MARNE, MICH. - In September of 1976, then 17-year-old Chuck Pierson was street racing when he lost control of his car and flipped it. Four other individuals, including Chuck's brother Randy, were in the car at the time of the accident.
One girl broke her thumb, but that was luckily the extent of the injuries for the passengers.
As for Chuck, his injuries were much worse.
"I broke my neck," said Pierson. "I've been paralyzed from the chest down ever since."
Despite losing his ability to walk very early in life, his love for racing cars never faded.
In recent years, The Sparta native has become a championship-winning car owner, but he's always wanted to know what it felt like to get inside a race car and do a few fast laps around a track.
That reality came true for Pierson in the summer of 2014, thanks to his friend and fellow race team owner, Ken Deyman.
"I remember Chuck being over at my place a few years ago, and him telling me how badly he wished he could race," said Deyman. "That got me to thinking, and I decided to take one of my older cars and engineer a way where people with extreme disabilities can drive it and experience what auto racing is like."
Deyman showed Pierson the souped-up car, and Pierson couldn't believe it. Deyman created a race car that could be driven exclusively with one's hands.
"It never was a dream of mine because I never thought it was possible," said Pierson. "It's an incredible feeling to be able to race and go fast, especially when you go your entire life without having experienced it."
On Thursday, Aug. 16, Pierson received permission from Berlin Raceway to borrow the track for the afternoon so that Pierson and couple special guests could do a few laps.
"It's not just about me being able to do this anymore," said Pierson. "I want to make sure others with a similar disability to mine, get the chance to make their dream come true as well."
Pierson invited David Briggs and Vicky Schmidt to the track because they both wanted to drive a race car for the first time. Briggs was paralyzed in a car accident 16 years ago, and Schmidt suffered the same fate 15 years ago.
Before the guests had their chance, Pierson got his. To get him into the race car, he's hooked securely with a special harness, and lifted by a tow truck up from his wheelchair and into the driver's seat.
"It's quite a process to get me into the car," added Pierson.
Once he was in, it didn't him long to start the engine and take to the track. Pierson did a few laps, then decided to give his guests a chance.
Briggs and Schmidt each had a chance behind the wheel, did a few laps, and made a life-long dream come true.
"I hope to do this every summer," added Pierson. "There are many people who are paralyzed like me who deserve a chance to get behind the wheel of a race car, if they want to.
"Ken Deyman has provided that with this special car, and I'm thrilled I'm able to not only be able to do it, but also provide the same memorable opportunity for others."
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