On Saturday, May 13, Sam Schmidt, a 52-year-old former Indycar driver with C3-4-5 quadriplegia, faced off against the legendary Mario Andretti in an exhibition race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The pair raced using a pair of identical Corvette Zo6 semi-autonomous cars developed by Arrow Electronics.
Using a high tech headset that connected with infrared cameras, Schmidt and Andretti navigated the 2.5 mile, 14 turn hairpin course by tilting their heads to steer, using a sip and puff device to accelerate and brake, and shifting gears via voice commands. Reaching speeds of 130 mph, the former racers traded leads several times, and even though Andretti edged out a win in the end, Schmidt said just getting to race again after almost two decades was a massive victory for him.
Schmidt was paralyzed in a training accident at the Walt Disney World Speedway in 2000. As co-owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Schmidt stayed involved in racing after his accident but was unable to do anything from the driver’s seat. When Arrow approached him in 2013 about evolving a state-of-the-art semi-autonomous adaptive car, Schmidt’s decision was a no brainer. “If you build it, I will drive it,” he said.
Aptly nicknamed the SAM corvette, Schmidt has been instrumental in the car’s development over the past four years. Last year, he reached 152 mph in a pre-race demonstration at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Racing up Pikes Peak in Colorado, he topped speeds of 80 mph, and he also became the first person in the country licensed to drive a semi-autonomous car for street-legal driving. Saturday’s race against Andretti marked the first time he directly competed against anyone using the same setup. Schmidt says he couldn’t be happier with the way the car performed.
“It was everything I expected and more. The equipment performed flawlessly and Mario gave us a good race,” he says. “More importantly, it is a huge win for Arrow and their efforts to deploy this technology in industries so people with disabilities can go to work.”
He is excited to keep working with Arrow to hopefully bring this technological innovation the mainstream car industry in the near future so people can live more independent lives. As for his racing future, Schmidt says he isn’t going to let Andretti remain victorious: “I finished one car behind him. I want a rematch.”
The following video shows Schmidt racing up Pikes Peak in Colorado and tells more of his story: