Photo: Gary Himes/Firebird Raceway

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

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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.

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Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”