- After a 2012 drag-strip crash that left him blind, Dan Parker didn’t give up his racing dreams.
- The crash happened in a 1963 Corvette, so his new project uses a 2008 C6 painted in the same colors.
- The current blind speed record—yes, there is one—is 200.9 mph, which Parker is confident he can beat.
Don’t tell your driving instructor, but it turns out you don’t need to see where you’re going to put the pedal to the metal. At least, you don’t if you’re Dan Parker, who is trying to set a new world record as the fastest blind person to drive a race car without human assistance.
Well, without any human assistance during the actual drive, anyway. As he’s prepping for the attempt, which is likely to happen this fall, Parker has a team of supporters who are helping him figure out how to go fast without the benefit of sight.
At the top of the list is his friend Patrick Johnson, who developed the custom guidance system that’s at the heart of the technology. When Parker wants to drive on a straightaway—and he’s only going for straight shots right now—his team does a test drive down the strip to plot coordinate points that define a center line that Parker will follow. Then, when he’s behind the wheel, the system uses automated audio cues to tell him how far he is from that line.
“Once they tell me the course is clear at the starting line, no one talks to me throughout the whole run,” Parker told Car and Driver. “The guidance system is doing everything.”
He relies on this automated system not only to guide him as he’s driving but also to keep him safe. If he goes 20 feet off the centerline, the system will shut the car down, and if he goes over 150 mph during testing, it will automatically deploy the parachute.
“This is a backyard project, but it’s not backyard technology,” he said.
Already a Drag-Racing Champion
The reason Parker is hellbent on setting this record is because he’s been racing since he was a child. He entered his first race at the age of eight at the suggestion of his father, and came in second. He kept at it, becoming the American Drag Racing League’s pro nitrous world champion in 2005. He’d probably still be doing things the “normal” way today if not for a serious crash back in 2012. That moment, which destroyed a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette and Parker’s sight, happened when he hit a concrete barrier at 175 miles per hour. That’s the meaning of the word “tragedy” in Parker’s Facebook page name: Tragedy to Triumph Racing.
The “triumph” part, though, is the way he has gotten back in the driver’s seat. The first was in a modified motorcycle that he used to become the first blind person to race at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2013. Now, he’s modifying a 2008 Corvette for his attempt to break the current blind speed record of 200.9 mph, achieved by Mike Newman in 2013.
The C6 he’s using was purchased as a salvage car, without a motor or an interior. It now boasts a number of special modifications, and has been painted the same color as the Vette he crashed in. There were a number of reasons he wants to set his record in this particular car.
“It was cheap,” he said. “And I knew the C6 platform was just a great platform, period. In the back of my mind, I went out in a Corvette and I’m making my comeback in a Corvette.”
The modifications include an engine that makes 570 rear-wheel horsepower, before nitrous, and which has a custom nitrous kit from Induction Solutions. There are also 700-pound rear springs and 750-pound front springs from RideTech and Baer racing brake pads. For Parker’s safety, there’s also a full roll cage bent by Stormin Normand’s Custom Rollcages, two 10-pound fire systems by Spa Techniques, as well as Stroud Safety seatbelts, window nets, and a parachute. One item that was of extreme importance was a custom exhaust that uses three mufflers to make it quiet enough for Parker to be able to hear the guidance system.
Parker has proven that the technology works, making a 153.8-mph run at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, in February. He didn’t veer more than five feet from the centerline, even with 22-mph side winds, he said.
“It feels exciting,” Parker said about his mission. “Yes, it is more dangerous than anything I’ve done before, obviously because I can’t see anything. I’m 100 percent blacked out. But this gives me a purpose. This gives me a reason to push my limits. I enjoy the technical side of racing, the designing of a race car, the problem solving. I tell people that I want to be treated as a racer, not as a sideshow.”
When he’s not working on his car or the speed record project, Parker creates pens and razor handles and sells them on his website, The Blind Machinist. He uses social media to keep people up to date on his progress, and this weekend posted on his Facebook page that he’s looking for video partners to film his upcoming speed record attempt. “One thing I have learned since going blind is I can not do it all alone anymore,” he wrote. “So I have to ask when I need help.”
For an intimate look at Parker’s accident and subsequent drive to keep racing, check out Driven Blind from Alabama Public Television.