Sam Schmidt was an IndyCar driver when he sustained a C-3/4/5 spinal cord injury while practicing for the 2000 season opener at Walt Disney World Speedway. He created the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation (SSPF) that year to raise funds for medical research, innovative equipment used for rehabilitation, and quality-of-life issues. SSPF, now Conquer Paralysis Now, is a leading authority on spinal cord injury research and treatment. They are backed by an international coalition of medical doctors, research scientists and business leaders who share a singular goal: Finding a cure for paralysis.
While he lost the use of his limbs, Schmidt never lost his will or his passion for racing. In 2013, Schmidt agreed to partner with engineers from Arrow Electronics who were committed to make his dream to drive again a reality. Together, a team of engineers and medical researchers worked to modify a car to be safely driven by Sam’s head movement. On May 18, 2014, Sam took the Semi-Autonomous Motor Car (SAM Car) to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, driving for the first time since his accident in 2000. He was able to reach 97 MPH, and later reached 107 MPH back at IMS. Schmidt is the current co-owner of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He is also the first quadriplegic in Nevada to have an active driver’s license, and is motivated to continue working with Arrow to further develop the SAM Car.
To honor his achievements with Conquer Paralysis Now and with IndyCar, Sam Schmidt has been named Grand Marshal of the 63rd IPL 500 Festival Parade. 500 Festival president and CEO Bob Bryant surprised Sam with the announcement during a team press conference for the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of when Sam was last driven in the parade as a driver for the Indy 500, and Sam will drive himself on the parade route using the SAM Car.
“Sam is a tremendous example of overcoming adversity and using innovative technologies to improve the livelihood of people with disabilities. As a past driver and current team owner, it was only fitting that we surprised Sam with this announcement while doing what he loves. We’re excited to have Sam return to the IPL 500 Festival Parade as Grand Marshal, 20 years after he rode the route as an Indy 500 driver,” said Bob Bryant, president and CEO of the 500 Festival. “We can’t wait to witness innovative technology in action with Sam at the helm of Arrow’s SAM Car.”
“It’s with great excitement that we welcome Sam Schmidt as Grand Marshal for the 2019 IPL 500 Festival Parade on May 25,” said Tanya Sovinski, IPL’s director of community relations and 500 Festival board member. “Sam joins the legacy of IPL 500 Festival Parade Grand Marshals who are driven to create change in their communities and use their platform to be a voice for a noble cause. This will be a great opportunity to celebrate the legacy of the Indy 500 and share his mission with over 300,000 spectators.”
Want to see Sam Schmidt at the 2019 IPL 500 Festival Parade?