Five people with mobility challenges, including three U.S. Paralympians, were recently treated to a ride-and-drive experience in a Toyota Camry at Richmond Raceway. The event was a prelude to this weekend’s Toyota-sponsored NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series races at the ¾-mile, D-shaped track in Virginia’s capital city.
It was the year’s second event for the Denver-based Falci Adaptive Motorsports team.
Its Cup Series car, a retrofitted Furniture Row Racing car, includes special components that allow mobility-challenged men and women to drive hands-and-feet free, using nothing but slight movements of the head and mouth.
Before driving themselves, the participants rode a few laps with NASCAR Xfinity star Christopher Bell. Riding upwards of 130 mph snuggled beside the track’s concrete walls was a special treat. Steve Serio, co-captain of the 2016 gold-winning U.S. Men’s National Wheelchair Basketball Team, enjoyed every second of it.
“That was a surreal experience to be a rider, and then driver of a NASCAR car,” he said. “Coming from New York City, we don’t get the chance to go that fast. That first moment when Chris took off, it was a feeling I have never experienced. If he pulled up as my Uber driver, I’d be really excited. He’d drive circles around any New York City cab driver. This event is a perfect example of how dedication to innovation can bring freedom of movement to everybody with different ability levels.”
“I felt like I was in a rocket ship,” said Jenifer, who has no legs. “While it was like another day at the office for him, my heart was jumping out of my chest. Being a passenger and then driving the car definitely superseded what my expectations were. I didn’t expect to go that fast. I never thought I’d be able to adapt to NASCAR, but members of the Falci Adaptive team are finding a way to make things more adaptive for the disabled. It’s all about inclusion.”
Waller, who sustained a spinal cord injury after being a victim of a shooting, elaborated on his feelings after riding and driving the Bass Pro Shop Camry.
“I’ve gone fast on highways, but never that fast,” he said. “The acceleration of the race car was really, really cool. I used to work for Goodyear, and going around the track on Goodyear tires had a very special meaning for me because I’ve been in the plant where those tires are built. An awesome day and an amazing experience.”
Two quadriplegics, Ethan Thompson and Jake Walter, also did the ride-and-drive.
“It was everything I expected and more,” said Thompson. “I’ve been a NASCAR fan my entire life and this is a dream come true.”
Said Walter: “The ride was fabulous and pretty powerful. Driving on my own was something else. I would love to take it on the street. That would be so much fun.”
Dr. Scott Falci, a Denver-based neurosurgeon, founded Falci Adaptive Motorsports. He was thrilled by the Richmond Raceway event and looks forward to more events with more technology for the mobility-challenged.
“It gets better each time,” Falci said after his sixth such event. “With the adaptive technologies we keep honing, I think the car will become more user friendly and hopefully the adaptive technologies that we develop will shoot out to the real world and help those with disabilities. We have a mission, and the good news is we’re off to a great start.”