Schmidt has been paralyzed from the chest down for more than 17 years after a racing accident at Walt Disney World Speedway.
Thanks to the specially modified SAM (Semi-Autonomous Motorcar) Corvette, though, he has been able to use technology to drive again, despite his paralysis.
Using four infrared cameras that respond to sensors in Schmidt’s helmet, he can steer the car, and a sip and puff tube allows him to take care of the braking and accelerating.
Robby Unser, Schmidt’s co-driver for the past year, explains that the special technology is a like a balloon. “So he blows into it and he can put his tongue on the end to hold it and get a breath and stuff,” Unser said. “But he pretty much uses his mouth and then breathes through his nose. It takes a lot of concentration, a lot of focus. He does an amazing job at it.”
Andretti will be behind the wheel of an identically prepared Corvette, allowing Schmidt the opportunity at last to race against one of his heroes in the racing world.
“A lifelong dream, I never had that opportunity when I was racing cars, just watched him when I was growing up,” Schmidt said. “He’s one of the reasons I made the decision at five years old that I wanted to come to Indy and race in the Indy 500.”
We like the odds that Schmidt will be the winner Saturday, especially since he has already proven his talents with the SAM Corvette after racing to the top of Pike’s Peak last summer. He also drove on the Indy oval last year but Thursday marked his first laps on the road course with the bigger challenge of plenty of right and left turns, braking, and accelerating.
Andretti, meanwhile, took his first test laps Wednesday, using his head and mouth to drive his SAM Corvette.
“It’s a whole new dimension,” Andretti said. “Believe me. I was curious, though, still am. I marvel at the technology and the response of the systems.”
Schmidt is proud to be helping lead the way in the use of technology to improve – and save – people’s lives. “There are so many veterans and so many disabled people out there who want to get back in the workforce and want to contribute, want to pay their mortgage, want to put food on the table,” he said. “This technology absolutely allows them to do that.”
If you’d like to help Conquer Paralysis Now, an organized started by Schmidt, you can donate $10 by texting “Sam” or “Mario” to 50555 before or during the race to vote for your favorite driver.
On the other hand, why not vote once for each of them?
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