IPS: IRL: A night to eradicate paralysis

Well more than 400 members of the Indy Racing League community, along with friends of motorsports, helped the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation celebrate the sixth annual Racing to Recovery Gala benefiting former driver Schmidt's foundation and the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana.

6th Annual Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation fundrasing gala: Dave Calabro, Sam Schmidt and Michael Andretti.
Photo by Anne Proffit.
Both silent and live auctions took place over the course of the evening, offering racing and other sports collectibles to entice even the casual observer. Indianapolis-centric items available for sale included items from all walks of racing as NASCAR and IRL teams and drivers pledged physical support for Schmidt's work to find cures for paralysis.

Recognizing the support of peer Michael Andretti and Andretti Green Racing Schmidt bestowed his foundation's inaugural Legendary Driver Award to Michael Andretti tonight. "It is my personal privilege to present [this award] to Michael Andretti, respected and admired by all of us involved in racing," Sam Schmidt said.

"Many Americans followed his illustrious racing career and marvel at his many accomplishments. Michael set the starts for others to follow through the work of his [own] Foundation. His philanthropy is a source of inspiration to all of us." Schmidt reminded that Andretti was a bit young to be a "legend", to laughter from all in the crowd.

In accepting the award Andretti was visibly moved. "It's an honor to receive this award and I'm a little bit glad you said I'm too young to be a Legend," the 1991 CART champion and all-time winner laughed. "The purpose of this [evening] is to raise funds for the Sam Schmidt Foundation so that we can help find a cure for paralysis.

"In racing we have technology that helps us improve and race. Some of those same technologies, used in the medical field can bring us closer to the cure we seek," Andretti declared.

Andretti's signed helmet brought in $8000 in live auction, as did a trip to the Standard Management's Founders Suite at Conseco Fieldhouse for a single game during next year's Indiana Pacers regular season.

A pair of handmade quilts went off at $4500; a spa from Royal Spas fetched $8500, but the best bit of the live auction came at the end, when two bidders - one being Andretti Green Racing team co-owner Kim Green - bid $14,500 for a Bill Patterson artistic rendering of this year's front row for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

6th Annual Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation fundrasing gala: front row artwork by Bill Patterson.
Photo by Anne Proffit.
In less than 45 minutes, Patterson took a blank canvas and created a painting of the three fastest cars during MBNA Pole Day: Polesitter Tony Kanaan, Sam Hornish Jr. and Scott Sharp. Hornish and teammate Helio Castroneves were on-hand to support the Foundation and Sam Schmidt.

All of Schmidt's Menards Infiniti Pro Series drivers, Chris Festa, Jaime Camara and Travis Gregg showed up for the Gala, as did Richie Hearn, charged with driving the #70 Meijer/Coca-Cola Panoz/Chevrolet/Firestone racer from 20th in the field.

Tony George, founder of the Indy Racing League, owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Vision Racing came with wife Laura; League COO and president Brian Barnhart attended, as did IRL senior vice president of business affairs Ken Ungar. Al Speyer of Firestone Tire was on-hand with support.

By the time the tallies from the silent auction are compiled from this sixth annual gala, Schmidt's Paralysis Foundation should have more assets to work with in their efforts to enhance awareness of research efforts in this all-important field. To find out more about the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, please check out the website: www.samschmidt.org.