It was a cold and wet day in early March, a day I had been looking forward too for quite some time. Since losing my sight I had wanted to experience the thrill of driving one last time. Of course this was never likely to happen. So I learnt to deal with the fact that I would never drive again. But then one day I was introduced to Mike Newman. Mike is officially the fastest blind man in the world on four wheels. He holds the land speed record for driving a car reaching speeds of over 200 miles per hour and also over 140 miles per hours in a truck.
I first met Mike at one of Insight Gloucestershire’s events held several years back in Pittville Park in Cheltenham. The event known as Bark in Pittville Park saw the charity hold an annual fundraising event featuring things such as dog agility shows, all sorts of activities for children, sponsored walks and there was even a flyover from the Red Arrows one year. No mean feat for Insight to put such an event on. Mike was invited to come along to promote his new organisation Speed of Sight. Turning up in the two of the nicest cars I had seen in person I had to go and have a look. If memory serves, he had a BMW and I think a Jaguar. It was some time ago so I could be wrong. After spending some time talking with Mike about his ideas for his new charity I knew one day I had to get involved.
Speed of Sight was Mike’s brainchild, its purpose is to give disabled people of all ages and abilities the chance to experience driving a motorised vehicle. For many this would of course be the first time they would have done so. For me, I had taken lessons in driving before losing my sight at the age of 19.
The concept is quite brilliant and after speaking to several of the people who took part on the day that I attended, you can tell the sheer overwhelming joy they had experienced. On our way into the pit lane from the car park, my friend Pete and I were approached by a fellow visually impaired chap who couldn’t contain his excitement with the fact he had just been able to drive a car around a race track. A feeling I imagine he never thought he would have experienced since losing his sight again and I feeling I have no doubt he will ever forget. I had all of this excitement to come.
It had been raining most of the day, we were in Wales, and I am told this is not unusual for the area. It was windy, but it was exciting. After a bit of a wait due to some unforeseen circumstances it was finally my turn. I was about to drive for the first time in over 12 years.
Climbing into the car my heart had already started to pump faster and faster, nerves had taken over slightly but this would soon turn into adrenaline. I was familiarised with the controls, my helmet was put on and I was strapped in too the seat which felt like I was on the floor. Very low down, I had never been near a race car before let alone sit in one. I was now about to drive one. With my instructor strapped in next to me we had a quick check of the speakers and microphones and we were set to go.
The cars are dual controlled, my instructor sat to my left took control of the car to put us into the start position and then it was over to me. He ensured me he had control of the brakes which did help to allay my fears, I didn’t fancy crashing off course and aiming for the side barriers or rolling one of Mike Newman’s prised possessions. So with my new driving friend having a foot on the brake pedal and with my right foot primed and ready on the accelerator, we were ready to go.
Starting slow to familiarise myself with the track and for my instructor to fully understand my sight levels we were off. A sharp right followed by a quick left quickly followed by a long sweeping right picking up speed and building excitement as we progress further round the track all the while with my instructor calling ‘‘left, right and ease off’’. All the commands to ensure I knew what I was doing with expert precision. Then firing down the home straight and reaching speeds of near 70 miles an hour. The 0-60 speed was something I had never experienced before. Of course when you are learning to drive on the roads in a Vauxhall Corsa, the instructors are not interested in reaching such speeds.
We did lap after lap, I lost count of how many we covered, and I was getting too excited with going faster and faster with each lap. Then before I knew it, my time was up and I had to go back to my normal non racing driver lifestyle. But for at least one day, I felt like the VI Schumacher.
With many thanks to Speed of Sight and all of their volunteers for putting these events on. An incredible organisation that really does provide less able people with an experience they will never forget. I urge any of you with sight loss to give it a go. The thrill is quite amazing.