In March 2012, champion drag racer Dan Parker was behind the wheel of a Pro Mod Chevrolet Corvette when it speared into the retention wall at Alabama Dragway with such force that the entire front half of the car was immediately pulverized. Parker was lucky to survive the crash, but the impact rendered him permanently blind. As a result, his racing career had to come to halt. Fast forward to 2019, and Parker wants to once again get behind the wheel of a race car, but this time he's set his sights on the land speed record for a blind person.
Parker recently explained on a Facebook post that the idea came to him in a dream six months after his crash, a time in which he struggled with depression and even thoughts of suicide. His nighttime epiphany helped him realize motorsport didn't have to be a thing of his past, so with the aid of friends, donations, and sponsors, Parker prepared a three-wheeled, 70-cc motorcycle to race at the Bonneville Salt Flats, where he became the first blind man to compete in August of 2013.
"At first the officials at the BUB motorcycle speed trials were a little apprehensive when I first called inquiring about my project," Parker told The Drive. "After we formed a relationship they realized I was serious and a professional racer and put my skills and guidance system to the test in a special course. The officials told me if it were not for my past racing history, willing to work with officials, and my professionalism, they would not have considered letting me race."
Parker pushed the envelope further the following year and took an FIM-recognized world record for his class, with no special dispensation for visual impairment. Following his triumph, Parker learned that another blind racer by the name of Mike Newman had just set a record for the highest top speed attained on land, reaching 200.9 miles per hour in a modified Nissan GT-R. With his record run, Newman unintentionally helped Parker find a new, loftier goal, which he'll pursue in a modified 2008 Chevrolet Corvette that's equipped with an audio guidance system developed by a friend of his at Boeing Phantom Works.
"My guidance system is based off GPS," said Parker. "The officials give us access to the course before the races start every day. We plot the centerline. If I go 1 foot off-center I get a tone in that ear. The further I go off-center the tone increases. If I went 20 feet either way off-center it would shut off my bike. It also shuts off the bike when I crossed the finish line, and my engineer can remotely shut me off from the chase vehicle," he added.
If photos are anything to go by, Parker—who used to build race cars himself—is doing everything he can to prepare the car, though because of his visual impairments there's plenty that he could use a hand with. One of them is funding, as Parker has struggled to find consistent employment since his crash. He supports himself in part by selling hand-machined aluminum pens and razors, but you've got to sell a lot of pens to campaign a race car.
Those who want to support Parker's future racing endeavors can either purchase a handmade pen at the link above or follow his Facebook page, Tragedy to Triumph Racing. Folks interested in a more detailed account of Parker's post-crash life can watch PBS's documentary
We'll be following his journey as he makes an ambitious attempt at the fabled Salt Flats once more, hopefully resulting in another wild accomplishment and respected title.
Godspeed, Dan Parker.