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Sam Schmidt's Arrow Corvette

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Meet the SAM car, an amazing example of what's possible with the determination of a racer and the engineering smarts of Arrow Electronics.

Racers are tough. They refuse to give up. It’s the way they’re wired. Whether it’s fighting back through the pack after a bad start or rebuilding a blown-up engine in the hotel parking lot in the middle of the night, they just never give up.

Same can be said for fighting back from injuries. There are a million stories about racers recovering from harrowing crashes and life-threatening injuries, only to get back behind the wheel and face down their fears, chasing the checkered flag no matter what.

This is one of those stories. In 2000, Sam Schmidt was involved in a serious crash testing his Indy car. He was paralyzed from the neck down, and the doctors said he would need a ventilator to breathe for the rest of his life, however long or short that may be. But Sam is a racer, and a fighter, and as a kid he had seen his racer dad go through something similar.

Look past the graphics and it appears from the outside to be a stock Z06 Corvette.

Sam fought his way off the ventilator, and instead of giving up, he’s devoted his time to helping others with similar injuries. This includes a partnership with Arrow Electronics, pioneering driving controls for those without use of their hands and legs. Called the SAM car (Semi Autonomous Motorcar), their partnership has produced a couple hot rod Corvettes that combine state of the art electronics that allow Sam to drive and some good old fashioned hot rod parts.

This overall shot of the interior shows the infrared sensors as well as the co-driver's station in the passenger seat.

In this car, Sam runs the throttle and brake by sucking or blowing into a tube. Steering is accomplished through sensors on the dash and on Sam's helmet that detect his head movements and steer the car. In the passenger seat is another legendary racer, Robby Unser. He has his own set of controls and is there as backup in case anything goes wrong. (We can't think of anyone we'd rather have as our wingman in a race car.)

Those sensors on the dash and headliner detect Sam's head movements to steer the car.

So why are we telling this story? Well, one of these cars is in our shop right now, and it’s pretty darn remarkable. You know Team Speedway. They’re responsible for the hopped-up Speedway Motors G-Comp muscle cars that you’ve seen burning up autocross and road courses across the country. Well, they also know a thing or two about setting up a race car and tuning modern computerized engine management.

The overdriven blower on the stock engine creates a lot of heat, so an upgraded heat exchanger from DeWitt's partners with methanol injection to cool the charge.

Upon arrival, the C7 was running poorly, laying down a dismal 350 horsepower to the wheels. Some investigation by Team Speedway revealed a burnt plug wire and a couple burnt plugs. Once these pieces were replaced, the chassis dyno revealed the underlying problem. This car is equipped with an upgraded DeWitt’s radiator and heat exchanger as well as a methanol injection system, all designed to cool the intake charge on the blown engine. When the methanol system engages, the tune in the ECM pulled enough fuel to cause a lean condition. With this issue identified and corrected using HP Tuners software, a conservative tune made 700 wheel horsepower.

And why now? Well, Sam will be competing in the Optima Ultimate Street Car competition at the National Corvette Museum on October 9th-11th. This will be his first competitive event running against other drivers since the accident 20 years ago.

All of this amazing electronic wizardry requires some hardware to make it work, and most of it is visible here beneath the hatch.

This car is technically the backup car. Sam’s primary ride for the weekend is a new, mid-engine C8. But Sam has already made laps at Indy and run up Pikes Peak in this car, so he may choose his old reliable now that it’s been debugged on the dyno.

Stay tuned to our Facebook page for updates from the weekend and more on this amazing story of overcoming obstacles and the never-ending pursuit of the checkered flag!

In addition to all the techno wizardry and inspirational story, this is just a darn cool looking car.

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