IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League notebook 2004-10-11

Indy Racing League News and Notes -- 10/11/04 Today's IRL headlines 1. Reeve's Life Touched The IRL Community 2. Fan Experience Nominated For Award As an actor, Christopher Reeve was best known for his movie roles as Superman. For nine years...

Indy Racing League News and Notes -- 10/11/04

Today's IRL headlines
1. Reeve's Life Touched The IRL Community
2. Fan Experience Nominated For Award

As an actor, Christopher Reeve was best known for his movie roles as Superman. For nine years after being paralyzed in a horseback riding incident until his death Oct. 10, Reeve was a real-life superman to thousands with devastating disabilities.

Two of the lives Reeve touched are part of the Indy Racing League community. Sam Schmidt, an owner in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, credits Reeve with helping him deal with his own paralysis. Driver Al Unser says his sister, Cody, was like a member of Reeve's team fighting for a cure for paralysis.

"(Reeve) was injured approximately four years before me," said Schmidt, who was paralyzed in a racing crash in January 2000. "If he hadn't have been injured, I would most likely be on a ventilator right now, or there's a decent probability I'd be dead.

"I was just a passenger (during the initial recovery period). I was in ICU and didn't know which way was up or down. Because of his injury, people went to his Web site, called his doctors, tried to get information on what should be done. I think that's a common process these days for loved ones. A lot of people draw on him as a resource."

Schmidt formed the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation in the months after his injury. The foundation's biggest fund-raiser is the Racing for Recovery Gala held each May before the Indianapolis 500.

"Christopher Reeve was involved in 2003 with our May event," said Schmidt, who clinched his first championship as a team owner Oct. 2 at California Speedway. "Everyone appreciated that. It was good to bring him out and let him speak to our motorsports community about how important the research is."

The relationship that developed also gave Schmidt the opportunity to attend Reeve's fund-raising functions in New York.

"He became an inspiration to me personally," Schmidt said. "He does more in one year than most people do in five years as far as travel, work, everything else."

Reeve also touched the lives of the Unsers. Cody and Al grew up in the midst of a family with nine Indianapolis 500 wins -- Al (4), Al Jr. (2) and Bobby (3) -- but the focus of their lives shifted in 1999 when Cody became paralyzed because of Transverse Myelitis, a neurological syndrome caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.

Cody Unser, 17, met Reeve for the first time a year later.

"Paralysis was such a new world for me," Unser said. "I was looking for inspiration and I found it. I was able to go meet him at his birthday party. He was funny and very vivacious. He had a big heart."

Unser founded her own foundation, Cody's First Step, and worked with Reeve's foundation on improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

"Last spring in Mexico, we talked and exchanged our stories and frustrations about public health for the disabled," Unser said.

Last month, Unser joined the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation in Washington, D.C., for exercises involving representatives of the Center for Disease Control, National Rehabilitation Hospital and other organizations.

"That gave me a lot of hope that things are happening, things are changing," Unser said.

Most recently, Reeve had filmed a video clip for Unser to use as an introduction during speaking engagements.

"Cody was like a team member to Christopher's cause, which is finding a cure for paralysis," Al Unser said. "There are many other advocates, but he was definitely one of the more high-profile advocates. His foundation has a very good relationship with Cody's foundation. They collaborated and accomplished a lot."

All agreed that Reeve will sorely be missed.

"He was definitely leading the fight, a really big figure for not only those with spinal cord injuries but for people with disabilities in general," Schmidt said. "It's definitely going to be a pretty big loss. Effectively his life has been cut short by the injury. Hopefully, it will draw more attention to the need to find a cure."

"He's superman, and he'll always be flying above us," Cody Unser said. "He impacted my life and touched a lot of people."


2. Fan Experience Nominated For Award: The Indy Racing Fan Experience has been nominated for a 2004 Horizon Awardfor Sports Business in the category: Best Sports Experiential Marketing Campaign.

A joint project of the Indy Racing League and ignition Inc., an Atlanta-based experiential marketing agency, the Indy Racing Fan Experience is a one-of-a-kind, interactive mobile entertainment experience which touched more than 1.6 million people in 2003. It will conclude its second season-long, country-wide tour this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Designed to bring fans of all ages closer to the excitement of the IRL IndyCar® Series, the Experience is divided into five properties -- Indy Racing Challenge, Indy Racing Kids, the Indy Racing Live stage, Indy Racing Pit Stop Challenge and Indy Racing Gear. All five properties travel to race markets, coming together as one to create a carnival of sight, speed and sound at the racetrack each event weekend.

Other nominees include the Coca-Cola Olympic Torch Relay, the Cingular Wireless Pit Stop and the Fox Sports Net South E-Alert.

The Horizon Awards winners will be announced on Nov. 5 at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel.


The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season continues with the Chevy 500 at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) on Oct. 17 at Texas Motor Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC and the IMS Radio Network. The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series event is the Texas 100 on Oct. 16 at Texas Motor Speedway. The race will be broadcast by ESPN2 at 4 p.m. (EDT) on Oct. 17.


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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Sam Schmidt , Al Unser Sr.