Sam Schmidt is a former Indy Racing League driver and now owner of Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Born August 15, 1964 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Sam’s father was a drag racing competitor and the family spent much of their free time working on racecars and attending events. Sam quickly caught the bug and began racing at age five, competing in motorcross events in Southern California. When he was ten, his father was injured during a racing event and Sam turned to more conventional activities: football, basketball and baseball.
Sam attended Pepperdine University receiving a BS in Business Administration and an MBA in International Finance. In addition to excellent grades and involvement with several campus organizations, he counts as one of his finest accomplishments in college being a founding member of the Lambda Omega Sigma fraternity, which has since merged with national Psi Upsilon. The organization is unique in several ways including no drinking at fraternity events and a completely distinctive pledging process. The result is a diverse and dedicated membership committed to service. The members are available to both the University and Malibu community for service projects on an emergency and regular monthly basis, as well as frequent trips to Mexico where they assist orphanages and churches. In addition to hard work, the group is extremely competitive, regularly winning championships in intramural sports and theatrical competitions. They continue to be the strongest fraternity on Pepperdine’s campus to this day.
Upon graduation, Sam successfully climbed the corporate ladder for a hospital chain in Southern California, becoming an administrator by age 24. However, his entrepreneurial side quickly emerged and in 1989, he purchased his dad’s automotive parts business. Sam, however, still had the racing bug. His uncle raced Showroom Stock Camaros in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and Sam began to assist him on weekends. It didn’t take long for Sam to realize he wanted to drive and not be a spectator. He purchased a Sports Renault and began competing regionally in 1992 at SCCA events. Right out of the blocks he earned first place in the Western Region. In 1993 he raced in the Formula Continental class where he finished first in the Western Region and won the prestigious National Championships at Road Atlanta. His good fortune continued in the Hooters Pro Cup series as he finished 3rd in points and was awarded Rookie of the Year in only his first professional season of racing in 1995.
Still, Sam’s dream was to compete in the Indy 500, and in 1997 he embarked on his first year of Indy Racing League (IRL) competition. He quickly emerged as an IRL star, making 27 career starts and earning a victory and a pole, both in his hometown of Las Vegas, in September 1999. Sam and the Treadway Racing team entered the 1999 season finale at Texas Motor Speedway third in the point standings with a shot at the championship. However, his title hopes ended when he crashed, suffering serious foot injuries and ending up fifth in the point standings.
Immediately after Sam recovered from those injuries, he began testing in preparation for the 2000 IRL campaign. On January 6, 2000, Sam and the team were in Orlando, Florida practicing at the Walt Disney World Speedway. As his car exited turn two, it hit the wall with a tremendous impact. Sam was airlifted to a nearby hospital in extremely critical condition. He was diagnosed as a quadriplegic, the result of a severe injury to his spinal cord at the C-3/C-4 levels and was on a respirator for 5 weeks. Sam was eventually transferred to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was under the care of Dr. John McDonald for his rehabilitation.
Even with these devastating injuries, Sam realized he was one of the lucky ones. Unlike many people in the rehabilitation hospital, he had a strong personal faith and loving support from his family, friends and the entire motorsports community. To this day, Sam could not imagine surviving this process without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and trust that God had a purpose for his life after the injury. Finally able to once again breathe on his own and wanting to help those less fortunate than him, Sam, along with several of his closest friends, formed The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation.
In 2001, just 14 months after his accident and at the urging of his wife and parents, Sam announced the formation of Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Undeterred by his injury, Sam travels over 120 days a year on behalf of the team and Foundation. In 2004, Sam Schmidt Motorsports captured the Menard’s Infiniti Pro Series Championship. Quite an achievement for anyone, but an extraordinary achievement for a C-3/C-4 quadriplegic.
Although he has regained neck strength and partial shoulder movement, Sam remains paralyzed from the chest down. Doctors have not ruled out a partial or complete recovery, but it could take several years. He, his family and physical therapist continue an aggressive schedule of two to four hours of daily therapy, including: muscular range of motion exercises, weight-supported walking on a treadmill, Functional Electronic Stimulation (FES), pool therapy, and riding a StimMaster stationary bike that is operated by Sam through electronic stimulation. The process maintains his muscle mass, bone density, provides for regular circulation keeping him in good physical shape and will enable him to take advantage of therapies and procedures being developed.
Sam and his wife, Sheila, live in Henderson, Nevada, with their children Savannah and Spencer.
James 1:2:3 — “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perserverance.”