Saturday's NASCAR Goody's Dash race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will mark the first time in history that a person with paraplegia and uses a wheelchair has started in a NASCAR sanctioned event. An auto accident 17 years ago paralyzed Ray Paprota...
Saturday's NASCAR Goody's Dash race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will mark the first time in history that a person with paraplegia and uses a wheelchair has started in a NASCAR sanctioned event.
An auto accident 17 years ago paralyzed Ray Paprota from the waist down at the age of 21 and he has served as an inspiration since that day changed his life forever. In addition to offering his counsel to other people in wheelchairs, Ray is also a member of the New Jersey Wheelchair Athletic Association and competes in basketball, table tennis and weightlifting.
"Wheelchair sports became a great outlet for me," Paprota said. "It provides intense competition and tremendous satisfaction and instills true camaraderie with others who are going through similar life situations."
Paprota was a successful athlete before he turned to racing. He helped the New Jersey Blue Devils wheelchair basketball team reach the National Wheelchair Basketball Association's Top Ten. In table tennis, he represented the United States in international competition. He also placed second in the U.S. Weightlifting Nationals as a light heavyweight.
After achieving success in these sports, Paprota explored racing six years ago while helping a friend work on a Legends racecar. Paprota was so intrigued with the racing process he refitted a Legends car to allow him to compete on short tracks throughout the south. It was there that racing legend Bobby Allison noticed Paprota and tried, unsuccessfully, to get him into the ARCA series.
"Bobby Allison saw me race Legends cars and saw that I was real competitive," Paprota said. "He asked if I had an interest in competing at a higher level. We tried to step up and run in the ARCA series, but the controls of a Legends car are completely different, and we weren't ready to make that leap. We tried, but we never got comfortable with it, so we tabled that for a bit and tried to reengineer things."
Just as Allison exited the scene, Danny Bagwell entered. Bagwell assisted Paprota to design modifications so he could drive a different type of racecar. Among the designs the two created are a CO2 bottle that runs the hand controls, a cable throttle that functions as a motorcycle linkage and a clutch system located on the shifter.
Paprota looks forward to making his first start in the Goody's Dash this weekend. His role-model attitude not only inspires people with disabilities but also able-bodied people everywhere.
"The best feeling in the world is getting out of the car after a tough race and talking with the other drivers about what just happened on the track," Paprota said. "It is the only time I don't feel disabled and the only time I don't feel other people are looking at me like I have a disability.
"I can't think of any other sport where you can compete like that, you know, heads up with no other accommodations for my limitations. Once I hop out of my wheelchair and into my race car, I'm just another guy swapping paint."