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Project Track Champion: a vehicle for change

By Chris Clark, Mount Forest Confederate

The Project Track Champion concept car is much more than a race vehicle.
It is a vehicle for change.
When concept creator Denny Snider first sketched the car on a piece of paper at his kitchen table in Varney five short years ago, he had no idea how the project would evolve. It has since grown and flourished, and become a driving force for change not only within the racing world, but everywhere.
“Because it involves everybody, it’s about more than a car. It’s about a purpose,” Mr. Snider said in a press conference to launch Project Track Champion for the 2010 season.
The non-competitive race car look-alike may have been born into the world of racing, but Mr. Snider sees Project Track Champion as something much more; a movement capable of erasing the line between racing and accessibility.
No tracks or race facilities are truly accessible to those with special needs, and Project Track Champion is working hard to change that. With its spirit of inclusion and genuine care for all who love racing, the project is becoming the voice of change in and around the racing world.
“No one in racing intends to leave those with special needs behind, but there is a need for change,” said Mr. Snider. “This involves all of us. We can make the world of racing a starting point today for a better world tomorrow.”
At a recent press conference, held at the Southgate offices in Hopeville, Project Track Champion ambassadors spoke of the long term advantages race track owners would have by aligning themselves with the initiatives of PTC. Jason Thom, owner of Sauble Speedway, said he is always thrilled to drive the car and hear the sounds of glee coming from those along for the ride of a lifetime.
Launched in Southgate Township in early 2005, the car offered its first ride-along in May 2007. Last summer at Sauble Speedway, Project Track Champion hit the oval with its 1,000th rider. It continues to drive home the importance of a more sincere and effective approach to accessibility.
“This little car has had a big impact on many people across Ontario,” said Southgate Mayor Don Lewis. “It is enlightening to see the joy and excitement in the faces of those with special needs in the car
The car steadily garners rave reviews from NASCAR legends such as Bobby Allison, who called it “an amazing concept,” and even Rusty Wallace who physically experienced the connection in January when the NASCAR legend called it a “privilege” to sit in the car.
History will continue to be made this May, when the PTC car makes its inaugural pass down a drag strip at Toronto Motorsports Park. It is believed that in the history of drag racing, a wheelchair accessible car has never been seen on a drag strip.
Drag racing legend Bob “Bogus” Elliott is a strong proponent of the PTC mission, and has also rallied behind the car’s true purpose; to increase the public’s awareness of the challenges of those with disabilities. He said the car does more than help those in wheelchairs, it helps all people become better citizens.
“This is not a story about a car, it is a story of hope.” said Mr. Snider. “Every day, this car is making magic happen. We are just thrilled with how the world of racing has taken to it.”
Mr. Snider said the PTC car has already given rides to 1,200 special people, and the goal in 2010 is to see that number climb to 2,010 ride-alongs.
“Not all of us are race fans, but we are all part of a race; the human race,” he said. “Change is possible, because it’s the right thing to do.”=

Driven to dream like anyone else

Russell Lye's wheelchair is no longer an obstacle to loving life in the fast lane thanks to Project Track Champion.
The 27-year-old Brantford man is the assistant pit crew chief on the team that displays a fully operational and wheelchair accessible non-competitive race car across southern Ontario.
"It's awesome," Lye said in a recent interview at the Community Living Brant headquarters on Elgin Street.
Lye has muscular dystrophy and has been confined to a wheelchair since he was about 19. He attended Tollgate Tech and now lives in a Brantford group home. He wears his team T-shirt with pride and carries a hefty briefcase packed with Project Track Champion information and photographs.
Lye said he "fell in love" with the #1 Project Track Champion car from the moment he saw it. "There's only one car like this," he said.
The car was the brainchild of project founder and co-ordinator Denny Snider, of the Durham area.
What started as a drawing sketched on a notepad several years ago has resulted in the transformation of a 1991 Thunderbird into a modified machine boasting a 302-cu. in. engine, 650 Holley carburetor, MSD ignition, full race rims and full roll cage.
What sets the car apart is its wheelchair passenger accessibility. Its roof has been raised eight inches on the passenger side and the floor dropped four inches on the passenger side to accommodate a wheelchair. It also has a board ramp and loading platform.
The project provides those with special needs an opportunity to experience the thrill of being in a real race car.
Snider met Lye last year at the Cayuga Speedway, where the car debuted, and they forged an "instant connection," said Tammi Griffith, a program assistant with Community Living Brant. Becoming involved in Project Track Champion has given Lye a purpose and a sense of inclusion, Griffith said. "It has empowered him."
The car is displayed at race events across southern Ontario and, at some events, is available for eagerly anticipated ride-alongs by wheelchair users.
As assistant pit crew chief, Lye is responsible for demonstrating the vehicle's accessibility when it is on display at cars shows and races.

Lye has had a lifelong love of cars and all things mechanical.
He said he has made many new friends and has had a great deal of fun since becoming an important member of the Project Track Champion team.
"It's cool to be part of it," Lye said. The team now has a second car under construction that will be designed to accommodate people with walkers. It is slated for completion in 2009.

I wish to dedicate this editorial in memory of Dad (a wheelchair user).

Within the racing community, the name and purpose of Project Track Champion is becoming increasingly familiar.
As concept creator of what could be the world's first wheelchair accessible race car, I have been deeply moved by the impact the car has had on the masses.
From the Project's humble beginnings as a simple concept drawing on a note pad, few, if any, could ever image the level of success the Project has attained.  Many within the racing community have viewed the Project's purpose as a dynamic approach to promoting racing and reaching out to the community.
For people with disabilities, this concept has a much different meaning.  For them, the Project's purpose is a dream come true, and along with this, comes a real sense of belonging and acceptance.
Much could be said about Project Track Champion's adventures, for there are indeed many.  For the sake of time and space, I would encourage you to visit the Project's website where the world of Project Track Champion awaits you – www.project-track-champion.com.
Not a day passes without a growing sense that the Project's world is expanding to new heights as it reaches out into the world of those with special needs (disabilities).
Without question, the world of racing is huge in many respects.  However, the world of those with disabilities is not only huge, but possibly even greater than that of racing.  In order to clarify this observation, allow me to share some statistics with you.  Currently in our world, there are approximately 600 million people with disabilities, of those, 5 million are Canadians, and of those, 1.5 million live in Ontario (Statistics Canada).  Note:  these numbers do not include care givers, the elderly, home care workers, staff members, family members, and those of the disability device manufacturing sector, which worldwide is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Unless you are one who is tuned into the world of those with disabilities, the above numbers may astound you.  What also may come as a shock are decisions being made in the political world.  If you are a track owner in Ontario, I would strongly encourage you to check out www.access.on as well as www.trilliumfoundation.org.  Until 2025, drastic measures are and will be implemented by the government to ensure that all publicly used facilities are fully wheelchair accessible.  These standards and by-laws will be enforced and will have an impact on you as a track owner.
For your information, Project Track Champion fully endorses the government's objective to make Ontario a "barrier-free" province.  Rest assured that other provinces will come on board with the same objectives if they have not already done so.  My dear friends of the Canadian racing scene, I beg to ask the questions:
1)      Can the current racing scene continue without first taking a long serious look into the world of those with disabilities?
2)      Can a track owner, or the world of racing, afford to take comfort with declining spectatorship instead of viewing the world of those with disabilities as an untapped market?  The numbers I have shared will give evidence of a huge potential of new spectators.
3)      Track Promoters:  the manufacturing sector of disability devices is enormous.  When was the last time your track displayed a sponsorship sign from those within this world?  If you have never made an attempt, you may be in for a huge surprise.
As a track owner, you may be quick to resign yourself to feeling that costs of improvements or additions for "access" are not warranted based on past statistics involving those with disabilities at your speedway.  Or, you may see the importance for access, but wish to wait until the last years leading up to 2025.  Although not a track owner, I truly understand your plight.  To support your concerns, Project Track Champion has been working with those within government in the hopes that we may be a liaison between the tracks seeking financial assistance and the government.  We are deeply humbled by the resounding applause we have received from all three levels of government and the House of Commons.  It is on the strength of this recognition that the Project wishes to build upon to hopefully create a better day for all, and not just for those in our society who can make it to the track on their own.  A sad day it would be if racing was viewed as entertainment only for those who face no barriers, and have few or no accessibility issues.
In closing, may I say that Project Track Champion has neither the strength nor the numbers to bring about this change.  It is only going to happen when we all do our part to reach out to the world of those with special needs.  Change will only come when we put past records behind us, and our views of those with special needs are changed for their sake, and not ours.  We need to see and accept a person as having a disability, and not the disability alone.
I firmly believe that a better day awaits us all when the two worlds, that of racing and those with disabilities, come together as one.  May it also be said that this coming together was not the result of by-laws and legislation, but rather a wave of conviction on the part of all who, although bound by ideals and circumstances, yielded to a voice in their heart to do that which is good and right.

Yours truly,
Denny Snider
Project Track Champion
Concept Creator / Founder / CEO


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