For this paraplegic, RTW stands for return-to-win

For this paraplegic, RTW stands for return-to-win – up front

Cyril Tuohy

Paraplegic racecar driver Ray Paprota is ready to win.

After suffering a paralyzing accident as a former quality control inspector for the Kimberly-Clark Corp. 20 years ago, Paprota has his sights set on a top-10 finish this year in a NASCAR qualifying race event.

And why not? His car is de signed to go just as fast as anyone else’s on the circuit, and he can handle the corners as deftly as his competitors. He just can’t use his feet since he’s paralyzed from the waist down.

Racing around a track at 170 mph doesn’t leave much room for error. In order to shift gears, his Mercury Cougar is adapted to respond to hand controls on the dashboard, steering wheel and center console.

“I’d much rather be on a track doing 170 mph with real racecar drivers than 70 mph on the Interstate,” he said. Paprota spoke to Risk & Insurance at the 12th Annual National Workers’ Comp and Disability Conference in Chicago last fall.

The 41-year-old driver will compete in a Winston Cup qualifying race this month. As of early January Paprota had 206 points, started twice and finished with winnings worth a total of $900, according to statistics posted on a NASCAR drivers’ Web site. He has yet to post a top-10 finish.

Paprota says he’s not bitter about being disabled. Though the 1984 automobile accident, which left him without any sensation in his legs, has changed his life, it hasn’t doused his competitive zeal. “I never accept no for an answer,” he said.

After the accident, he spent nine months in the hospital and then went on disability. He returned to work with Kimberly-Clark two-and-a-half-years after his accident on May 7, 1984 and reached an out-of-court settlement with the company.

In 1996 he trained to enter the Olympics in Atlanta as a disabled athlete. But those hopes faded after he suffered a rotator cuff injury. That’s when, with the help of friends, he turned his sights to racing and working on cars.

On October 25th, 2002 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he became the first paraplegic to compete in NASCAR. Starting No. 22, he had to drop out because of transmission problems.

Now a resident of Birmingham, Ala., Paprota says he doesn’t think racing is a risky as it appears. “Risks have been minimized to the greatest possible degree,” he said. “We engineer the risk out of racing.”

With a new year in front of him, Paprota says he’s ready to return to work–and hopefully win.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Axon Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group