Racecar Driver And Paraplegic Danny Pollock Gets Back Into Racing

Editor’s Note: Danny Pollock never believed that he couldn’t drive a racecar. His focus always has been, “Ok, what do I have to do to modify a racecar, so I can drive it, and not only drive it, but drive it to win the race?” Due to his determination, Pollock never gave up on his dream. He wanted to be defined as a racecar driver, not as a person with a spinal cord injury. Pollock believed that the Sprint car was the vehicle most suited for him to adapt to continue on with his racing career. Part 4 of a 5 part series.

To race the Sprint car, I had to prove that I could drive it, and that I wouldn’t be a hazard to other drivers. The racetrack couldn’t prevent me from competing, as long as I was safe. It was my responsibility to make sure that the race was safe for the drivers and the competitors on the racetrack. I’d seen the USAC (United States Autoracing Club) investigate a car before, and they crawled into, out of, under and around every portion of a car before they certified it as safe to race. The inspectors were very picky about every aspect of the racecar and often required the owner to change different parts of the racecar to make it safer.

Danny Pollock was ready to compete again!

Danny Pollock was ready to compete again!

They came up to my car, and all of the officials went over it with a fine toothed comb. Finally they said, “Your car looks cool; good luck.” I was shocked. I never thought that they’d approve my car so quickly. My plan was to have the car approved at the racetrack and then watch the races, because I felt certain that the inspectors would require me to take it home and change some aspects of the car. However, they didn’t. Since we were approved earlier in the day, of course, I wanted to race that night during the performance. We called my family and friends and got them to bring my helmet and race suit and the equipment I needed. When I put on my equipment and got in the car to make sure everything was set up right, the announcer called for us to come down and run a qualifying lap. The car and I just barely made it to the starting line to qualify for the first race. The first time I ever really drove my Sprint car and used the hand controls was for the qualifying laps of the first Sprint car race in which I was to compete.

When I was ready to start, I realized that driving a racecar with hand controls was quite different than driving a modified car or a go kart. The first thing that was different was that we were racing on a dirt track, and with the Sprint car, I didn’t really have a windshield, so I’d constantly be getting dirt in my face, if I was running behind the cars. To see, I had to use what were called tear-offs, pieces of clear plastic that I had to put on the front of the windshield in my helmet. As the dirt and mud would build-up on those tear-offs, I’d simply tear-off a sheet of plastic that was dirty. Then I had a clear sheet of plastic to look through, while racing. During the course of a race, I’d tear-off several pieces of this plastic that was catching the dirt and mud that was lodged on the face shield of my helmet.

Learning how to use hand controls wasn't the only thing Danny had to get used to.

Learning how to use hand controls wasn

One thing I learned right away was that I had quite a task in figuring out how to pull the tear-offs from the face shield on my helmet and at the same time continue to stay on the gas and the brakes during the race. I found that during a race, I’d use about 20 tear-offs. I’d get the most dirt in my face as I started into and also in the middle of the first turn, because that was when the Sprint cars would be sliding and throwing up the most dirt and mud. I had to learn to wait until I was on the straightaway before pulling off the tear off and getting a clean view of the track again. Sometimes coming out of the turn, I’d have so much dirt on my tear-off that I’d be almost blinded before I could reach the straightaway after the turn. I’d use my brake hand to pull off the tear-off, so I could give the Sprint car gas and direction, but I wouldn’t be able to control the brakes, until I pulled off the tear-off.  I felt great about my first race.

I don’t remember what place I finished, but I know I wasn’t last. More importantly, I’d proved to myself, the track owners and the other drivers that I could compete as a Sprint car driver, although I didn’t have control of or feeling in my lower body. Remember that of all the people I’d worked with, I was the first people to ever develop a hand control for a Sprint car or a racecar. Just to know that all of our hard work, time and money actually had paid off in a design that would let me race was a major accomplishment. Though I didn’t get the checkered flag, I wasn’t the last car to finish either, which told me and my race team that we could overcome all the hurdles to make Sprint car racing accessible to individuals with spinal cord injuries.

When I’m on the racetrack, I’m not in my wheelchair or a disabled person, and I’m not defined as a person with a spinal cord injury. I’m a racecar driver, just like all the other drivers. I can race to win just like they do. If you’re sitting in the stands, you only see my car and my number. You don’t see my disability or the hand controls I use to drive the Sprint car. So, there’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with being a racecar driver. The other drivers at the track respect me as a driver and not as a guy in a wheelchair trying to race. I’ll never forget what Sam Schmidt told me, “Never give up.”

To learn more about Danny Pollock’s racing, visit www.dannypollock.com.

Next: Racecar Driver and Paraplegic Danny Pollock’s Biggest Obstacle

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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