It can be argued that adversity does not change a man, it only allows the world to see what’s hidden deep within him. In Dan Parker’s case, his blindness from a severe crash has afforded the world a perfect example of humble determination, a selfless spirit, and the drive to succeed which is so needed today. Having a Corvette simply gives him an avenue to show these exemplary traits to the world.
Reaching out for a record is admirable enough, but in Dan’s case, his goal crosses the threshold of what many would consider impossible. On March 31, 2012, Dan was involved in a horrific crash while testing a 1963 Corvette Pro Mod at a drag strip in Steele, Alabama. As a result of the crash, Dan was left totally blind, but that hasn’t taken away his vision of one day feeling the rush of wind and adrenaline that can only come from taking on the big white dyno known as the Bonneville Salt Flats.
A Vision Is Greater Than Sight
Dan has always dreamed of going after a big number on the salt, and in a typical person, that may have well remained a dream in this situation. But we’re talking about Dan Parker here. Dan explains how he re-learned ways to do many things that those with sight take for granted. He also learned many adaptive techniques that allowed him to continue building.
Dan had to overcome the limitations within his mind, as well as the shortcomings of his eyesight. “It’s always been a dream of mine to race on the salt,” he says. “After the accident, I thought that dream was over. Then it came to me one night in bed that I could do this. Losing my eyesight did not have to stop my goals and dreams.”
Dan’s dream morphed from simply running on the salt, to setting records on Bonneville’s shifting white surface. He set out on his modified dream of being the first blind man to independently race the Bonneville Salt Flats using a specially-built 50cc trike. Parker, formerly a professional chassis builder, now teaches machine shop at a local high school and continues to do a lot of the hands-on work himself, including much of the cutting, grinding, and fitting of chassis tubing for his efforts.
Dan secured two wrecked C6 Corvettes and combined the necessary components, along with the efforts of numerous friends and relatives, to build the next chapter in his can-do auto-biography. Dan purchased a salvaged 2008 Corvette that was damaged by Hurricane Harvey and accidentally located another wrecked C6; between the two, they started putting together all the necessary bits to make his dream to be the world’s fastest blind man a reality.
“I’ve designed the frame and bent the tubes myself using bump dots on my tubing bender and friends have helped with the welding,” he explains. To direct him under power, friends Allen Dudley and Patrick Johnson from MFI Electronics designed a guidance system using a high-grade GPS that alerts him if he strays off course by providing audible feedback into his specially-designed helmet to help him correct if necessary. There are also numerous fail-safe functions incorporated into the system, including a secondary steering wheel, should the need arise for human intervention during a run.
Dan’s Corvette is powered by a naturally-aspirated 427 cubic-inch LS3 engine assembled by long-time friend Gene Fulton. A complete rotating assembly was donated by Race Winning Brands. A K1 Technologies crankshaft and connecting rods along with a set of custom 14 to 1 compression Wiseco pistons were sent for the Dart Machinery supplied all-aluminum block which serves as the foundation for the anticipated 750 horses necessary to power Dan’s efforts for his historic run.
On August 26, 2013, just a year and a half after the accident that left him totally blind, Dan officially became the first blind man to independently race a motorcycle on the Bonneville Salt Flats. The very next year, he set the F.I.M class record at 62.407 miles per hour. Now, Dan has his sights set on an even more daunting task.
A legally-blind European has driven over 200 miles per hour with the help of human assistance, and Dan would like to surpass that amazing feat by reaching 210 miles per hour and do it without any human assistance during the run. He will be using a similar, audible system for fine-tuning his turn-less trip, but at these speeds, even the current system needs an upgrade. “We learned a lot the first time out,” Dan explains. “But this system has to be much more sophisticated to allow me to race at speeds over 200 miles per hour.”
Of course, chasing a double-century speed means that the car needed to be built with safety in mind. Those with anything better than mediocre, short-term memory will see how Dan’s determination and chassis-building skills will come into play here. At that point, work began in his garage in suburban Columbus, Georgia.
Stormin’ Normand’s Custom Cages in Indiana supplied a custom-fitted roll cage that friends Art Gravatt of Little Art’s Race Cars, Josh Mackey, Brad Ash, Ty West, and Jacob Edwards helped weld together. Ray Herring of Herring Outsource Fabricators filled in the necessary components to tie it all together with the chassis. Suspension modifications included RideTech coilovers which provided traction and stability to keep the vehicle on course at high speed.
The Run For The Record
Dan’s plan was to head out to the East Coast Timing Association’s invitational event at Spaceport America in New Mexico held on February 22-23, 2020. After overcoming so many challenges since he last turned a wheel in a race car, one of the forces Dan had to concede to was the high winds that strafed the straight course.
Despite less than ideal weather conditions and several cars going off-track, Dan did manage to get two runs during the event, only half the amount the team Tragedy To Triumph Racing had hoped. His first run on Saturday posted a speed of 120 miles per hour. While not the number the team was shooting for, not bad at all when you consider this was Dan’s first run in the car.
I’m not a blind man trying to race. I’m a racer who went blind. ~Dan Parker
Sunday brought about another attempt to set the record with ECTA owner/president Steve Strupp riding in the passenger seat. While the car does have provision for a passenger to take control in the name of safety, both passes were completed and directed solely using the guidance system designed into the car. The second pass, despite a 15 mph crosswind, produced a speed of 153.8 mph. Even so, it was enough to solidify his record as the fastest blind man in America to wheel a racecar without any human assistance and is a formidable stepping stone to reaching their 200+ milestone.
Dan and the entire Tragedy To Triumph team plan on making another effort to clinch the record as soon as possible. The ECTA will be holding another event in Blytheville, Arkansas on April 26-28, 2020, but Dan would like to get a little more testing on the car before that event. That of course, requires funds to pay for practice runs, fuel and all the necessities that don’t necessarily make the car faster but are just as important.
Dan, the ever-ingenious machinist, has done everything from raffles to selling some of his hand-turned ink pens to help fund his attempt. Anyone who speaks with Dan quickly realizes how thankful he is for all the help and the outpouring of support the entire automotive arena has provided. You can even hear Dan tell more details about his accident and the path he’s walked on his way to where he is today in this podcast recording he did on ThePodcastFactory.com.
He’ll continue to push forward in his goal of reaching the magic 200-plus mph, and while that number is still elusive, it pales in comparison to the hurdles that Dan and the team have already overcome. It’s those hurdles that have revealed to all who will take note, that a man’s vision is only partly what he can see with his eyes.