Sam Schmidt, who has been paralyzed below the shoulders since slamming into a wall 14 years ago, always believed he’d never drive again. On Sunday, he will–in a Corvette he will control by shaking his head and gnashing his teeth.
Schmidt was a promising driver with 27 Indy Racing League starts when he went into the wall at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida on January 6, 2000. He knew he’d never race again, but one year later he returned to motorsports with his own team, now known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He’s enjoyed a measure of success as a team owner, but driving seemed out of the question.
Until seven months ago, when the folks at Arrow Electronics called to ask if he’d like to get behind the wheel again. Schmidt said he signed on “without hesitation.”
Arrow Electronics, which does work in medical, and consumer electronics, among other fields, had some experience with getting paralyzed drivers on the road again. Last year, the company built a Chevrolet Corvette that paraplegic former pro driver Mike Bauer could drive using only hand controls. That got them thinking about what it would take to get a quadriplegic driving, said Chakib Loucif, Arrow’s VP of engineering.
For the Semi-Autonomous Motorcar (SAM) Project, Arrow– joined by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Falci Adaptive Motorsports, and the Air Force Research Laboratory, which will monitor Schmidt’s biometrics and interaction with the guidance systems as he drives–spent 11 months making a few changes to a 2014 Corvette Stingray packing 460 horsepower.