Quadriplegic hopes to race cars again

Published: March 15, 2015  |  Source: thedenverchannel.com  | Spinal Cord Injury: , ,
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Sam Schmidt working with Arrow Electronics

There’s a race car in Colorado that is like no other in the world. It’s the project of a Colorado company, Arrow Electronics that has the potential to change lives.

MORRISON, Colo. – Who wouldn’t want to get behind the wheel of a brand new Corvette Stingray?

The man tasked with testing it out knows a thing or two about driving race cars.

“Literally, since I was five years old, I wanted to compete at Indianapolis Speedway” says Sam Schmidt.

His dream to become an Indy driver came true in 1997.

“I raced there for three years, really had a lot of success there but then I crashed and that’s it.”

That crash 15 years ago, made Schmidt a quadriplegic and put him in a wheelchair. He wrote off driving.

One day, he got a call from Arrow Electronics to take on this modified Corvette, testing out technology that puts him in control.

Schmidt, who lives in Las Vegas, came here to Colorado’s Bandimere Speedway to get behind the wheel of the car, better known as SAM, for semi-autonomous motorcar. He’s hoisted up out of his wheelchair and put in the driver’s seat.

Inside the car, a cap is placed on his head. On that cap are little white sensors, and it’s Sam’s movements that direct the car when to turn, when to accelerate and when to brake.

Just for safety, an engineer sits next to him in the passenger seat, with a kill switch in hand, in case she needs to take over.

“It’s just amazingly intuitive, very straightforward. I tilt my head to the left, it (the car) goes to the left. Tilt my head to the right, it goes to the right,” said Schmidt. “With the new operating system I actually blow into a tube and it goes faster, I suck into the tube and it puts on the brakes.’

This is not his first time behind the wheel of SAM. It’s a work in progress with the Arrow team of engineers right on the track, taking notes, tweaking technology, making improvements.

And you can tell Schmidt loves every second of it.

“For me it just feels very automatic.” Then he says, with a smile on his face, “You gotta keep the bikinis out of the grandstands because you don’t want any sudden movements.”

The team is now working toward his next goal: The Long Beach Grand Prix in April, where Sam wants to be able to do an exhibition lap, display the car and show off the technology.

What’s more, he sees this technology going beyond driving and changing lives of others who have physical limitations.

“There’s quite a large percentage of the population like me that has no use of arms or legs and that application for this type of technology is not just driving. I could control a tractor, an assembly line, an oil rig,” said Schmidt.

He envisions putting people to work and giving them a reason to get up every morning.

“The ultimate goal they’ve told me is they’d like to give me my driver’s license back … I might have said it was impossible, but after the last year with these guys, I think anything is possible,” he said.

Schmidt has his own non-profit organization called Conquer Paralysis Now with a goal of finding a cure for paralysis.

To read more about Arrow Electronics and SAM car: www.arrowsamcar.com/thecar