In Kelly’s Words – I got to drive a NASCAR car…
I got to drive a race car! There are some things that I’ve always dreamed of doing. This wasn’t one of them! But some dreams find you.
For the backstory: A few months ago Zeke and I got a text from Tom Carr, head of Therapeutic Recreation at Craig Hospital in Denver (where I went to rehab after my injury), asking if I wanted to come down to Dover, Delaware on September 28 to drive a NASCAR car. Not an offer I was expecting, but not something I could say no to either. We didn’t get much information for a while other than a team which included Craig Hospital had developed a NASCAR car with hand controls.
An aside: I drive my car with special hand controls design for people who cannot use the pedals. They can be installed on any car by the same vendors that outfit minivans with ramps. Obviously the car has to be automatic, but other than that it can be any car. I have a special certification from the state on my license allowing me to use them.
Back to the story: When I got down there I learned that it was a collaborative effort between a neurosurgeon at Craig, engineers at the Air Force Academy, and a Denver-based company called Furniture Row, which sponsors the 78 car (Martin Truex Jr.) in the NASCAR Cup series. Together, they decided to make a NASCAR car that people with disabilities can drive. Making a car with hand controls on its own is not super ground breaking, but the team is collaborating on making cars that higher-level quadriplegics, with no arm or hand movement, can drive. That is some more serious technology.
I got to both ride shotgun with Truex Jr., the current NASCAR Cup leader, and then drive the car myself. Both were incredible experiences. There were 9 people with disabilities, including myself, with this group. With Truex driving, we hit 160 in the straightaways. Then we got to drive (though they engaged the governor a bit…).
Initially I was more excited to drive myself, but once I got in the car with Martin I had such an awesome time! It was so fast and so loud! We only got to do a few laps each since we only had a few hours with the track to ourselves but it was plenty to see what that speed feels like and feel the forces you get at those speeds. It was awesome!
I was actually really nervous to drive myself, in hindsight I’m not sure why. I went much slower than when I was with Martin (I was going about 90 I think) but it was incredible to get the feeling of driving on the track. The track in Dover is only a mile long (others are 2+ miles), which means the turns and even the straightaways are really banked to help with the forces. It felt like the car pulled where it wanted you to go and it was harder to control than I thought, though ironically (or maybe not so ironically) I felt easier the faster I went.
There was one other really big highlight about the trip. There was a guy down there named Jason who was actually a Spring 2017 KBF Grant Recipient! Because we hadn’t gotten much info about the trip, we didn’t know who else would be there. And because he travelled alone, he hung out a bunch with Zeke and me. An awesome guy that we’re thrilled to have part of the #KBFamily and an unexpected bonus to hang out with him in a context that didn’t revolve around the KBF!
After the day of driving we had a suite at the track to watch the races the next few days (there are a lot of secondary races around a NASCAR event). Zeke and I learned a lot from the other people that were there, both professional drivers and just from people who were big NASCAR fans (including Jason). Maybe I’m not the biggest NASCAR fan, but the experience was incredible and gave me a huge appreciation for what goes into it. And I have a new favorite driver!
For our trip to Delaware to drive the NASCAR we decided to leave Dylan in Vermont. This meant 3 nights away! I have left her for 2 nights once and a couple other times have left for 1 night, but 3 felt like a lot. She spent one night with my sister and 2 nights with my parents and, of course, she did great. We FaceTimed with her every night, ever time she saw us she would come up and say “mama” or “dada” with a big smile and get very excited, but then she would move on and keep playing. It was really fun to see her recognize us and be excited to see us but still not really care and have fun with my family. When we got back I kept thinking she was doing things that were so cute, but really I think it was that I had been away from her so everything she did seemed cute to me. What can I say, I guess I’m that mom that thinks everything their kid does is cute!