Sam Schmidt, who was paralyzed from the shoulders down in 2000, hasn't given up on racing.
Recovering from a life-altering event is takes grit. Recovering from a life-altering car crash that leaves one a quadriplegic, and then working to mount a return to motorsports, despite the odds - that takes grit on an entirely different level.
Yet that's just what Sam Schmidt has done. In the late 1990s, Schmidt was a rising star in the Indy Racing league, only to suffer a harrowing crash during the off-season in 2000 that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Now, he's returning to racing competition for the first time in two decades, thanks in part to a specially modified Chevrolet Corvette C8 that's been modified to drive without any input from Schmidt's hands or feet.
The Corvette is just the latest iteration of a concept dubbed "SAM", for "Semi-Autonomous Motorcar". As we reported recently, the first version of SAM, based on a 2014 Corvette C7, currently resides at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Like that car, the new C8-based SAM was upfitted for the task by Arrow Electronics. It's been prepared for competition by Speedway Motors - an automotive and racing parts manufacturer, retailer and distributor.
Team Speedway will also serve as Schmidt's pit crew this weekend at the Optima Ultimate Street Car race, Schmidt's return to competitive racing after 20 years, which is being held at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park.
To control the Chevrolet Corvette SAM car, Schmidt uses head movements, tilting his head one way or the other while wearing a special Arrow-designed headset with infrared emitters. The infrared light from those emitters is picked up by a pair of cameras mounted on the dashboard. Acceleration and braking are handled by a sip-and-puff device; a tube is routed in front of the driver's mouth, into which he either inhales or exhales to apply the throttle and brakes.
If that all sounds risky, don't worry; Schmidt will have a co-driver for the event, racing driver Robby Unser, with a separate set of controls he can use to take over should something go wrong. What's more, Schmidt is no first-timer, having driven demo laps in the C7 SAM car at the 2014 Indy 500, and even using an upfitted C7 Z06 to drive in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.