CONCORD, N.C. -- Trevor Bayne treated his body like a race car, and wanted as much information as possible to help it run better. Which is why he returned to the Mayo Clinic again and again for tests related to the mysterious illness that kept him off the track for two months during the same season where he electrified NASCAR by winning the sport's biggest race.
Tuesday, the Daytona 500 champion revealed the long-sought diagnosis he finally received late this past summer: multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system which interrupts the flow of information between the brain and the rest of the body, and can cause symptoms that range from numbness and tingling to paralysis, in extreme cases.
Bayne said he currently has no symptoms, and his advice from doctors is that he manage heat and hydration in the race car. The 22-year-old full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series participant has been cleared to continue competition by both physicians and NASCAR.
"My hope is to never have symptoms again," Bayne said in a conference room at Roush Fenway Racing, which fields his Nationwide car. "There are people who go on with completely normal lives with MS, and I hope to be one of those people. Obviously nobody knows what exactly the future holds for anybody. But for me, I trust that whatever God has planned for me is best for my life. I'd love to be healed. That would be perfect, if that's what He plans for. But if not, then we'll move on day by day with it. At this point, I have no symptoms, and feel completely fine to drive."
Bayne won the Daytona 500 in 2011 for the Wood Brothers, the Roush-affiliated NASCAR Sprint Cup Series organization he still drives for on a limited basis. Later that season in a race at Texas, Bayne felt numbness in one arm, and subsequent tests led to him sitting out of the race car for nearly two months. Bayne said later that doctors believed he had Lyme disease, even though it was never officially diagnosed. He still might have it -- Bayne said Tuesday he did indeed suffer an insect bite and have a rash on the same arm that went numb, but the lack of a definitive diagnosis always bothered him.
"It's an easy thing, because I did have the rash on my arm from a bug bite. I don't know if the two are connected -- I'm not a doctor and I wouldn't want to make that call," he said. "But they wanted to do more research, because I wasn't satisfied with not knowing. As a competitive person, as a racer, you guys know how we work. We kind of want to know how everything works, and causes and effects and all that stuff. I just kept going back for checkups, and this is what it led to."
Bayne said he kept returning to the Mayo Clinic of his own volition, undergoing more tests searching for an answer. If he wasn't suffering from any symptoms, why keep going back?
"Why not go back and find out?" he said. "Obviously for me, I want to take the best care of myself possible, so if there are things that help you, or if you have a diagnosis and there are ways to keep yourself better, then it's better to have information than to not have information in my book. What's engrained in me from racing is, you get as much data, as much information as you can and you make the most of it, and that's what I wanted to do."
Bayne said he is currently on no medication and feels fine -- he worked out Tuesday morning as usual, and last December finished second in his age group in a triathlon. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the symptoms and severity of the disease vary from person to person. Although Bayne's sister also has MS, he said doctors have told him the disease is not hereditary. The driver added he wasn't sure exactly what type of MS he had -- some manifest themselves in episodes of relapse and recovery, while others are progressive.
"The doctors recommend what they recommend for everybody -- just take the best care of your body you can, stay hydrated, keep yourself cool and do everything you can," he said. "That's something we do already as performance athletes. We want to take care of our bodies, train hard, stay hydrated in the race car because you sweat so much. So that's what I've been doing, and I've always done that. You want to keep yourself as healthy as possible with or without a condition, and now just make that even more apparent."
Bayne said he needed some time to process the diagnosis and alert family and team members before making it public. Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark said the organization is relying on the judgment of the Mayo Clinic -- the Rochester, Minn., hospital where team co-owner Jack Roush recovered after a 2010 plane crash -- that Bayne is OK to continue competition. NASCAR released a statement supporting Bayne and the manner in which his condition is being addressed.
"I think NASCAR probably had similar questions that we all did," Newmark said, "and first and foremost was, 'How are you feeling? How are you doing from a health perspective?' And then it really is just making sure that the doctors who have evaluated him regularly have said, 'Yes, driving is something that you're permitted to do, and we give you the authorization.' I think that's really what NASCAR was looking for. I'm not sure what the process was internally, but I can tell you that (NASCAR president) Mike Helton and that crowd have been extremely supportive of Trevor."
Bayne said he didn't believe the health issue has impacted this season -- he's currently sixth in Nationwide points, with a victory at Iowa, heading into Saturday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He added that his plans for next year are similar to this one, with a full Nationwide slate for Roush and select Sprint Cup starts for the Wood Brothers. He'll likely be part of three-car Nationwide effort next season at Roush, along with Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed.
And although he needed some time to come to terms with the diagnosis, Bayne said he never feared for his career.
"For me, I don't have concerns about that," he said. "To me, I've felt great. I feel like I can continue on with my job without any differences. My competitive nature is still exactly the same as it has always been since I started racing when I was 5 years old. I want to go win races and go win championships and contend at the highest level. To me, there's nothing that has changed for me in my physical world, so I'm able to go on."
That much was evident when Bayne sat in the same conference room to inform Roush of his diagnosis. As the driver recalled it, Roush asked, "Are you OK?" After Bayne informed him he was, the car owner responded with "All right, then. What can we do to make our cars better?" The focus immediately shifted back to performance, right where Bayne wanted it to be.
"That's Jack Roush for you," Bayne said. "He's a competitor, and he wants to know what we can do to make our cars better to win races and championships. He trusts me. He trusts the doctors that have cleared me. I trust the doctors that have cleared me, and we're ready to go racing. Like I said, Jack's concern is how can we make all of our teams faster, as it should be."
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