NASCAR driver sidelined by medical condition says he’ll be back to race

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CHINA GROVE, N.C. – Sidelined since he was diagnosed with diabetes more than a month ago, Jamie Dick vows that he’ll be back racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“I have to get back, even if it is one time, just to say diabetes didn’t end my driving career,’’ Dick told NBC Sports on Tuesday at Viva Motorsports’ shop. “My driving career is going to end on my terms, what’s good for me and my family and my business, not what’s good for diabetes.

“Using diabetes as an excuse can’t start when I’m 26 because I don’t want it to be an excuse when I’m 36, 46 or 76.’’

Dick says he doesn’t have a timetable for his return because doctors are determining what type of diabetes he has and prescribing the proper amount of medicine. Once done, Dick said he’ll be back in the No. 55 Viva Motorsports car for the first time since racing March 14 at Phoenix International Raceway.

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Dick visited his mother in New Mexico the week of the Phoenix race. As they talked, he mentioned how thirsty he had been lately. She said the next time he saw a doctor he should ask about it because that is a sign of diabetes.

Nothing more was thought of the conversation at that time.

Dick said it was a normal weekend at Phoenix. He was 25th in the first practice, 26th in the final session and qualified 28th for his second start of the season. He shared his ride early in the season with Jeffrey Earnhardt, who had sponsorship that helped the team Dick owns.

Dick said he felt fine in Phoenix until he started to tire early in the 200-lap race.

“It gradually just got worse and worse,’’ Dick told NBC Sports. “When you’re worried about being tired, you lose focus mentally and you start being mentally weak. I was just hoping the race would end as soon as it could.’’

Dick compared what he felt to what a tired motorist might feel.

“You’re driving late at night and sometimes you don’t remember the last exit you passed, you have lapses in your memory,’’ he said. “You weren’t asleep or anything but you’re not thinking about what you’re doing. It was similar to that. When you’re driving a race car, especially at the end of the race, you have to actively think about how you can change your driving to get the most out of your car. That changes sometimes every lap. I wasn’t doing that at all and going slower and slower and slower.’’

So why not get out of the car if he wasn’t feeling well?

“Because I’m a competitive person and we’re racing for points and money and all that stuff,’’ said Dick, who has 57 career Xfinity starts since 2011. “I still knew what I was doing as far as driving a race car. I wasn’t going to drive it into the wall. I didn’t feel like I was in any danger of blacking out. I wasn’t driving it competitively, but I also wasn’t in anyone’s way or going to wreck anyone or wreck myself.’’

When the race finished – Dick placed 28th, four laps behind the leaders – he recalled radioing his team for water and a cold rag. Dick climbed from the car unassisted but said he became dizzy and weak when he tried to stand on his own. Team members took him to the infield care center.

Dick’s temperature, heart rate and carbon monoxide levels were all within the acceptable range for a driver who had just competed. Further checks led to the discovery that his blood sugar was high. Diabetes was mentioned as a possible cause.

Dick’s thoughts turned to his conversation with his mother about being thirsty.

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Dick went to a local hospital for further examination. He was taken to the emergency room and treated for dehydration. After checking his blood sugar, he was diagnosed with diabetes and admitted so he could be treated.

He admits his first thought was what would happen to his racing career.

“It’s a very good thing that Ryan Reed is around,’’ Dick said of the Roush Fenway Racing driver who has diabetes and won this year’s Xfinity opener at Daytona International Speedway.

“I would have had a question for a very long time can I race with diabetes, maybe for weeks, but luckily, because Ryan Reed is doing it, it is possible to race with diabetes. Then (the question) quickly became what are the steps to get back, not am I going to be able to get back.’’

Dick says he has to watch what he eats, which means less carbs and sugars. He must check his blood sugar before each meal and before he goes to bed. He gives himself shots in the stomach.

“They’re pretty small needles,’’ Dick said. “What actually hurts worse is pricking your finger to test your blood.’’

While he’s missed three starts since being diagnosed with diabetes – he was to have raced at Auto Club Speedway, Texas and Bristol – he admits the time out of the car has allowed him to focus more on building his race team. Earnhardt gave the team a season-best 15th-place finish at Bristol last weekend, and Brandon Gdovic, who placed 26th in his series debut earlier this month at Texas, will be in the car this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

“In some ways, my diagnosis was a blessing for the racing team because it gave other people an opportunity and it allowed our race team to expand and flex its muscles and show what it can do with Jeffrey in the car and Brandon in the car,’’ Dick said.

Still, Dick wants to be back in the car. When he does, it will be as if nothing has changed.

“As soon as I’m able to get back into  a race car, which is hopefully very soon,’’ he said, “other than paying a little bit of attention to what I eat, I’m still living the same life and I’m still the same person as I was two months ago.’’