Welcome back, Barney: Owner Visser returns from heart attack

Martin Truex Jr._624274

Martin Truex Jr., right, answers questions during an interview during media day for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Barney Visser was a few weeks removed from a heart attack when the Furniture Row Racing team he founded was running for a NASCAR championship with Martin Truex Jr.

Stuck in a bed, the excitement got Visser’s blood pumping.

”My heart rate, just sitting there was running a 140 beats a minute,” Visser told The Associated Press on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. ”I had to adjust my medications. I couldn’t call a doctor. I just did it on my own and got it slowed down.”

The 69-year-old Visser calmed down as Truex clinched the first Cup title for himself and FRR at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Visser missed the championship bash – though the trade might have been worth it.

”If somebody asks you, `We’ll give you a championship but you can’t be there, would you take it?’ I guess I would,” Visser said.

Visser returned to a track Thursday for the first time since last season, and said he feels as healthy as he has in years.

”There’s nothing like getting new arteries,” he said.

He was stir-crazy in the months since being hospitalized and only recently was cleared to participate in some mild celebrations. There was a dinner with Truex, crew chief Cole Pearn and FRR President Joe Garone. Visser returned to the shop in Denver for the first time Wednesday. That was about it.

Visser said the heart attack caught him by surprise.

He had a stent put in about six years ago to help treat a 96-percent blockage of his coronary arteries. He said his cholesterol level was so low at the time that his doctors were convinced Visser would not build up plaque in the arteries. But it did – Visser had a 99-percent blockage in one artery while the one that was stented was 70-percent blocked.

”Around the racetrack and at other times, I had had a sensation of burning lungs,” he said. ”It’s like when you step outside in cold air and walk fast, your lungs kind of burn. That was the sensation I was getting. I never thought it was my heart.”

But on Nov. 4, Visser woke up with numbness in his left arm. He couldn’t shake it off, refused to ignore the symptoms and went straight to the hospital for an angiogram, a decision that may have saved his life.

”On the way to the angiogram, I was actually in the hospital and I think I had the heart attack,” Visser said. ”They stopped it so soon that it doesn’t even register quite as a heart attack. That was the right thing to do.”

Visser caught up with the team at Daytona and was clearly in good spirits.

”I don’t know if he’s too sad about missing out on the banquet because he didn’t have to do a speech,” Truex said. ”He doesn’t like the spotlight. He doesn’t like to get too much attention thrown on him. It kind of all worked out for him. Most of all, glad he’s healthy, doing good, able to come to the racetrack and have some fun again.”

There was still some business for FRR: The team only fields Truex and the No. 78 Toyota this season after running a two-car operation last year.

”I’m really good with this car, with this decision,” Visser said. ”We had to push the guys really hard last year and I really don’t think we could have done that a second year. You can only do that so long.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org

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