Robert Wickens returns to race in his native Canada, seeking another IMSA victory

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Robert Wickens last weekend used hand controls in an IMSA sports car race for his first victory since a 2018 spinal cord injury temporarily ended his racing career.

In England, former IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt completed the hill climb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in a special McLaren 720S Spider. The car was modified by Arrow Electronics, primary sponsor of the Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team, so that Schmidt, a quadriplegic since a 2000 crash, could use a straw-like “sip and puff” device to accelerate and brake.

Also at Goodwood, motorcycle racer Wayne Rainey rode the same bike he used while winning his final championship in 1992. Rainey was paralyzed from the chest down in a 1993 crash, and the modifications to his motorcycle include pseudo training wheels that allow him to ride using only his hands.

IMSA AT CTMP: Details for watching this weekend

“It was a great weekend for disability awareness,” Wickens said.

Schmidt and Rainey have been part of previous projects modifying vehicles they can pilot. Wickens’ situation is completely different in that he has returned to competition this year after thinking his career was over following his airborne IndyCar crash at Pocono nearly four years ago.

He drives a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR for Bryan Herta Autosport in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge that has been fitted with hand controls. He shares the car with co-driver Mark Wilkins, a fellow Canadian who closed out Saturday’s victory at Watkins Glen.

The duo debuted in January with a podium finish at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“It’s like riding a bike, but it’s a very different bike, I guess is the best way to describe it,” Wickens said of racing with hand controls. “Racing has been my life since I was 7 years old. It’s something I worked very hard to get to the level I was at when I was racing in IndyCar in 2018.

“And after the accident, I just knew I had to work harder to try get back to that. I didn’t know what it would look like for me. I didn’t know if I could return straight into IndyCar or if I would have to start off in go-karts, like you do as a kid. The whole recovery just was a bit of an unknown.”

Because he needs to be physically carried out of the car during driver changes, he has not been behind the wheel yet to cross the finish line and close out a race.

Herta told The Associated Press that could change, as early as Saturday when Wickens races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park as part of the IMSA race weekend. Sunday’s Chevrolet Grand Prix in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC and Peacock.

Herta said it’s faster for Wickens to start a race because removing him from the car is more efficient than carrying him over the pit wall and getting him into the seat during the driver change.

“Robbie will close races this year, he can do it,” Herta said. “He might even do it this weekend.”

Wickens is simply thrilled to be racing again and, at 33, enjoying one of the greatest times of his life.

Things got even more eventful this week when he missed Friday’s practice in Canada for an unscheduled trip to Indianapolis, where his wife, Karli, gave birth to their first son, Wesley Joseph Wickens.

Wickens now returns to racing Saturday in Canada for the first time since 2018, when he finished third on the downtown streets of Toronto. He suffered his spinal cord injury two races later.

“It just feels great. I’ve always been my happiest when I’m behind the wheel of a race car,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a stressful race with a lot of PR and a lot of press around it. The second you put your helmet on and close that door, it’s just peace for me and I can finally just get into the zone and get into the race and it’s been my happy place for most of my life.

“Life’s great, it almost feels like you’re living in a dream sometimes.”

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)