Sam Schmidt regained control of his passion with a powerful puff that left spectators in the dust Wednesday.
Shortly after becoming the first person in the nation to receive a restricted driver’s license for a semi-autonomous vehicle, the paralyzed former IndyCar driver blew into a tube that allowed him to speed off in a modified 2016 Corvette Z06.
“My dream since I was 5 years old was to be an Indy race car driver,” said Schmidt, a Henderson resident who made 27 career starts until he crashed during a test run in January 2000 at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida.
The accident severely injured his spinal cord, and he was diagnosed as a quadriplegic.
“It wasn’t my wife’s dream, it wasn’t my family’s dream, but what that dream has put them through these last 17 years hasn’t been great,” Schmidt said. “To work as hard as we’ve worked, and have them stick by me and to do this today is enough.”
Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison presented Schmidt with the special driver’s license in front of about 100 spectators gathered for a ceremony and demonstration held in the shadow of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Schmidt logged his first victory as an Indy Racing League driver in 1999.
Schmidt was giddy as a teenager, likening the experience to receiving his first driver’s license at the age of 16.
Arrow Electronics, a Fortune 500 company in Colorado, began developing the technology in 2014 that now allows Schmidt to drive. Schmidt has demonstrated the vehicle at several high-profile events, hitting a top speed of 152 mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
A headset worn by Schmidt will largely control the vehicle, a semi-autonomous motorcar known as SAM. Blowing into a tube attached to the headset allows Schmidt to accelerate; inhaling allows him to brake.