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Quadriplegic driver aims for a new first: Racing up Pikes Peak

May 17, 2012
Quadriplegic at Pikes Peak
Quadriplegic at Pikes Peak

Five years ago, all-terrain vehicle racer Travis Tollett suffered a spill that broke his spinal cord and left him a quadriplegic. That hasn't kept the Oklahoman from racing, and this July he plans to become the first quadriplegic driver to tackle one of the world's toughest courses -- the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Pikes Peak isn't just a dash up a mountain, but a world-class race course that tops out at 9,300 feet with 156 turns and no guardrails between road and the quick way down. (The U.S. Park Service stations rangers at the summit of Pikes Peak to drive motorists down the mountain who are too scared to do so themselves after driving up). First run in 1919, last year marked the first time a driver had covered the 12.4-mile course in under 10 minutes -- and he did so with his car bleeding fluids.

This year's race will not only feature scores of racers in a variety of vehicles, but have nothing but paved road start to finish, after the gravel section near the top was eliminated due to a lawsuit from environmentalists. The tarmac may spare the landscape, but it will only increases the racers' speed and risks.

Tollett has managed to keep racing since his accident, and has even gone up Pikes Peak as a co-driver, but no one in his condition has attempted to take a vehicle up the mountain from behind the wheel. Tollett plans to make the run in a Polaris RZR XP off-road buggy modified with hand controls and other equipment, while Pikes Peak organizers have mandated a co-driver for an extra margin of safety.

"While I enjoy co-driving, I've wanted to be able to be in full control and operate a race vehicle myself," Tollett says. "I want to show that no matter the obstacles one encounters, if the drive and determination are available, life's unique challenges may be overcome."

Tollett's team has started a fundraising drive to cover the costs of the run. We'll be watching come July 8.