- Title: Paralysed IndyCar driver races again in hi-tech Corvette
- Date: 15th July 2021
- Summary: GOODWOOD, WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND, UK (JULY 8, 2021) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) SAM SCHMIDT, RACECAR DRIVER, SAYING: "Unanticipated benefits of when we started the programme, we had no idea when it would take us. But now this technology could be transferred to industrial purposes to get people back to work. You can drive a harvester, you can drive a train, you could drive a forklift or a crane. So, it's very enlightening. And I think there are opportunities for anybody that wants to get out there and get back to work and just enjoy life. Whatever their goal is in life, just pursue with a passion and you can make it happen." SCHMIDT WITH HELMET ON AND TUBE IN MOUTH ROOF BEING FITTED ON TO CAR CO-DRIVER NEXT TO SCHMIDT WHEEL TURNING AS SCHMIDT TURNS HEAD / ENGINE REVVING CAR PULLING OUT OF BAY CAR DRIVING OFF / CLOSE OF LICENSE PLATE READING: "RCR 4 LIF"
- Embargoed: 29th July 2021 10:40
- Keywords: Chevrolet Corvette Goodwood Festival of Speed Indy 500 IndyCar Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sam Schmidt paralyzed racecar driver quadriplegic racecar driver
- Location: WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND, UK / UNDENTIFIED LOCATIONS
- City: WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND, UK / UNDENTIFIED LOCATIONS
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Europe,Motor Racing,Sport
- Reuters ID: LVA00CELYAE6X
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Since the age of five, Sam Schmidt's ambition was to be an IndyCar champion. And he achieved that, winning the Indy 500 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1999. A glorious racing career beckoned.
But months later, on January 6, 2000, tragedy struck. Schmidt crashed during a practice lap at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, severely injuring his spinal cord but lucky to be alive. Doctors told him he'd likely be on a ventilator for the rest of his life. But his willpower to recover pulled him through, and he was off the ventilator in six weeks. Nevertheless, he was diagnosed as a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. His racing career was over.
"It was my passion my entire life and then this happens and it kind of turns things upside down," Schmidt told Reuters.
While the prospect of him racing again was gone, Schmidt founded Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2001. His team, now known as Arrow McLaren SP, has won 12 IndyCar races.
Still, the urge to race prompted Schmidt to embark on an exciting proposition: building a race car that he could drive despite his disability.
Beginning in 2013 and working with engineers from tech company Arrow Electronics, the result is the 'SAM Car' - SAM standing for 'semi-autonomous mobility'.
"Arrow came along with this idea of building a car for somebody that can't use their arms and legs. And it was an amazing experience," Schmid said.
"What I didn't anticipate was this overwhelming feeling of normalcy because I was in control. And literally to that point in my life, there was really not a lot that I controlled. I needed help for everything. So the fact that I'm steering it, I'm using the brake and the gas and going as fast as I want is exhilarating. So it's fantastic."
On July 8 the latest version of the 'SAM Car' - a modified a V8 Chevrolet Corvette C8 Stingray - took to the legendary racecourse at Goodwood in southern England, driven by Schmidt himself.
Among its specially adapted features are infrared cameras mounted on the dashboard, which detect his head motions to steer via racing hat and sunglasses fitted with infrared sensors. The cameras and sensors integrate into a system that can motion-track the driver's subtle head movements in real time to move the wheels.
To accelerate and brake Schmidt uses his breath, inhaling and exhaling through a 'sip-and-puff' pressure sensor, sensitive enough to respond to his input.
While Schmidt has a co-driver with him with their hands hovering over the wheel to take control in an emergency, he has still managed to navigate a number of race tracks in the U.S. and now the famous Goodwood course as part of their annual Festival of Speed motoring event. Other milestones include going over 200 miles-per-hour, and taking his wife on a date.
Arrow engineers recently built an exoskeleton suit, further giving him an independence once thought lost forever.
"In the last few months I wore (it) to my daughter's wedding. So, by far the best day in 21 years," Schmidt said, adding that there wasn't a dry eye in the house when he danced with his newlywed daughter.
The tech that he and Arrow are pioneering could have a wider impact on helping people with disabilities, he added.
"This technology could be transferred to industrial purposes to get people back to work. You can drive a harvester, you can drive a train, you could drive a forklift or a crane....Whatever their goal is in life, just pursue with a passion and you can make it happen."
As for what his future holds, Schmidt is aiming high.
"The sky's the limit... I hear they're selling tickets to the space station, maybe that's it!"
(Production: Matt Stock)
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