DOVER — Dover International Speedway, with its concrete surface, steep banking and tight turns, is an intimidating track for even the most accomplished race car drivers.
Aptly nicknamed the “Monster Mile,” the short but fierce track is home to two NASCAR Nextel Cup races a year, as well as plenty of jaw-dropping wrecks.
On Friday, lifelong racing fan Patrick Rummerfield, of Baltimore, took his first spin around the daunting speedway as part of Dover’s Monster Racing program.
He was just one of many adventure-seeking NASCAR fans who came to the track that afternoon, ready to drive around the Monster Mile at speeds of more than 100 mph.
One thing, however, separated Mr. Rummerfield from the rest of the drivers — he cannot feel anything from his knees down.
“I’m missing 85 percent of my spinal cord,” he said.
To the casual observer, such a statement is hard to believe.
Fit and trim, Mr. Rummerfield looks like the picture of good health.
In fact, he is an Ironman tri-athlete and one of just 82 people in the world to run the Antarctica Marathon.
He also holds the world land-speed record for electric vehicles and has attended some of America’s most prestigious racecar driving schools.
Amazingly, Mr. Rummerfield achieved all of these accomplishments after breaking his neck in four places when he was 21 in a 1974 automobile accident.
“I was paralyzed from my neck down,” he said. “It took me three and a half years just to be able to start dragging my right side.”
Although the doctors originally told him he would never walk again, Mr. Rummerfied has become a fully Functional spinal cord injury quadriplegic.
Thanks to his positive outlook and unrelenting determination, Mr. Rummerfield has defied medical science.
Looking at MRIs of his spine, he said doctors find it hard to believe that he can walk, let alone complete a triathlon or drive a race car.
Because he still has no sensation below his knees, he said he must watch his feet as he walks, or else he will fall.
This is something few people notice, however.
“When people find out I’m a quadriplegic, they’re in disbelief,” he said.
Mr. Rummerfield’s success story has served as an inspiration to many, especially Josh Basile, 19, of Potomac, Md.
The athletic teen, who once played No. 3 singles on his college tennis team, suffered a spinal cord injury at Bethany Beach last August.
Mr. Basile was standing in shallow water, with his back to the ocean, when a wave sent him crashing headfirst into the hard, wet sand below.
Once his friends pulled him onto the beach, the teen noticed that he had no feeling throughout his body.
“All I could think about was whether or not I’d be able to play golf with my dad the next day,” he said.
Little did Mr. Basile realize that he would be spending the next two months in a hospital bed, unable to move.
“The doctors said I would never get off a Ventilator,” he said.
But, like Mr. Rummerfield, he has proved the doctors wrong.
After months of vigorous workouts, he now has sensation from his hips up and can also move his arms.
On Friday, he joined Mr. Rummerfield at Dover International Speedway as a passenger in the No. 9 Monster Racing car.
A fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mr. Basile found it thrilling to ride around the same track that the NASCAR celebrity drove on in last week’s MBNA 400 Nextel Cup race.
Mr. Basile’s friend, Peter Burnes Jr., 15, who has cerebral palsy, also took part in Monster Racing on Friday, as a passenger in the No. 31 car.
Both teens described the experience as “awesome” and touted Dover International Speedway as their new favorite race track.
Mr. Basile said he would like to attend the September Nextel Cup race at Dover and he hopes that one day he will be able to drive a race car around the track, like Mr. Rummerfield.
“I’ve always been very competitive and I’m not going to let this thing beat me,” he said.
“You’ve got to have hope, because once you take away hope, you have nothing.”
Staff writer Jenny Maher can be reached at 741-8233