Paralyzed IndyCar driver races for the first time since crash

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The IndyCar Grand Prix race was Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s main attraction Saturday, but it was a shorter race beforehand that stole the show.

Sam Schmidt and Mario Andretti came out of retirement. “We didn’t want to beat up the cars too much, but I think we could’ve if we wanted to,” Schmidt said.

“Oh yeah, once you get going,” Andretti said. “Everything is the same, you just go!”

After three laps, it came down to a photo finish. “I lost, which really, really sucks, but the first thing I could think of a was a rematch somewhere,” Schmidt said.

The pair raced Corvettes, not the Indy Cars IMS is known for, but that didn’t stop the flood of people from checking the vehicles out.

“It’s interesting,” race car fan, Sophia Fernandez said. “It’s really cool.” Pretty amazing technology,” race car fan, Woodyard said.

A race car that engineers say people can’t get enough of.

“The best reaction usually is just stunned silence for a minute,” Arrow Electronics engineering project manager William Pickard said. “Sometimes you don’t even get a whoa out of them. They just kind of stand there and look.”

Stunned because the car is designed to be driven by someone who is paralyzed from the neck down. “Really? I probably wouldn’t believe you,” Fernandez said.

The car may look like a normal car with pedals and wheel but it’s controlled by a helmet. The driver blows into plastic to make it move and dots, connected to cameras, control the wheel. As the driver moves his head, the car moves with it.

The reason why — one of those drivers needs the assistance. Nearly 20 years ago, Schmidt was paralyzed in an accident.

Saturday was the first time he’s raced an opponent at more than 100 miles per hour. “First time in 17 years I’ve felt normal,” Schmidt said.

His opponent, Andretti, isn’t paralyzed, but he raced using the same technology. “I didn’t dare look at the speedometer because than the car would go wherever I’m looking,” Andretti said. “I didn’t know how fast I was going but it was fast enough if I twitch I’m going to hit the wall.”

A former driver that used to do this for a thrill, but now these laps mean a lot more. “There’s so many things that I haven’t been able to teach my kids how to do from throw a football, to driving stick shift, and do all that stuff. to come back and be able to do this kind of stuff, makes up for a little bit of it,” Schmidt said.

The goal isn’t just to get Schmidt on a race course. Arrow Electronics is behind the car. Schmidt and the company hope this equipment will help others, included getting disabled truckers jobs.

As for Schmidt, today’s race won’t be his last. He lost Saturday, but already eyeing his next opponent and looking for ways to win.

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