Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt completed a number of laps of Phoenix International Raceway ahead of tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix in his specially adapted Corvette.
What has it been like for you to work with Arrow Electronics?
It’s been amazing really because, first of all they just called me to drive it, which is the ultimate. To just be a driver again and not have to find the resources, buy the car, put the people together, just shut up and drive. That’s always a good thing to do. Having been paralyzed for 16 years, you get a little numb. Are we ever going to solve this problem of paralysis or find a cure? You start to question whether or not that’s actually going to be done, and then a project comes up like this. It’s an age-old problem with somebody of my level of disability not being able to drive. They say, ‘Hey, we want to make a car, and we’ll make it a Corvette,’ and all of a sudden they get me driving it in five months. Then all of a sudden I’m like, ‘We can cure paralysis,’ because it just is a matter of the right minds working together for a common goal with sufficient resources. We can do anything. It sort of re-inspired me on those lines. It’s been a great organization. In my team ownership process I’ve met with and been involved with large public companies. Arrow has 18,000 employees, $24 billion in sales, so it’s a big company, but I’ve never met a company like this that has such a directive and such an initiative to help people with the products they produce in a genuine matter. This project probably cost a million dollars and there was no, ‘If we spend this we will make this,’ type of attitude. It was, ‘we will spend this because we will help people and see what happens.’ Fortunately they’ve got huge exposure and huge return, lots of business from that but they didn’t go into it with that goal in mind. It’s been super cool.”
What made you guys decide to come out and drive this vehicle here at PIR and try to break your record in this vehicle?
“For me it’s a bit of a full circle moment because, having grown up on the west coast in California and the Las Vegas, I’ve done thousands of laps around this place in the old configuration so I wanted to come back and drive it and see what it was like. Arrow’s also got two suites and 265 people coming today so I wanted to show their employees and their customers that are based here in Phoenix the car and what it’s all about, continue to develop the technology. We were on Indy, which is a big track, we ran Long Beach small track, and a mile oval configuration gives us a different type of exposure, so let’s try it out.
You drove this car on the track here yesterday. How did it feel?
“It felt great, we made some adjustments because the last time I drove it was on a road course and so the steering was fairly sensitive. So now for the bigger oval in the corners we just kind of softened all that up, and I think it will be a fun run today.”
What are your thoughts about the Verizon IndyCar Series returning to PIR after 11 years?
Obviously, it’s fantastic. I loved racing here when I drove and I thought it was a real driver’s track. It’s tight in [Turns] 1 and 2, and bigger in 3 and 4. It will still be a good IndyCar race, and I love this market. I have a lot of friends here and I hope it’s successful.”
Talk about the first time you came to Phoenix International Raceway, and do you have a favorite memory of this racetrack?
“My first time here was 1992. I came here for an SCCA National race on the road course. It was very cool. It was a good family moment because two of my uncles were racing SCCA as well, so we had three people racing and a big cookout. So that was a really special memory, but I think one of my fonder memories is from 1995. I came here in the F2000 Pro Series. It’s kind of like the Indy Lights you have here now. I had a problem in qualifying and I started dead last out of about 30 and wound up winning the race. That was just a special run – to be able to come from the back to the front to win that. I had a close second in 1997. It was my first race in an Indy car that year. It was going great, I had qualified in the top 10, was running sixth when I came to the checkered flag, but I wound up blowing a tire in [Turns] 3 and 4 and crashed. Up until blowing the tire, it was quite a fun day. There’s lots of good memories and thousands of laps around this place and there’s also good restaurants close by.”
A lot of drivers said watching you drive the car at Indianapolis inspired them. What inspires you?
“I think, I don’t know, I’ve always been driven by my own personal passion to race and compete. Now I own a team, been racing since I was five year old, it’s really all I know. So to do this was just along that line. Since I have been paralyzed I have raced a hot air balloon, got to scuba dive with sharks, sailed a sailboat. I’ve done a lot of really cool things, and I am really blessed to be able to do that. I think this is the next step just as an adrenaline junkie. And, hey, if millions of people get inspired to wonderful things because of it that is a silver lining. But personally it has re-inspired me that I think we can solve this spinal cord injury problem sooner rather than later if we just get the right people working on it.”
What is the semi-autonomous motorcar (SAM) technology and how have you seen it develop?
“What’s really, truly amazing about what Arrow Electronics does – I call them the general contractor of the technology industry, in that they have 600+ engineers corporately – you bring them your problem and they solve it, and then they sell you the components. If I would come to them and said, ‘Hey, I want to drive, solve that for me,’ they would pull 100,000 different suppliers and customers, and go through that database. They go through all of that stuff. There are a bunch of components in the trunk and they’ve never been used in this fashion before, but they figured out how to get everything to talk to each other. Then, voila, you’ve got this. They went from start to finish in five months. That’s what they do. They provided all of the lighting, for example, for the Arizona Cardinals stadium. You don’t see their name on the light bulbs, but they coordinated the whole process and the software and everything like that. That’s what they do. Amazingly, for as big of a company as they are, they just have a great level of integrity and corporate responsibility. I guess that’s a big thing. Corporate responsibility is a big term nowadays, but their heads are in the right place.
Was this the same car you drove at Indianapolis in 2014?
“It was the same car. We just bought a new [Corvette] Z06 with like 200 more horsepower. We’re driving this car here and we’ll debut the Z06 at Indy in May, and try to go real fast.”