Reporter tells inspiring story of man who overcame paralysis to drag race again

Photo: Gary Himes/Firebird Raceway
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If there’s one thing we at MotorSportsTalk love to read and write about, it’s drivers who overcome adversity, particularly those conquering physical challenges.

On Friday, Rachel Roberts of the Idaho Statesman had a great story about one such driver that we wanted to pass along.

Roberts tells the tale of Idaho drag racer Aaron Marcum, who was left a C6 quadriplegic after a fall off his cabin deck on August 21, 2016. Even though he fell just three feet off the deck, Marcum landed on his chin, which led to the paralysis and Marcum trading his car for a wheelchair.

According to Roberts’ story, fortunately Marcum did not sever his spinal cord and after months of grueling physical therapy that helped him regain some feeling and movement in his arms and legs, Marcum was able to regain some independence by being able to drive a van on the street specially outfitted with hand controls for acceleration and brakes.

But there was one thing Marcum missed greatly: going down the quarter-mile. So, after some adjustments to the van, he raced it down the quarter-mile at Idaho’s Firebird Raceway last October to see how he’d fare.

The results were encouraging, but more importantly, it was very clear the fire still burned greatly inside Marcum, 39, prompting the Meridian, Idaho resident to go all-in on his drag racing comeback, and for Roberts to tell the inspiring story.

“At one point I thought when I got injured that I would never race again,” Marcum told Roberts. “Then I just always kept very upbeat about my injury. Every little thing was motivating. My toes started to move, my foot started to move. Now my legs move.”

Marcum shifted from the van to a Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck near the end of last year’s racing season, then spent the winter tweaking it to be more competitive and win-worthy.

And win Marcum did in a big way this past Thursday at Firebird Raceway in Eagle, Idaho (near Boise). Roberts reported how he captured his first four elimination rounds and reached the quarterfinals in the Bracketeer class on the opening day of Firebird’s 47th annual Pepsi Nightfire Nationals.

“I’ve raced every points race that they’ve had out here since (the start of this season),” Marcum told Roberts about racing at Firebird Raceway. “So that’s every other weekend or every two weekends, which is perfect for me.”

Roberts’ story also includes a video of one of Marcum’s winning passes.

Prior to his accident, Marcum had success in several NHRA local and national events, including winning several Super Gas and Super Comp races on the national level.

He’s currently ninth of 22 drivers in Firebird Raceway’s Super Pro points standings.

As Roberts said in her story, “Not bad for someone who thought he’d never race again.”

We couldn’t have said it better – or agree more.

Click here to read Roberts’ full, inspiring story of Marcum and his return to drag racing.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

The road to the 2023 Daytona 500 is not paved for Travis Pastrana, he’ll attempt the DIRTcar Nationals

Pastrana DIRTcar Nationals
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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Travis Pastrana will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup series race on February 19 with the grandaddy of them all, the Daytona 500, but his road to get there will not be paved and his car will have only two fenders as he tackles Florida Speedweeks and the DIRTcar Nationals.

In mid-January, it was announced Pastrana will attempt to qualify a third car from 23XI Racing that fields fulltime entries for Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. Sponsorship will come from Black Rifle Coffee, who approached him during the offseason to ask what kind of “really cool stuff” he would like to do. Pastrana replied, “the Daytona 500” with a characteristic laugh in his voice.

“It’s good,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’re going to go down, we’re going to go hangout with [NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion] Matt Crafton, one of [Black Rifle’s] drivers, we’ll go to Modified races and watch all the Late Models. We’ll watch the racing, and we’ll bring [United States military] veterans down and hangout with [Steve] Arpin.”

But there is a saying among dirt track fans that goes, ‘asphalt is for getting to the track; dirt is for racing’ – and Pastrana is taking that to heart.

After racing on the snow in Nitro Rallycross February 4-5 in Calgary, Alberta, the original plan was to head to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida to watch the modified and late model races. Until Crafton called him out for not racing.

Pastrana relayed the conversation: “I told Crafton [I was coming to watch] and he goes, ‘Ah, too much of a sissy to drive?’ I called Arpin, and said, ‘So, Longhorn, I heard you guys have vehicles that can kick the crap out of Crafton’s vehicle.’ [Arpin] said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t suck, you can beat him.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”

The DIRTcar Nationals run from February 6-18. The first week features six UMP Modified Mains each night they run, on Monday (Feb. 6), Friday (Feb. 10), and then the prestigious Gator Championship race on Saturday (Feb. 11). Pastrana hopes to run every night in one of Arpin’s cars, also with sponsorship from Black Riffle Coffee.

And this is not just for bragging rights; there is money on the line. Pastrana and Crafton have a $1 bet on who has the best finish.

While Pastrana is accustomed pitching his car sideways on a combination of left and right turns in a rally car – he won the Nitro Rallycross race at ERX Motorsports Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota last October and became the first two-time winner in the 2022/23 season at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, Arizona in November – the DIRTcar Nationals will be an entirely different proposition.

It took a day for Pastrana to get comfortable in the modified. And it took a little coaching from Arpin, who has experience in both dirt modifieds and rally cars to make him fast.

“[Arpin] showed up the second day after hearing how bad the first day was,” Pastrana said, which is confirmed in the Instagram post embedded above. “But he just told me, until you commit, it’s not going to work. Once I committed, it started making a lot of sense. But coming in, if you’re lifting off the gas while trying to turn, it just doesn’t turn and all your natural instincts say, ‘Don’t get on the gas.’ So, yeah, I feel like it should suit my driving style because I’m more of an aggressive sideways type of driver, but it was very difficult. Turning and sliding, I’m fine. Getting it there is not the easiest.”

Pastrana has one previous start in a dirt late model that came in the 2010 Prelude to the Dream. He finished 23rd in the 27-car field and was three laps off the pace. He wasn’t the only driver having difficulty getting a feel for the car that night; Jeff Gordon finished on the same lap, only one position ahead of him.

Travis Pastrana will race one of Steve Arpin’s dirt modifieds during Florida Speedweeks as he prepares for the 2023 Daytona 500. – Jacy Norgaard, World Racing Group

The price of the weekend could well exceed the dollar he may lose to Crafton.

“It’s going to be an expensive weekend,” Pastrana said. “Not everything is covered. If I crash anything, it is going to be all on me. This is one of those things where I want to come down and have fun. I want to hang out with the crowd, I want to sign autographs and give high fives. Especially for the Modified crew, that’s the grassroots racing that I love and some of my friends are involved with. We’ll be camping down there with Arpin and all the Longhorn guys, just hanging out. I feel like that’s a great opportunity for us to bring a lot of [US] veterans and bring people that are into racing and aren’t into racing, friends and family, and just have an awesome time.”

And it’s not out of the question that Pastrana could add another top-10 to his record book in the DIRTcar Nationals. After the rocky first day, Pastrana gained speed. Enough so that Arpin’s confidence was raised.

“We’re pretty confident Crafton is going to have to run hard to keep his dollar,” Arpin said.