Sam Schmidt lived out his boyhood dream as an IndyCar racer, winning races and earning the title of IndyCar "Rookie of the Year" along the way. That dream came to an abrupt end when Sam ... See full summary »

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Sam Schmidt lived out his boyhood dream as an IndyCar racer, winning races and earning the title of IndyCar "Rookie of the Year" along the way. That dream came to an abrupt end when Sam crashed into a wall at 200 miles per hour, leaving him a quadriplegic. Reengineering SAM pulls the curtain back and shows up close the serious implications of a life of paralysis on Sam and everyone around him. Sam's accident rendered him physically helpless, never being able to brush his teeth, much less drive again, until a dedicated group of some of the brightest minds today stepped up to build him a car that he could drive, using only his head. Through groundbreaking adaptive technologies, Reengineering SAM chronicles Sam Schmidt's inspirational road back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and shows the promise of freedom and mobility for almost anyone confined to a wheelchair. Written by Brian Malone

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1 June 2016 (USA)  »

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$500,000 (estimated)
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Sam Schmidt, Indy star driver, crashes and becomes a quadriplegic, but that doesn't stop him.
12 July 2017 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

A Documentary of Determination and Hope Indianapolis, October 26, 2016: The Heartland Film Festival continues with remarkable offerings, among them the story of race driver / entrepreneur Sam Schmidt, who became a quadriplegic in his race car in 2000. As a kid, he raced motocross and followed his father's footsteps, moving into successively faster cars. "There wasn't anything I couldn't do," he said, "by just… not giving up." He married his high school sweetheart and had two children, the older of whom, Savannah, was just two years old when he hit the wall nearly head-on at 200mph and smashing his C3 and C4 vertebrae. Reengineering Sam gets inside the mind and family of a man who lived for racing, and was starting to gain recognition in its top tier, winning the pole and briefly leading the Indianapolis 500. Sam is realistic about his injuries. It's unlikely, given today's neurology and the pace of progress, that he'll regain the use of his limbs, but he sees the future, and knows incremental improvements to independent movement and mobility are possible. His psyche hasn't fully accepted his condition. "Fifteen years later, and I've never had a dream with me in it where I wasn't walking around," he says, as he thinks of things that will help fellow quads get more of their lives back. Sam is a lifelong inventor and innovator. "I love the smell of raw steel, the sight of people making things," he says, and one of his team adds, laughing, "Yeah, I wish he would sleep at night instead of dreaming up all this crap for us to do!" But that isn't Sam's nature. He was approached by a neurosurgeon who asked him, "Wouldn't it be great to have a race car that a quadriplegic could drive?" Sam said, "I just said, 'sure,' 'cause I thought he was crazy." But he wasn't crazy, and the dream crossed technologies from the Air Force to Pittsburgh Medical Center, to Dayton, and eventually to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the oval where dreams go to… live. With a cap full of sensors to control direction and a bite strip for brakes, Sam was able to control a scientifically-realistic driving simulator on sustained laps of 217mph, a speed which none of the engineers could achieve, even using all their limbs. They needed, and got, a car. In the meantime, Sam's daily life assumed its difficult reality. Nurse Myra Randall and Sam's wife are with him 24/7, attending to all his needs, including dressing, eating, grooming – and hoisting the 200-pound racer into his wheelchair. It's difficult, and Sam knows and appreciates it. Of his wife, Sam says, "If the shoe were on the other foot, I don't know if I could do it." As work on the actual car progresses, Sam gains faith in the technology. "It'll be pretty straightforward," he says of the effort to incorporate commercial electronics and mechanicals into a car that will turn the driver's signals into fast laps. "Like going to the moon." Sam didn't drop out of Indy Car racing. He was the owner of the car in which Dan Weldon won the 2011 Indy 500, the car in which he died, leaving behind two little children, just about the same ages as Sam's kids when he had his accident. "I thought about just getting out (of racing) right then," he said. And things didn't always go right after that. He started doubting himself. "When you're not getting the results you're expecting, you start second-guessing yourself." But he didn't quit, and he kept working with the team on the Corvette that would read his mind as he blasted around the track, and when the day came that everything was set at the legendary Indianapolis track,… it rained. But a cut to Sam's daughter, Savannah, reminded everyone of the drive in the man. "Just because you can't move," the 17-year-old said, "doesn't mean you can't do anything." So Sam went out on the track in the downpour, running laps at low speed. As the rain stopped and the track dried out, he kept circulating, and the audience's eyes, instead, were getting wet as they watched Sam drive for the first time in fourteen years. And when the Indianapolis 500 was run in May, Sam drove the oval one more time, before a quarter-million wildly cheering fans.


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