So I have 2 new best buddies, Simon and Ralph.
Ralph is one of the team of driver/co-pilot/guides who volunteer to assist disabled people to experience driving a dual controlled track car, a Caterham 7 lookalike… … Simon is the car!!…
Those of my friends who have experienced my golf buggy driving will probably be pleased to hear that there was only 1 other car on the track at the same time as me and going in the same direction!
Tiny bit of background before telling you more about my laps on track.
Mike Newman and I used to work for the same high street bank many years ago and we had the pleasure of working on a project together adapting the bank’s systems for visually impaired people to use. Fast forward to now and we both left the bank a long time ago, I moved overseas and played golf a lot and every now and again I would think of Mike and wonder what he was up to, so I did some research and found out… …he set up his own charity called #speedofsightcharity, an organisation dedicated to bringing the thrill of driving to all kinds of disabled people not just VI like Mike and I.
Oh yeah, he also did a couple of other bits and pieces such as setting, losing and regaining his land speed record for a blind person alone in a vehicle Scary huh? It certainly must be at an average of just over 200mph!!!!!!! No it’s not a typo!!!!!!
Fab guy, glad we got back in touch mate.
Back to my time driving Simon. I explained to Ralph I had never driven a car before and as he does with all new participants he takes things slowly at first, retaining virtually full control himself, enabling us to get a feel for the car’s steering, the accelerator and the brake (I have to say, I didn’t brake once, I was focused on the loud pedal! Good job Ralph was on hand!) Sound familiar my golf buggy chums?!?
I quickly got used to the steering which was quite heavy, as race cars are I believe, but it could also have been Ralph’s initial tight grip on the dual control steering wheel as well.
The first few laps were nice and confidence was growing and after about 5 or so Ralph said to me over the 2 way radio in our helmets “you have enough vision to enjoy this don’t you?” “Yep., sure do” was the short reply as I planted the car into the left hander of a short sequence of tight bends.
For those not aware blindness is a range not a defined static condition which ranges from total darkness which is the stereotypical description people understand through to vision like mine that is severe enough to be in the ‘blindness’ range but still leaves me with some useful vision, in my case that’s my peripheral vision.
Coming back to Ralph’s question, yes I did have enough sight to have a brilliant experience using what’s called eccentric viewing – this is where I rapidly glance from side to side and up and down constantly to enable the useful part of my vision to catch glimpses of what I need/want to see and helping my brain fill in the blanks – basically, trying to compensate for the dead blob in the middle.
Eccentric viewing can be tiring and compound that with keeping the car under control and on the track, the concentration levels were immense. At one point I actually found myself drifting in my mind and quickly had a word with myself and got back with the program. If I wasn’t so high in the moment afterwards I would have been exhausted. I take my hat off to pro drivers who do this over and over at much higher speeds and G forces.
Speaking of speed, as we pulled slowly away from the pit position Mike said to Ralph something like “I used to work with this reprobate, so you can give it some beans!”
Simon the car is automatic and has various modes that can be used, either restricting or allowing certain gears to work, effectively controlling the acceleration and speed he can go. Toward the end of our 20/25 minute stint on track Ralph slowed us down and put Simon into a higher gear and the fun time got even better!
It’s actually hard to put into detailed words how it all felt to me, I was on cloud 9 yet to someone who can see and perhaps drives on a daily basis it may not seem that much of a deal, but to me, being in control of a powerful car, my butt 2 inches off the floor and between the rear axle, driving at 70mph plus down the back straight… it was a huge deal.
Of course I am not naive enough to think I was in total control, as I said earlier Ralph did all the breaking, yet at times it was pretty much down to me and that was exciting, exhilarating, nerve wracking… yet I still felt safe and in good hands as Ralph was there fully alert and concentrating on me and the car at all times. This was a good thing because at least once I turned in a little early to a fast right hander at the end of the flat out back straight, oops!
One thing that was very nice is that afterwards Ralph said to me that he had really enjoyed our time together, something to do with ‘giving it the beans’ on more than one occasion as Mike suggested.
I have never driven so don’t really miss what I have never had, however this might be why this whole experience meant so much to me. I can start to understand how my friends with failing vision must feel when they have to give up their licence having experienced driving now even for a short while.
I had a blast, all thanks to Mike, John, Karen and the rest of the SoS team and I am thoroughly looking forward to doing it again and again should the opportunity arise. Bring it on Simon!
With the massive subsidy applied by the SoS guys (enabled by fundraising and generous donations), it costs just £59 for a track experience, worth twice that easily in my eyes.
Simon, I love you. Ralph, it was a pleasure and you are a gent. SoS team, thanks so much and Mike… …keep on rockin’ buddy, you are amazing.