Photos courtesy Arrow Electronics
Each year since 1911, the Indianapolis 500 has spotlighted the top drivers and the best mechanics at the storied “Brickyard.” And, this year, Chevrolet is powering 14 of the 33 cars in the starting field, as well as pacing the race. Plus there’s a special Chevy (C7 Corvette) that’ll make an appearance on race day, driven by a man who hasn’t let quadriplegia stop him.
Sam Schmidt, a rising star in the Indy Racing League (IRL) in the late ‘90s, was seriously injured in a practice crash at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, FL in January of 2000, which fractured his 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae, and left him without the use of his arms and legs. After leaving the hospital, he met with Formula 1 team owner Sir Frank Williams, himself a paraplegic, and was inspired to follow his passion for racing in the same way that Sir Frank had.
Just 14 months after the crash Sam formed Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which became one of the top teams in what’s now called the Firestone Indy Lights Series, whose drivers won that series’ championship in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2012. Now called Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the team is highly regarded in the world of open wheel racing as one that can develop the top driving talent that would later compete in the IndyCar Series—especially the "500" (Indianapolis 500).
Thanks to advancing technology, Sam will get his chance to get behind the wheel again, and turn laps at the Brickyard in one of the most advanced cars anywhere—a C7 Corvette called “SAM,” for “Semi-Autonomous Motorcar.”
A joint venture of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Arrow Electronics, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, the Air Force Research Laboratory and Falci Adaptive Motorsports, SAM is a C7 Corvette that Sam Schmidt can drive, using integrated advanced electronics and a human-to-machine interface so he can drive it by moving his head and mouth.
This is no mere pure-science exercise, according to Andrew Dawes, who’s one of the engineers at Arrow Electronics that made this happen. “The great thing about the SAM project isn’t that we are doing something out of the ordinary–we are taking existing technology and stretching its limits to see how far it can go.”
How far can the SAM project go? How about not just around the 2 ½-mile oval at 16th Street and Georgetown Road, but on streets like 16th Street, Georgetown Road—and every Main Street, highway and byway anywhere! That’s the goal of the researchers who put the SAM project together—enabling and empowering those who’ve been mere passengers to take control of their mobility.
Sam Schmidt will make four “performance laps” around the Speedway on Sunday, prior to the 98th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” then he and SAM will travel to select industry and public events. (The SAM project also supports Conquer Paralysis Now, the foundation that Sam established to find a cure for paralysis.)
Keep an eye out for SAM on Sunday—a C7 Corvette created, engineered and adapted by brilliant engineers and technicians who used their heads, driven by a man using his—one who hasn’t let the effects of a terrible crash stop him.