What’s it like to drive a race car without being able to see

It takes courage to drive a race car. It takes courage to drive one quickly. It takes daring to drive one fast without being able to see.

With my face completely covered in a flame retardant balaclava, I climbed into a specially adapted racer and had a helmet clamped over my huge head. Then I was tied so tightly that I couldn’t move.

Ralph, my instructor for my lite session of two blindfolded and two sighted rounds, said my restricted movements were for my own benefit. And then the blindfold was put on me.

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Speaking to me through a microphone and speaker system installed in our helmets, Ralph says he will be a knowledgeable guide to me, and I believe him wholeheartedly. But I still don’t see. So I’m still definitely terrified.

“Press the Mushroom”

That fear evaporates in the spring sunshine near my second corner of the Three Sisters circuit in Wigan – with Ralph’s calm “more left…hold it…hold…straighten it” being as much advice as I need it. That feels, dare I say it, easy? It’s about following Ralph’s lead and not overdoing it.

“Plant it,” Ralph then tells me, and I do. That’s when my afternoon shifts from a gentle meander around a small circuit to the full racing experience that charity founders John and Mike promised me earlier.

Enter… completely in the dark

In a moment, we go, and we continue. There’s more wind, more noise, more pressure forcing me to sit down, and somehow more colors.

Ralph, who thankfully isn’t nicknamed “Wreck-It Ralph” until after I get out of the car, tells me to calm down and gives me a little more control on our second ride.

We repeat it indeed and it’s just as brilliantly intense the second time around. Lap two is the end of my blind run, so I go into the pits, take off the blindfold, and drive off again.

So, armed with a certain feel for the car, a better knowledge of the circuit, and still in Ralph’s expert hands, I’m ready to go. We go two more laps and I’m delighted with myself.

“My guess is you were a little faster blindfolded,” he tells me as we stop. Hearing this, I don’t understand why Ralph – my confidant, my guru, my wise guide – does not recognize my obvious talent. How could I be slower?

It’s because I’m scared, he explains, and it’s relatively common for people like me who do both sight and blind racing. Nonetheless, I had a great time — and I’m not the only one.

The Three Sisters circuit in Ashton-in-Makerfield has been home to the charity Speed ​​of Sight, which uses dual-drive cars to take people with visual impairments, mobility needs and hearing impairments to the circuit. learning.

“I became a little too confident”

“I don’t have a lot of eyesight and the charity allows people who are visually impaired to drive,” says Team GB Paralympian Amy Ottaway. The goalball player, who represented the Union Flag at London 2012, is pictured here with her fiance, Joe Dodson.

Like Amy, Joe was also a goalball player for Great Britain at the Paralympic Games ten years ago. They met in 2010, when they trained together.

GB Paralympians Joe Dobson and Amy Ottaway

Both say it was an “incredible” experience. Amy adds: “It was amazing [to be behind the wheel]really very good.

“I started to learn the track…I was probably a bit overconfident on the throttle, we had an interesting turn.

“It’s the first time they’ve released the racing driver in them”

Part of the reason it’s so amazing is that many people with disabilities cite driving as the thing they miss the most, says Speed ​​of Sight co-founder Mike Newman.

“I started bringing people with disabilities into adult life [speak to me]”, says Mike. “A common theme was that even though their lives changed beyond belief, the one thing they lacked the most was the freedom to drive. It started to make me want to give them back the joy of living.

Founders John Galloway (left) and Mike Newman

Mike, 60, is also the double speed world record holder. Racing a Formula 1 powerboat off Torbay at 110mph won him the crown for fastest blind on water in 2013.

And a year later, he became the fastest blind man on earth by driving a Nissan GTR at 204 mph. In doing so, he became only the second man in history – and the first blind man – to simultaneously hold two speed records.

Rather than pursuing more personal achievements, Mike decided to share his passion with other people with disabilities.

He continues: “John has helped me in the past with the land speed record. We had to give up our daily chores to get up and run.

“We started with our first car with the help of a businessman in Wigan. Then we had a second… The Three Sisters are huge supporters – they always go out of their way to accommodate us.

John Galloway, 57, says days like this are the ‘first time’ in a disabled person’s life they will have the opportunity.

“It’s the first time they’ve released their inner racing driver,” he adds.

Those days aren’t just limited to Wigan, either. Speed ​​of Sight is holding events this year at Teesside Motorway, Kames Circuit in Scotland and Llandow in South Wales.

Although supported entirely by donations, the charity is now in its tenth year and shows no signs of slowing down.

You can donate to Speed ​​of Sight and find out more about the charity online.


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