Quadriplegic driver, IndyCar team owner from Henderson got halfway up Pikes Peak

QuadDriverIt was a Sunday afternoon drive that Sam Schmidt will not soon forget.

And that was before the rain and snow and hail.

Two weeks after Schmidt drove to the summit of Pikes Peak during a practice run in a specially equipped Corvette, the quadriplegic IndyCar team owner from Henderson attempted to do it on race day at the 94th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Schmidt and co-pilot Robby Unser, a nine-time winner of the Hill Climb, were last up the mountain Sunday. They made it about halfway to the summit before Mother Nature intervened.

Rain, snow and hail are formidable obstacles for even the most able-bodied of racecar drivers to deal with during the Race to the Clouds. The annual Hill Climb is contested on a 12.42-mile course featuring 156 turns and few guardrails.

It’s 14,110 feet to the summit of Pikes Peak and the checkered flag. Schmidt, who controls his car by using vision sensors and blowing through a tube, said it was a thrill to make it halfway before the weather hit.

“They turned us around and had the other (finishing) cars follow us down,” he said. “It was really well-received. It was all good.”

Before the storm, the Pikes Peak broadcast team was unbridled in its praise of the Arrow Electronics team and the courage and spirit of the driver who suffered debilitating injuries during IndyCar testing in January 2000.

Just before 5 p.m. Colorado time, with hail pelting the summit and the sky looking like Armageddon, Schmidt and Unser set sail up the mountain.

The Hill Climb broadcasters said it was a spectacular start.

“Green flag for the Arrow car … he is spinning the tires … he is giving us a show … big round of applause … that’s an IndyCar driver … he’s a showman, no doubt about it.”

Swiss driver Romain Dumas was the overall winner with a time of 8 minutes, 51 seconds. Only one injury was reported. Joseph Toner of Scotland crashed his motorcycle and was taken to a local hospital. There was no report on his condition.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski