LONG BEACH, Calif. – Sam Schmidt took a spin around Indianapolis Motor Speedway last spring, his first time behind the wheel since being paralyzed in a racing accident in 2000.
He had a tougher challenge Sunday: Navigating the twists and turns of the street course in Long Beach.
"An unbelievable experience. Coming here for 25 years with my parents, I always wanted to race here, but never had the opportunity so it's a really, really special day," he said. "It's a totally different experience sitting here. There's bumps you don't see from the TV and video games don't do it justice."
Schmidt took to the track about an hour before the Grand Prix of Long Beach and did nearly two laps around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn circuit in a specially-equipped Corvette C7 Stingray.
The car uses four infrared cameras mounted to the windshield that track left and right movements of Schmidt's head through reflective markers. The information gets sent to a computer in the back of the car that calculates where to steer the car.
Acceleration and braking is done with "sip and puff" technology similar to wheelchairs, where sipping on a straw slows the car down and blowing into it makes the car go faster.
Schmidt's top speed of 80 mph was less than what he hit at Indianapolis, but this trip involved turning left and right around the streets of downtown Long Beach.
"This is probably the most fun and less stress that I'll see all day," Schmidt said. "Being on the stand is not as fun as this. To have a little confirmation from a guy like Mario (Andretti) and our drivers is fantastic. It speaks volumes. In the IndyCar Series it's a team effort and this is a team effort with this group of engineers. It's pretty nice to being to drive this car again."
A former driver on the IndyCar Series, Schmidt was paralyzed from the neck down after crashing during testing in Orlando. He founded Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2001 and teamed with Ric Peterson to form Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2013.