Have you ever dreamt of racing cars? Maybe you’ve thought about it but immediately dismissed it because of your disability? Well Disability Horizons writer Christopher Carter, who has cerebral palsy, certainly hasn’t. In fact, it’s made him more determined to achieve his goal of becoming a disabled racing driver.
Hi, my name is Christopher Carter and I’m a first-time contributor to Disability Horizons, so please be gentle! I was born in the 1980s and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth.
The challenges, adversity and pain I have faced because of it began almost instantly. I was told I’d never walk or drive a car and would be confined to a wheelchair. In essence, the idea of a ‘normal’ childhood had been taken away from me at a very early age.
From that point on, my family, friends and colleagues saw me as disabled. I was ‘different’, and unable to do many of the normal activities others could, whether in school, work or life in general. As a child, I didn’t walk until I was 7. I went to a specialist primary school and had to use a taxi to get to school as I couldn’t get on and off the school bus. Looking back now, those were probably the things that made me more determined to prove everyone wrong.
My passion for driving
I’ve always been interested in cars, for as long as I can remember. Since childhood, I have watched Formula 1, British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and most other forms of motorsport. I have always dreamt of being a racing driver, like many young boys.
I knew, however, that my legs would not cope with karting, a form of driving that enables children to begin racing and developing their skills. Therefore, I knew I would always be playing catch up. At that point, I wouldn’t say I gave up on my dream, but it got pushed to the side by life and responsibilities.
Upon reaching 17, I wanted to learn to drive a manual car. But my family disagreed and wanted me to learn in an automatic. This would have meant I could only ever drive an automatic, and, after all the limitations my disability had already placed upon my life, I decided this was one too many.
Learning to drive, despite my disability
I had my first driving lesson in a manual car, which went quite well. Except for the fact that it took me a few lessons to master clutch control because of my leg spasms, and the fact that my left leg is weaker than my right. It also took a lot more effort and adjustment for me to get comfortable while driving because of my various aches. But, by my third lesson, I was driving on main roads, dual carriageways and around town. There was no stopping me now that I’d had a glimpse of independence!
Within nine months I had passed both of my driving tests in a manual car and, from that point, I haven’t looked back! I’ve owned more than 50 cars in the 18 years I’ve been driving, ranging from a 1.0 Rover Metro to a 4.0 BMW V8. I’m a true petrolhead and love everything to do with cars and motorsport.
I think the reason I have always loved driving is because it is my only way of being truly independent and not having to rely on others. I use my car every day to get around – for the school run, hospital appointments, leisure and more. It is adapted with a hoist to lift my powerchair and mobility scooter in, all of which makes me truly independent.
Anything is possible
A lot has changed since my childhood. I am now a 35 and very lucky in most ways. I have two beautiful children, a few very close friends and family, and absolutely no negativity. I try not to let my disability get in my way. As far as I am concerned, I am a ‘normal’ guy who just does things differently.
One of the main things I strive to do in life is to show my children that anything is possible, and they know the difficulties I encounter each day. Hopefully, this will mean that they truly understand that there is no substitute for determination and courage.
Over the last couple of years, I have tried different sports to challenge myself. I first attempted walking football – a variation on regular football where you walk instead of run. It’s mostly aimed at people over 50, but I found I struggled to keep up with the 70-year-olds taking part!
I next moved on to powerchair football – football played from your motorised wheelchair. To the naked eye, it looks like a marriage of pinball and bumper cars, but in powered wheelchairs. However, it is much more like ballet dancing, but in powered wheelchairs and with a ball!
It is immensely enjoyable and I am now semi-professional. I even play regularly for a team that competes in the South West Premier League. This is a further example of my mentality and how I never admit defeat!
Determined to become a disabled racing driver
After all of my successes in day-to-day life, I decided it was time to turn my attention back to my dream of becoming a racing driver. So I started both Facebook and Go Fund me pages in order to help raise awareness. I also began to network with car enthusiasts and track day groups on Facebook.
I eventually found someone who has helped me get started. I am currently using his car, being tutored by a well-known Association of Racing Drivers Schools instructor and he is in the process of building me my own race car.
I have been overwhelmed by the messages of support I have had via Facebook, Twitter and Go Fund Me. Damon Hill (F1 World Champion) has donated and recently tweeted about my ambitions (see below). He is also helping with lots of advice. I also have recently met both Billy Monger (a teen racer who has recently become an amputee) and Nic Hamilton, both of whom are interested in what I am doing.
I am currently looking for companies and individuals to sponsor me, which is a necessity if I am going to progress. I am fully aware that motorsport can be expensive, and I don’t want to be classified as a charity case.
I am willing and able to provide excellent publicity for any companies or sponsors, and I feel that my story itself is a great advert for any future sponsors. There is advertising space available on both my car and my race helmet/suit etc, as well as the social media aspect, the possibilities are endless!
Everything is moving forward at a steady pace, and I am ensuring that I am careful in planning for the future. Excitedly, I have recently been offered a test day by a Renault Clio Cup team, which I will need to raise £2,000 to fund.
It has also offered me a race seat for the 2018 season, for which I will need to raise sponsorship of £100,000. This amount would cover the cost of running the car for the entire season and would provide me with a unique opportunity to demonstrate my potential and develop my racecraft.
What I want to show disabled people is that dreams are always possible, unless you give up on them. Disability includes the word ‘ability’, therefore if you focus on your ability, then there is no reason why you can’t achieve what you want from life.
By Christopher Carter