Truex gives riders taste of NASCAR

 

Kelly Brush, of Charlotte, VT checks out the special setup in Martin Truex JrÕs Furniture Row Toyota. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — It was a race car like no other.

It had the power to get people stricken with spinal cord injuries out of their wheel chairs and onto the high banks of Dover International Speedway alongside NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr.

It also had a certain magic that created huge, unerasable smiles for each of the 10 military veterans and civilians as they exited the car after taking their laps around the track known as the “Monster Mile” on Thursday.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” said Ed Clark, of Windham, New Hampshire, after he finished his ride with Mr. Truex. “I’m still collecting my thoughts.

“It just truly is an amazing experience with how quickly those cars get up to speed and when you come down off the bank and you get down into that corner, it really feels like you’re going down into a little gully.

“Then, when (Mr. Truex) gets on the gas coming back up (out of the corners) again, you feel like you’re on the rolling hills or some kind of mountainous terrain. The way that it felt was truly amazing.”

This was exactly the type of response that Dr. Scott Falci was looking for.

Dr. Falci is the chief neurosurgeon at Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, and is also the founder of Falci Adaptive Biosystem.

Martin Truex Jr. (center, no hat) poses with his special passengers at Dover International Speedway. (Special to Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

He, along with his partners from the U.S. Air Force Academy, FalconWorks and Princeton University, helped design the two-seat Toyota Camry adaptive race car, which was donated by the Furniture Row Racing team.

“This is a blast to finally get them in the car with Martin (Truex) and driving around the track at 160 mph or so, they’re having the time of their lives here,” Dr. Falci said. “It inspires them and pushes them to the limits to see what they can really do here.

“It helps us develop our adaptive technology as well. The car’s kind of a platform for that that we just build things on.”

Mr. Truex, the defending champion of the Apache Warrior 400 Monster Energy Series race at Dover, admitted that even while he wasn’t going nearly as fast as he will in Sunday’s race, he still got some chills himself while driving his passengers around.

Ed Clark, of Windham, N.H. getting helped into the Furniture Row Toyota for a few laps around the track at Dover International Speedway Thursday. Mr. Clark lost the use of his legs in a car accident right after he graduated from high school (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“It’s fun to see their reaction,” Mr. Truex said. “For me, it’s hard to go around here if it’s not in 22 seconds, so it probably doesn’t feel that fast (to me). But just seeing their reaction and just giving them a little bit of a feel of what we do and what we feel in the cars is pretty fun.

“They’ve obviously been through a lot and I don’t really know how to comprehend really what some of those folks have been through. It’s just an honor to meet them and give them a ride and hopefully they’ll enjoy it.”

Kelly Brush, from Charlotte, Vermont, was never a big NASCAR fan — well, until Thursday.

“That was great,” she said. “That was really awesome. It was a lot louder than I thought. It was really loud. It was like ringing in my ears.

“Gosh, you’re coming into that corner and (Mr. Truex) starts to slow down a little bit and then accelerates through it. It’s just wild. The feeling of it is crazy, but it was fun. I am glad I got to ride with him because I don’t think I could have ever driven that fast.”

Ms. Brush said she thought Mr. Truex might have been a little bit concerned about her well-being during their excursion around Dover’s one-mile concrete oval.

“He gave me a thumbs-up at one point and think he was just checking in to make sure I was OK,” she said, “and I was good and I gave him a thumbs-up back. It was awesome.”

Thursday’s event featuring the adaptive car is just one of several projects that Dr. Falci’s team is working on. He also helped develop a car, called a S.A.M. car, which allowed former IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt to eventually get back behind the wheel despite suffering a paralyzing accident during an IndyCar test session in January 2000.

The adaptive race car that Mr. Truex drove on Thursday looked a lot like the one that he will pilot in Sunday’s race, except the roll cages swung open and the door panels came off to allow the paraplegic passengers easier access.

Plus, this race car was equipped with special hand controls linked to the accelerator and brakes, so they could actually drive it themselves it they wanted to.

“It’s amazing the way they’re stepping up and willing to help folks and giving us a chance to do things that we don’t have those opportunities to do,” Mr. Clark said. “The technology they’re getting into, it’s just amazing with all of the stuff that they’re doing now with the biometrics, the remote controls and other different sensors.”

Mr. Clark was in no hurry to climb into the driver’s seat himself.

“I might just want to harness that (ridealong) experience and save it,” he said. “If I jumped in and took it for a ride around the block I’d feel like I’d be letting somebody down.

“The mechanics in the back would be cringing compared to what the car is built to do and what I’d do with it.”

Ms. Brush said she’d get in the driver’s seat in a heartbeat.

“I’d love to drive,” she said. “To be able to get in and drive and feel that (by) myself would be great. Hand controls are awesome to use anyway, but to drive a car like that would be incredible.

“I’ve never had huge aspirations to drive race cars and it’s not sort of my passion, but to get outside and be active and things like that, that’s what I love to do, but this is a new experience for me and it was incredible. You can bet I’ll be watching from now on.”

None of the drivers were told how fast they were actually traveling around Dover International Speedway, but they all agreed that it was fast enough.

“I did ask (Mr. Truex), ‘Compared to race day, what did you do for me?,’” Mr. Clark said, “and he said, ‘Compared to race day that would be a whole lot faster.’ But it felt like to me that we were going pretty fast.”

Dr. Falci was all smiles as he was able to bring an adaptive car to a NASCAR event for the first time.

It was yet another step on an amazing technological journey.

“We’ve been trying to get into a NASCAR venue and Dover’s been so wonderful to us allowing us to be here,” he said. “This is just great and unbelievable to be able to witness.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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