Menards Infiniti Pro Series
Racing To Recovery Gala Set For May 16
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 12, 2004 -- When Sam Schmidt throws a party, everybody wants to be there. The fifth annual Racing to Recovery Gala moves this year from Morton's Steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis, which it had outgrown, to Eddie Merlot's restaurant on the north side of Indianapolis.
"This has turned out to be an extremely popular event for fans and drivers," Schmidt said. "It's not a sit-down event like other fundraisers. It's a strolling buffet and a cocktail atmosphere. Fans can rub elbows with drivers while looking at the auction items."
The Racing to Recovery Gala has been the most successful fundraising event for the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation. Last year's gala raised approximately $150,000 and helped boost the foundation's donation total past the $1 million mark since it was founded.
The foundation and gala got their starts in 2000 just a few months after Schmidt suffered paralyzing injuries in a practice crash at Orlando, Fla.
"I was driving for Treadway Racing," said Schmidt, who had recorded his first career victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to close out the 1999 season. "I was still pretty messed up from my accident, but one of my goals was to make it to Indy in May. Treadway had previously held a fundraiser in May, but this time they raised money for spinal cord research, my family and for my rehab when insurance ran out. It was a great example of how the motorsports community pulls together. That was my first public appearance, and probably 400 people were there. It was a great event."
Within a few months, Schmidt had established his foundation as a 501c organization. The foundation's mission is to help individuals overcome spinal-cord injuries and other related debilitating illnesses by facilitating scientific research, medical treatment, rehabilitation and technological advances.
"A lot of things change monumentally in life when something like this happens," Schmidt said. "Just getting out the door in the morning -- showering, shaving, getting dressed -- what used to take 30 minutes, now is a two-hour process. To go through that, you have to find a passion. Racing was that passion for me."
Schmidt's involvement in racing continues on several fronts. In addition to the foundation's ties to the motorsports community, the foundation also sponsors a day-of-race program that brings out people from local rehabilitation hospitals.
"It's important to show them that they don't have to just go home and sit on their butts," Schmidt said. "This program shows them that they can still get out and accomplish things."
Schmidt continues to accomplish things on the racetrack as a team owner in the Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro Series.
"The Pro Series has become a perfect fit for me," Schmidt said. "We ran an IndyCar® Series team for two years, but a lot of times those drivers are much more experienced. The Pro Series group is coming from many different backgrounds, and I can be much more involved in helping them make the transition."
Schmidt's two-car effort fielded 10 different drivers in the first two seasons, but the team has locked in to two of the top performers for 2004.
Series points leader Thiago Medeiros, a 21-year-old Brazilian, earned the team's first victory when he lapped the field in the Phoenix 100. Arie Luyendyk Jr., son of the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, has started on the front row of both races this season.
The team has shifted its attention to Indianapolis where it will run the Futaba Freedom 100 on May 22.
"The growth of the team has been a constant evolution," Schmidt said. "Now we have the combination of crew chiefs and engineers where I would be disappointed if we didn't win more races and a championship this year. Our short-term goal is to win the Freedom 100. We want to be seen as the team to beat."
The Racing to Recovery Gala is Sunday, May 16. A limited number of tickets remain available to the public at a cost of $125 per person. Reservations may be made by calling (317) 714-0340.