By: Seth Johnson

Six months after a serious racing accident in 2012 that left him blind, 2024 Through the Looking Glass Gala keynote speaker Dan Parker‘s life purpose came to him in a dream.

The picture shows a man standing to the left of a red Corvette race car. He is holding a white cane in his left hand and a racing helmet in his right hand. Behind him is a large garage door with horizontal windows.“I was on the verge of suicide, but it came to me in a dream one night that I would build a motorcycle and become the first blind man to race the Bonneville Salt Flats,” Parker says.

In order to make this happen, however, Parker had to invent a custom guidance system so he could safely maneuver a vehicle without sight. As the wheels in his head started to turn on this concept, the Georgia native gave his friend Patrick Johnson at Boeing Phantom Works a call.

“I called Patrick and asked him if there was any way to build a guided system that would give me audible feedback so I knew how to stay on course,” Parker says. “Patrick’s exact words were, ‘Oh, that’s easy. Start building your motorcycle.’”

Ten months later, Parker became the first individual who’s blind to race the Bonneville Salt Flats. A year later, he returned to the famed Flats and set an official FIM class record with no exemptions for blindness.

Having continued to defy all odds, Parker used a refined version of the custom guidance system when he set a Guinness World Record as the world’s fastest blind driver, getting his custom-built Corvette up to an average speed of 211 mph on the Spaceport America runway.

Developed around an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensor, Parker’s custom guidance system provides him with audio feedback based on a course’s centerline.

“Before we start racing, they give us access to the course,” Parker explains. “We plot the centerpoint at the very beginning and at the very end with GPS. Then, the computer will calculate a theoretical centerline based on those two points.”

Upon putting the pedal down, Parker’s custom guidance system knows where he is in relation to the course’s centerline, giving him audio feedback along the way to make sure his path remains straight.

“Once I start moving, that IMU system calculates where I am on the course, and then it gives me audible feedback in each ear, so I know how to correct my steering,” Parker says. “If I go to the right two feet, I get a tone in my right ear. The further off-center I go, the tone increases in pitch. If the sound is steady, then I know I’m going straight.”

The custom guidance system also has several overrides built in to ensure Parker’s safety. For example, if he ventures more than 20 feet left or right of the centerline, the guidance system will shut the car off.

“We had to demonstrate all of this technology to the places we raced to prove it worked,” Parker says. “But through our professionalism, people had faith in us. I want to set a professional example that we can race safely, and then we can open the doors for other blind people to follow in my footsteps in the future.”

In reflecting on what impact he hopes his racing has on others, Parker says it’s all about proving anything is possible.

“I want to inspire society that we can overcome life’s challenges,” Parker says. “I also want fellow blind people, as well as sighted people, to know that we can go for our dreams.”

Tickets for this year’s Through the Looking Glass Gala go on sale June 10.





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