Meet Dan Parker, America's Fastest Blind Racer

April 21, 2020 / by Bradley Iger

Dan Parker is living proof you can't keep a good man down. After loosing his sight in a racing accident, dan got back on the horse–Corvette in this instance– and achieved the impossible, becoming the fastest blind man in America.

“A dream changed my life forever,” Dan Parker recalls. “I went to bed thinking about my late brother – he had told me about a group of guys from France who had flown to the United States with a disassembled 50cc motorcycle in their luggage. They rented a car and drove to Bonneville, put the bike together, and each one set a different record with it. And when I fell asleep, I dreamt that I could race again – that I could become the first blind man to race at the Bonneville Salt Flats.”

Dan’s record-setting steed is this 2008 Corvette. With a custom GPS guidance system, a 427-cube LS3 with Wiseco and K1 Technologies hardware under the hood, and no shortage of aero and suspension tweaks, it’s a machine that’s purpose-built to ensure that Dan can safely embark on these high-speed blasts.

While testing out a new engine combination in March of 2012, Parker was involved in a horrific crash that would completely upend his world. “On the first full pass I went 4.07 at 175 miles per hour, and the car suddenly made a hard right turn into the wall,” he explains. “It tore part of the wall down, and the car started tumbling. That’s when it broke in half – there was nothing in front of my feet. Two weeks later I woke up from an induced coma to find out that I was permanently blind.”

Dan with famed gearhead (and former talk show host) Jay Leno.

For Parker, a machinist and life-long racer who’d had numerous victories throughout his career (including the title at the 2005 Pro Nitrous World Championship), the dream was a pivotal turning point. “It saved my life,” he says. “I went from being on the verge of suicide to a sense of purpose.”

Determined to turn that dream into his reality, Parker quickly set to work with the help of friends and supporters. “We designed and built a motorcycle from scratch. Ten months later, in August of 2013, I became the first blind man to race at Bonneville,” he tells us. “And I returned in 2014 and set the official FIM class record with no exemptions for blindness.”

After encountering some issues during the car’s first run, the team re-grouped and made some tweaks. The following day Parker went out and made history with a 153.8 mph run, becoming the fastest blind man in America as well as the fastest blind man in the world to race with no human assistance.

Then, after spending nine months getting better acclimated to the changes in his lifestyle through a comprehensive training program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Parker decided to embark on a new challenge. “Fall of 2017 is when I bought the Corvette,” he says. “And the sole purpose of that was to build a car that would help me become the world’s fastest blind man.”

The Corvette’s custom guidance system uses GPS and other sensors to provide Parker with real-time audio commands that help him make small corrections during his passes to keep the nose pointed straight down the course.

To that end, Parker zeroed in on standing mile and 1.5-mile events. “Safety and aerodynamics have been the main focuses of the build,” he notes. “The folks from Little Art Race Cars volunteered on three different weekends to travel to us and install the roll cage in the car. And as I could find folks to help out, we just started chipping away at the long list of tasks in front of us, from blocking off the grille and creating a full belly pan to making the ram air system and cutting out the hood to make room for the intake we’re using.”

Parker says that a dream he had six months after his life-changing accident completely changed his outlook, setting in motion the events that would eventually lead to his recent record-breaking run.

Another one of those tasks involved designing and implementing a custom GPS-based audio guidance system that would direct Parker down the tarmac during his passes. “We plot the course in the software that my friend Patrick Johnson designed, and it uses GPS sensors, along with some other sensors that are above my pay grade, to make sure the car stays on the intended path,” he says. “So, for instance, if the car starts wandering to the left a little bit, the system will say, ‘Right, Right,’ and if the car starts going harder to the left, the audio cues get more rapid.’ If I’m on target it will keep saying ‘Straight,’ and if I go twenty feet outside the center line, it’ll shut off the car automatically. And if I’m going over 175 miles per hour and that happens, it’ll also automatically deploy the parachute.”

“The build was completed when we got to Spaceport America,” Dan says with a laugh. “When we unloaded it from the trailer, it’d never been a quarter-mile under its own power.”

Parker’s C6 gets its motivation from a naturally aspirated 427ci LS3 combination that includes 14:1 compression Wiseco pistons, a crankshaft and connecting rods from K1 Technologies, Trend pushrods, and cylinder heads from Frankenstein Engine Dynamics. The new 570 rear-wheel horsepower mill was machined and assembled at Fulton Competition in January in 2020 in preparation for Parker’s upcoming event at Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico just a few weeks later.

“Me and friends left on Wednesday, February 19th on a 1500-mile trek out there, and along the way we stopped at Western Tech and they let us use the shop for the day so we could finish the little details on the car,” Parker says. “Friday was setup, and the guys discovered on Friday night that the GPS sensor for the guidance system was acting up. They found another one and got it working Saturday morning, and that afternoon I made my first pass with the car – ever.”

“The car is a tool to send a message to folks who have challenges like these that they can still enjoy their passions,” Parker says. “That’s what this is about – it’s far bigger than just me.”

But Parker says the guidance system still wasn’t quite dialed in at that point. “I was zig-zagging a bit, so I returned to the pits and we had a team meeting, and Patrick reworked the software that night. Sunday morning we were filming an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, so we really only had one chance to get it right. My car has two steering wheels in it so the co-pilot can take over if needed, so I had Steve Strupp, the owner of the East Coast Timing Association, riding along with me for the pass. As we were getting buckled in, I told Steve, ‘I got this – just believe in me.’ I started off slow and rolled into the throttle, and at the 1.5-mile marker, I went through the traps at 153.8 miles an hour. And that makes me the fastest blind man in America, and the fastest blind man in the world to race with no human assistance.”

After crosswinds picked up to over 30 mph later in the day, Parker and the crew decided to pack it in with this massive achievement already secured. But he says they’re already plotting how he’ll take on the next big challenge.

“We need to rent a facility to set the Guinness World Record because you have to do a two-way average,” he points out. “So right now we’re fund raising and looking for sponsorship to help make it happen, and Patrick has some tweaks he wants to do to the guidance system. Once that’s done and we can get some time to test on a local airstrip, if I can get aggressive in the first quarter-mile, that’s all it’s going to take to do it. We know we have the horsepower.”

 

Topics: FEATURES, INTERVIEWS, featured, CAR FEATURES, LS

Related posts

Written by Bradley Iger

NEVER MISS A POST

Videos