Southsider Voice correspondent
Many Indianapolis 500 drivers are promoting various causes.
Drivers Charlie Kimball, Justin Wilson and Pippa Mann plus car owner Sam Schmidt have been busy on and off the track promoting public awareness of health and lifestyle issues.
Schmidt, a quadriplegic, has the most interesting of causes by partnering with two companies to be able to drive a passenger car that employs technological developments from two Colorado-based companies and a neurosurgeon.
Arrow Electronics and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. have undertaken the SAM project, which allows Schmidt to drive a 2014 Corvette C7 by the movement of his head and clinching of his teeth. The former IndyCar competitor drove the car across the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s start-finish line at 100 mph Sunday.
Four sensors on the headgear transmit information to infrared cameras on the dashboard. By tilting his head, he can dictate steering and increase the car’s speed in 10 mph increments. A bite sensor decreases the car’s speed. GPS technology is utilized to keep the car on course.
“I’m inspired by this project; it’s re-energized me to see if we can find a cure for paralysis in my lifetime,” Schmidt said. “This technology is translational and can help a lot of people – mobility, transportation, medical devices; it has a lot of applications.”
Schmidt was paralyzed in an IndyCar accident at the Disney World Speedway in January 2000 when his car backed into an outside wall. He suffered a spinal injury and spent five weeks on a respirator.
“Sam has only the capacity (to move) from the neck up,” Arrow Electronics engineer Chakib Loucif explained. “From Day 1 we wanted to develop a system for Sam that would allow him to control a car by using his natural movements with his head. Tilting his head to the left will turn the car to the left, to the right then to the right; he uses a pressure sensor in his mouth to bite on, and the harder he bites, the harder he brakes.”
Schmidt co-owns Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing, which has two drivers in the Indy 500: Simon Pagenaud starts fifth and 1995 winner Jacques Villeneuve. Schmidt also owns cars in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, where his drivers have won five championships.
Teammates with causes
Wilson and Mann are teammates at Dale Coyne Racing, and they represent different causes.
Wilson, a former Formula One competitor who will start 14th in Sunday’s 98th running of the Indy 500, is part of a Driving for Dyslexia campaign. He has made appearances in front of youngsters with dyslexia so that they can learn to cope with it.
“It’s not a disease,” Wilson said. “It’s just the way your brain interprets things. It takes hard work, extra lessons and time. It was such a chore to read growing up, and it was hard to understand because the words didn’t mean anything.”
Wilson explained that his self-confidence declined, so he tries to encourage youngsters that having dyslexia is not the end of the world for them.
“You can work your way through it with lots of hard work, and you can be successful,” Wilson said of his consistent and uplifting message.
In England, Wilson’s father took him go-kart racing for seven years.
Mann, who starts 22nd, is racing to raise awareness of breast cancer and promote donations to the Susan G. Komen organization, which has funded more than $800 million in research and $1.7 billion in worldwide screening, education, treatment and psychosocial support programs.
“It’s incredible to be able to bring this partnership to Indianapolis and the 500,” she said. “To bring them to this stage is an absolute thrill.”
Mann emphasized that all donations through www.racewithpippa.com go to Susan G. Komen organization and not to support her racing effort at the Indianapolis 500. More information is available at www.komen.org.
Kimball, the first IndyCar driver to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, will make his fourth start in the Indy 500 in the 26th position in the No. 83 Dallara Chevrolet co-owned by Chip Ganassi.
Kimball was diagnosed at age 22 in 2005 but was back in the driver’s seat in 2008. He is the first driver to race in the 500 with type 1 diabetes.
Sponsored by Novo Nordisk, Kimball uses the NovoLog FlexPen as his insulin injection. Racing for Target Chip Ganassi, he has launched the Race with Insulin Unites program, which educates the public about diabetes.
When racing, Kimball is monitored for his blood glucose levels through a wireless system attached to his arm. If needed, he can sip a sugar-infused drink through his helmet.