There is nothing unusual about seeing cars racing around the high banks of Daytona International Speedway, but when the 60 plus cars take to the track on January 26 for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, there will be one very special driver joining the racers…
Two time CART champion Alex Zanardi will be the first race car driver to pilot a car using only hand controls.
In 2001, only four days after the 9/11 tragedy, Zanardi was involved in a horrific crash in Germany that resulted in his car scattering debris all across the track and left Zanardi a bilateral amputee above the knee.
Never on to complain or sit still, Zanardi immersed himself in a wide variety of sports including the Iron Man Triathlon and the Paralympics where he has medaled four times.
While Zanardi helped to design his own prosthetic legs, he jokes that he made himself taller, he will not be using those legs during the race but a specially designed steering wheel that will feature all the controls normally operated by a driver’s feet. BMW built the special steering wheel for Zanardi.
An endurance race, the 24 Hours of Daytona involves teams of multiple drivers. Zanardi and his team member Jesse Krohn have practiced the driver change that includes the switching of steering wheels and can make the transfer in less than 15 seconds. Krohn remarked that Zanardi can get in and out of the car faster than he can. John Edwards and Chaz Mostert are also a part of the racing team.
Drivers are used to being stopped by fans for autographs and photos, but Zanardi is constantly being stopped by his fellow drivers and racing personnel as he zips around the racing area in an electric wheelchair.
The Italian born racer eventually competed the race at EuroSpeedway that took his legs and has been racing in way form or another ever since.
Feature photo credit: By Morio – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1951712