Sam Schmidt, a 65-year-old former Indy Racing driver from Las Vegas, Nevada, earned his first win at the Vegas.com 500 in September 1999. Four months later, in his most unfortunate race, his car, a Treadway Racing G Force-Aurora, which was going with a speed of about 321 kilometres an hour, spun and hit the retaining wall of Walt Disney World Speedway. “..and the wall did not move,” Schmidt told BBC in an interview. The accident damaged his spine and left him quadriplegic — paralysed by all four limbs.
21-years-later, Schmidt is returning to the race tracks. He is to drive number five Arrow Electronics Corvette C8, a semi-automatic car at Goodwood Festival of Speed in the United Kingdom. Despite his disability, he is able to drive the new car because it operates on his head movements. While wearing a helmet, when he turns his head in either direction, the wheels of the car follow, thanks to the ultra-sensitive cameras placed in the car. To accelerate, he needs to blow in a pipe in his mouth, and when he wants to apply brakes, all he has to do is to suck the straw.
Thrilled by his new car, Schmidt says he never would have thought something like this would happen. He thinks that the new semi-autonomous car is very intuitive, now that he has become used to it. Schmidt feels excited about how technology is going to change people’s lives, especially those who have disabilities. Schmidt’s company Arrow McLaren SP, which he founded and co-owns, has won 13 Indy car races.
The car also has an overtake system — a steering wheel and a traditional driver’s seat — to gain manual control in the case of an emergency.
Grace Doepker, one of the engineers that built Schmidt’s car, has taken a drive with the former Indycar racer. According to Doepker, who works at Arrow technologies, a company that Schmidt partnered with for the semi-automatic car, these technologies should be installed on all vehicles from racing cars to mail trucks.