleared him as being fit for racing,” Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark said. “Even though there is no official diagnosis and they can’t tell us the root cause, they have run all the tests and done everything possible they can do to him and they have declared him fit to get back on the racetrack.”

What Bayne has learned through this episode is both how close-knit the NASCAR community can be and that he has a newfound appreciation for the ability to have a racing career. He talks about testing himself, learning just how far he can push himself and the patience it takes to watch someone else wheel his car. And he shows others just how mature and dedicated he is, to both NASCAR and to living life day to day.

“It has been incredible to me and a real eye-opener of how supportive everyone in our sport is,” Bayne said. “I think that is the biggest thing I have learned through all of this. … Another thing that has been put into perspective for me is how blessed we are to be race car drivers. You get wrapped up sometimes and go through the motions, but when you have to sit there for four or five weeks and watch races you realize how cool it is that you get to be the one driving it. I am actually in a sense thankful for this eye opener.

GROWING UP NASCAR

Trevor Bayne is only 22, but he's already had plenty of exposure to racing. See photos from his early years.

“It has been tough at times like this week when I thought I was ready to go and they had to hold the reins to give me another week to make sure I could be competitive and run for wins.”

He admits that missing the all-star race “kind of crushed me,” but he lists numerous acts that boosted him throughout the events. Tony Stewart loaning him a plane to fly his family back and forth. Carl Edwards bringing his guitar and spending time with him in the hospital. Michael McDowell coming to town and spending five days with him in the hospital. Receiving texts from pretty much every competitor in the NASCAR garage.

All of these things both awed and humbled him.

He missed a series of races, including those this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway – though Bayne is quick to point out that this weekend he is sitting out merely as a precautionary measure and that he feels completely fine.

Now he returns with the same enthusiasm he has shown since the season started.

And that is noted by those who race against him week to week.

“He’s a special person,” Kevin Harvick said, marveling that Bayne is only 20. “He doesn’t get rattled by too much. … Trevor’s just a good person. Obviously he can drive the race car. When you listen to him talk, he just bleeds enthusiasm.”

Wood Brothers team co-owner Eddie Wood agrees. He points out that what Trevor went through, they all went through – it’s just the nature of the team.

And he wants Bayne back in his car – so much so that if he’d known in time that the young driver would not be ready for this weekend’s race, he wouldn’t have run it.

“Trevor is our guy and he is our driver and whatever he is going through we are going through,” Wood said. “… If it had worked out that we could have sat this race out and waited on him we would have done it. It just got too far down the road. I am just glad he is back. You guys can see how he has that warm and fuzzy feel again. I am happy.”
So is Bayne.

In an approach that belies his age, he points out that he just wanted to learn as much as possible from all this. He refuses to question it, at least publicly, and embraces the experience as one that will make him perhaps a better driver, but definitely a better driver.

“This year is just helping me figure out what I am made of,” Bayne said. “I think if you can handle the biggest high you can have and the largest bottom you can have then the rest of the year should be easy from here…. Luckily, I do have my faith and that is what defines me because if I was defined by this I would be in trouble right now.”

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