Eric Saunders celebrated a feature win in a sprint car at Plymouth Speedway in northern Indiana this past Saturday night. That’s not so unusual; hundreds of winners celebrate at small dirt tracks on any given night during the racing season all across America. There’s one difference for Saunders however: He didn’t stand in victory lane to celebrate, because he can’t. Saunders is paralyzed from the waist down. The young Lakeville Indiana resident was once a up and coming motocross star; he had 500 career wins and very bright future.
That all ended on August 29,2010 just before Eric’s 18th birthday. A mistake in a simple motocross practice session behind his home, changed his life forever. Saunders landed wrong and his family knew something terrible had happened. He was quickly taken to a hospital in Indianapolis and soon he and his family were given the news: Saunders was paralyzed from the waist down.
For Saunders and his family the news must have been devastating. After all racing was the only Eric Saunders knew. That dream now seemed gone.
Then came a call from NASCAR champion Tony Stewart. Saunders had raced for Stewart while trying to achieve his dream of becoming a fulltime motocross racer. Stewart was now giving him another chance. He helped secure Saunders a 600cc sprint car that had a steering wheel equipped with hand controls. It would allow Saunders to race again. And that’s exactly what he did. Two years after the accident, Saunders was helped into the sprint car and as Stewart watched from the grandstands, Saunders took his first laps. From there Saunders has never looked back. In the two years since that first race he’s gotten up to speed and continues to pursue his dream of racing, the only difference being that he now races on four wheels instead of two.
After four years it all came full circle this past Saturday night. Four years after the accident Eric Saunders scored his first feature win. Needless to say victory lane was a pretty emotional place.
“I’ve learned so much from this last three years that I never would have known if it hadn’t been for the accident and everything that’s happened since,” Eric told a local media outlet only two weeks prior to his win. “God has given me an opportunity not just to race, but to use my racing to inspire others and show them that just because you’re in a wheelchair that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your goals and dreams. I don’t intend to stop at racing 600 Micro Sprints unless I have to. If I can race those cars, I can race anything. I want to go as far as I can in the sport. I want to be in NASCAR someday.”