Driving to ExcelPosted on December 5th, 2010
Bondurant program gives disabled drivers the performance edge
By Nina Russin
Todd Crutcher doesn’t remember much about December 24, 2009, when a seizure caused by a cavernous malformation in his brain caused him to collapse at work. The director of business development at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving was unconscious during the Medevac flight to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. Crutcher’s slow path to recovery following surgery required twelve days in an induced coma due to an ICU psychosis.
But he will never forget how Jo Crawford and her team at the Barrow Connection helped him to rehab and get back to work. In addition to occupational therapy, Barrow and her team plan recreational events outside the hospital to help patients “get back into the world.”
When he finally got the green light to leave the hospital, Crutcher came up with the idea of a day at the track for Barrow patients. The program would include exercises on the skid pad and hot laps on the track with the school’s team of professional driving instructors. Owner Bob Bondurant agreed to the idea, donating his facility free of charge.
A year later, several dozen paraplegics sit in the Bondurant museum, where chief instructor Mike McGovern prepares them to drive on the autocross course. McGovern’s presentation is similar to what he teaches able-bodied drivers, including principles of weight transfer, hand and eye coordination, and the proper way to apex through a turn.
The difference is that the Pontiac G8s the paraplegics will drive are equipped with hand controls. MPS, a company which produces adaptive controls, has modified the Pontiacs for the Bondurant event.
Jenny Nordine, owner of Driving to Independence, describes the hand devices on the G8s as ‘push right angle controls. ’ Driving to Independence evaluates the Barrow patients and trains them in the use of adaptive controls. The controls on the Pontiac G8s are intended for paraplegics, who have good upper body strength. The driver pushes the control to brake and pulls down at a right angle to accelerate.
A spinner knob or tri-pin allows the driver to move the steering wheel with one hand. The tri-pin has three prongs, enabling those without the hand strength to use a spinner knob to control the wheel.
One man’s story
Among those waiting to take their turn on the track, none is more excited than Rob Martin, a former professional motorcycle racer who broke his back in a four-wheeling accident five years ago. Martin raced a Yamaha 600 road bike in the national circuit for five years. When he retired from racing, he joined the Prescott, Arizona police force.
“I wasn’t surprised by what happened,” said Martin. “I’d gone sideways so many times on a motorcycle and been shot at while on duty as a cop. In some ways, it was only a matter of time.”
Martin was four-wheeling at the dunes outside Yuma, Arizona when he was thrown from the ATV. His helmet got stuck in the sand and the body kept going, breaking his seventh thoracic vertebra. Surgeons were able to repair the bone, but the spinal cord was severed, causing complete paralysis beneath the chest.
After six weeks of rehab, Martin returned to the Prescott police department, this time as a dispatcher. He rides a three-wheel hand cycle, participating in a yearly torch run to raise money for the Special Olympics. Martin has a Nissan Titan that he’s adapted with hand controls. The Titan’s rear doors open wide enough to pull his wheelchair into the back seat.
One by one, program attendees get behind the wheel of the specially-equipped Pontiacs and take their turn on the track. With each successive turn, the drivers get a little more courageous. As I leave the track around sunset, I pause to watch one of the participants with a smile as big as New York squeal through a hairpin and head back to the staging tent.
“This isn’t about sadness and injury,” says Jo Crawford. It’s about enjoying the outdoors and having fun.” For her patients at Barrow, Christmas this year comes with an extra dose of octane.
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