ATU466 – Adaptive Racing with Kirk Dooley

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

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Kirk Dooley:
Hi, this is Kirk Dooley and I am the Executive Director for the Resilience Racing Foundation. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the Indata Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 466 of Assistive Technology Update, it’s scheduled to be released on May 1st, 2020. On today’s show we’re super excited to have Kirk Dooley on from Resilience Racing. He’s going to tell us all about what they’re doing with adapting racing to help veterans with disabilities get into the world of racing. Don’t forget if you ever do want to reach us there’s easy ways to do that. You can call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Email us at tech@EasterSealsCrossroads.org, or shoot us a line on Twitter @Indata Project.

Josh Anderson:
We hope that you enjoy listening to us every week, and we’d like to hear from you every once in a while. So definitely reach out. Let us know if there’s somebody you think we should have on the show. Give us input on how to make the show better, or if you really liked something, we always take positive feedback too. That’s always wonderful. Again, thank you so much for listening. Now. Let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
If you’re looking for more podcasts to listen to, do you have questions about assistive technology, about an accommodation, or maybe how something works? Are you really busy and only have a minute to listen to podcast? Well, guess what? You’re in luck because we have a few other podcasts that you should really check out. The first one is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions or AT FAQ hosted by Brian Norton and featuring myself and Belva Smith and then a bunch of other guests. What we do is we sit around and take questions about assistive technology, either about accommodations, about different things that are out there or about different ways to use things. We get those questions from Twitter, online, on the phone and in many other ways. We’re also trying to build a little bit of a community as sometimes believe it or not, we don’t have all the answers. So we reach out to you to answer some of those questions and help us along. You can check that out anywhere that you get your podcast and wherever you find this podcast.

Josh Anderson:
We also have Accessibility Minute. So Accessibility Minute is hosted by Laura Metcalf. And if you’ve never heard her voice, it is smooth as silk. And you should really listen to that podcast. She’s going to give you just a one minute blurb about some different kinds of assistive technology, kind of wet your whistle a little bit and just let you know some of the new things that are out there so that you can go out and find out a little bit more about them yourself. So again, check out our other shows, Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions and Accessibility Minute available wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Anderson:
As some of our listeners may or may not know many of our interviews are actually recorded in advance. Now, normally this doesn’t really make that big of a difference, but the world’s in a little bit of odd times. At least at the time, this was recorded. The interview you’re about to listen to was recorded on March 11th and the show itself was actually posted and finished up on March 20th. So right now, as I speak to you here, it’s March 20th. Although this episode will not come out for six weeks. At the current time, right now many schools in the United States are closed. Many folks are staying indoors and the COVID-19 virus is kind of on everyone’s mind. I do not want to go on too much longer without at least mentioning it here on the show. But we do like to keep Assistive Technology Update as a place where you can find out about assistive technology, about the ways people are using it about the devices and other things that can help individuals with disabilities.

Josh Anderson:
But we don’t talk a whole lot about the other current events, just because I’m sure you hear about them enough in the news and everything else. I did just find it important to maybe go ahead and talk about it for just a second, especially as it got me thinking that over the last few weeks as restaurants, bars, other things have closed, many individuals are out of work and other things have really happened. It has kind of changed my viewpoint on posting shows a little bit early. I am trying to post these as quickly as possible just in case perhaps the building would need to be closed down or for some reason I could not get into the studio to get these posted. I would still like them to come out as much as they could on a regular basis, but it did get me thinking that when this show actually comes out on May 1st, things might be a whole lot different.

Josh Anderson:
They may be a whole lot better. They could be a whole lot worse. I’m definitely hoping for the former over the latter on that one. But I will say like most things, like most disasters, most major challenges, they’re always away for us to find a way to do things better. My team itself has really been utilizing remote working with folks. So getting into their homes by using Zoom or other platforms to talk to them over the computer, complete training that way so that individuals can still get the training and services they need but without the need to risk any sort of exposure. At the time this show comes out, I hope that we’ve perfected this a little bit and that it’s working even better.

Josh Anderson:
But again, as with every major challenge, I’ve seen so many acts of kindness, so many people doing all they can. The folks, at least at this time here at Easter Seals Crossroads are doing all they can to still provide all the services that are available to individuals. Our Indata services have had to shut down a few things like the loan library, unfortunately, just because of giving out items, taking them back and that stuff does just bring up that risk of exposure. But I’m hoping that it’s reopened by the time this show comes out. So folks that is all that I will say about that right now. I did just want to go ahead and drop that line because many times I don’t think about the future in the way of, “I wonder what the world will be like when this show comes out?” But I must met after the events, especially of the last few weeks and the major changes, it really makes me wonder what exactly will the world be like on May 1st?

Josh Anderson:
Another reason I really felt that I had to put this in, is that in the opening to the interview you’re going to hear in a few moments, I mentioned the Indy 500 in the month of May. At the present time as I’m recording this on March 20th, the Indy 500 has not been canceled. By May 1st, I’m not sure if that will be the case, but I realized after listening to the interview, that it might sound a little bit weird if I mentioned that when it is canceled. So that is why it is that way. I thank you all so much for listening to this show. It’s an amazing joy to get to put on. And hopefully it brings you a nice, little release from the things that are going on in the world around you. So without further ado, let me go ahead and get on with the interview.

Josh Anderson:
Well it’s funny, the month of May here in Indiana, the super wet ground is starting to dry out. The sun’s beginning to shine most days, and the heat starting to move in. But the month of may in Indiana is really truly defined by one thing and that’s racing. And this little area of Indianapolis called the Town of Speedway, the sound of Indy cars fills the air for most of the months leading up to over 200,000 people descending upon the city for the greatest spectacle in racing. I can’t think of a better way to start the month of May then to have this special guest on our show. Kirk Dooley is from Resilience Racing and he’s on to talk about what they are doing to make racing accessible. Kirk, welcome to the show.

Kirk Dooley:
Thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Josh Anderson:
Well, I’m really excited to talk about this. Like I said, I’ve always been a big fan of the month of May, the motor speedway. And I know that some of your history even goes back there as well. So could you start off by just telling our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Kirk Dooley:
Oh, absolutely. Well, so I think that just as it kind of builds into the narrative of Resilience Racing and how we got to where we are today, I’ll start by saying that I am a retired Marine, did 24 years. I retired in 2015 after having spent the majority of my career in the intelligence or special operations community and moved to Indianapolis expressly to get involved with racing. It’s been my passion for after so many years. And that’s kind of what I wanted to do get involved with in retirement. And I was fortunate enough to just work first as the Chief of Staff for Indy Car. And then about a year later was asked to go across the street to the speedway proper where I served as Director of Event Operations within that the experience grew this desire to kind of unite my special place in the racing industry with my background in the military and trying to bring together just the [inaudible 00:09:14] to my military friends, my veterans.

Kirk Dooley:
And we started off back in 2019 to form a endurance racing team to compete within the champ car series, principally because it was racing there at Indy. And really, I think that resilience came out of that because we wanted to introduce racing and involve a couple of key friends, Derek Herrera, Matt Lambert, a spinal cord injured Marine as well as a double amputee to come race with us. And it became very clear that at the racing level of the sport, there were no easy answers or technology for adaptive driving. And that was something that we really set out in his… We become fixated on in solving this very specific racing’s application for adaptive hand controls. And frankly, we’ve got a lot to learn. We’ve made some ground, but proved to be much harder than we had anticipated.

Josh Anderson:
When you say it was a lot harder than you anticipated. I know that there are hand controls for cars, for normal kind of consumer vehicles. What was the big challenge with adapting those for race cars? And I’ve never been in a race car. So I don’t know a whole lot about the differences except for they go a heck of a lot faster, but what are some of the challenges with adapting those for kind of racing as opposed to consumer vehicles?

Kirk Dooley:
Absolutely. Well, the backdrop of this is that there is a certain amount of precision required for competitive road racing and in doing so it’s really, it is to focus on that truly competitive aspect, wheel to wheel racing in in the amateur and club racer levels. The other thing is it’s important that I think to solve a problem here that it’s to focus on those workhorse chassis, those Mazda Miatas, the older Mustangs, the older BMWs and Corvettes that have stick shift transmissions. And that’s a key element to one of the roadblocks that we faced because at the very beginning, we’re like, “Well, where do we write the check? Where do we just get some great hand controls that are safe and high-performance, will make this successful out there?” And that’s where things we kind of became evident that the traditional push, twist, mechanical levers for passenger cars just really weren’t appropriate or safe or competitive for the rigors of racing.

Kirk Dooley:
The other key development challenge was trying to retain the use of a factory manual transmission, because that is what has the highest performance, it has the highest longevity and for the most part and generally speaking, automatic transmissions are not going to be competitive and in most cases will tend to fail in our estimates. When you start campaigning for 10, 24 hours straight, oftentimes in the heat for our first race here at Indy, I mean it was 96 degrees ambient. I mean, it was just an absolute torture test on the cars out there. And just the design of most automatics, at least at this affordable level of racing, you just need to focus on a clutch and a manual transmission. And that’s where things really start to get complicated when you start to factor in the ergonomics. So again, just a lot of learnings and a lot of analysis and a lot of engagement with key professionals on this, but it was became a bigger challenge than we had anticipated, particularly if you want to step away from some of the constraints of mechanical actuation of brake and clutch and even a throttle.

Kirk Dooley:
So most recently we have partnered with Texas A&M and there’s a department of engineering because in terms of my outreach, they just embrace the project. They’re thrilled to start to try to use their expertise and their resources to help us solve something that will not only make Resilience Racing as an organization successful within our resources, our hope is that the path that we blaze here with some of this technology creates the roadmap recipe for others to do the same, because as you kind of started the segment with about how exciting racing is in the month of May, for somebody like me who’s afflicted with the racing bug, I would think that everybody would want to get out there. And if we can solve this, this should make things more accessible, more affordable to get other guys who may not have otherwise thought it was possible to get out there and do just that amateur club level racing, something that’s cost effective and start to do what I love to do so much.

Josh Anderson:
I love the way that you guys are trying to make it accessible, not just from a standpoint of being able to actually manipulate and use the vehicles but actually to being able to afford to get into it as well.

Kirk Dooley:
And I think that’s one of the key distinctions here is there just was a gap. So you have your passenger vehicles with traditional push/pull or push/twist type levers of a couple of different configurations. And then you have the other extreme is there are examples, you’ve got Alex Zanardi and Michael Johnson. They’re pro drivers at the very top of their game, and very successful and proud to see what they’re doing, but I’ve actually worked with the engineers with Alex Zanardi’s team, from his 24 Hours of Daytona Campaign back in 2019 and they’ve got over $200,000 in R&D and development for that. And if it’s a fantastic thing and so proud that they did it, but it doesn’t really apply. The technology, the approach, some of the hardware just doesn’t apply to the average guy. And again, as the primary goal, just because you might have be an amputee or have a spinal cord injury that shouldn’t keep you from doing this grassroots level of racing,

Josh Anderson:
Kirk, how do you feel that racing can help veterans?

Kirk Dooley:
Well, I can just speak firsthand or so many other examples that exist out there. I’m just convinced that the power of motorsports is uniquely intoxicating in terms of focusing one’s attention in engaging veterans, getting them drawn into an exciting sport in a way that other activities may not. The adrenaline, the teamwork, the camaraderie that goes along with racing operations, the complexity of some of the operational challenges, because it’s not easy to prepare and campaign a car for 10 to 24 hour race. There’s a whole lot that goes into that. Even during the race car comes off, you got a lot of rapid problem solving, decision making to be done. And again, I think that that kind of activity is something that’s very familiar to veterans. It reconnects them with that sense of purpose and mission, even if only across a weekend.

Kirk Dooley:
Well, I would also add that anticipation is a tremendously powerful motivator, and that even if you only are doing something a couple of weekends, even a year, that the anticipation and the buildup and the looking forward to those truly thrilling events to be part of it is something that can really, I think again, refocus, engage vets, particularly… Again, I think our focus here is those at risk vets. What we’re learning about PTSD and TBI and those kinds of things and the psychological impacts. This is something that can help pull guys from the shadows, because again, they’re drawn in, it’s attractive, it’s exciting. And that is a way for us to engage and ensure that these guys are being looked after I guess.

Josh Anderson:
Kirk, you’re not doing this by yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about your team that you’re working with?

Kirk Dooley:
Well, it’s comprised of a bunch of truly remarkable guys. We’ve got Jon Winker, he’s a left leg amputee from Iraq and he’s was a racing enthusiast and the like, but in those last few years after he lost his leg, he started to kind of lose his way a bit. And the proof source example that I might give is I approached him after being introduced to him through a series of connections about what we wanted to do with Resilience and the race in last July. And at that time, because he’d lost a lot of motivation and things that I think can sometimes be a bit typical, he got up to over 300 pounds. So was just kind of lost in that way. After focusing on this and setting together these plans, he was remotivated and excited about what we were doing and then started doing all those things right in his life.

Kirk Dooley:
And the discipline came back and within seven months he had lost 90 pounds. So it was just a testament to the power of something like this and the power of anticipation to get guys or to keep guys on track going forward. Other folks that are on our team, we got Calum Belden, he’s one of my friends, my peers from Marine Special Operations Command. He was a team commander, and he’s had a long history of racing activities and continues to do instructor work out in California. A great ally. Two other remarkable guys are the Lampert brothers, Nate Lampert and Matt Lampert. I served with both of those at MARSOC before retirement. Nate is a retired Chief Warrant Officer Five, human intelligence counter-intelligence Marine. And then his brother is Matt, who was also a team commander in MARSOC, but Matt is a double above knee amputee and one of the guys that we really wanted to get [inaudible 00:19:12].

Kirk Dooley:
His story is just so incredible because when he first had his IED incident, everybody in the Marine Corps thought that it was just need to be retired, all sorts of stuff but he wanted to stay in. And he fought completely up the chain up to the Commandant and every med board denied his request to stay on active duty until he got the Commandant. The Commandant said, “Nope, he can stay in.” And indeed he did. And through a tremendous amount of rehabilitation and work within MARSOC and a lot of other professionals, physical therapists, he was able to physically become capable. And he redeployed again, back to Afghanistan, to the very same province in Helmand Valley, where he lost his legs to start with, deployed with his brother Nate, and had a successful deployment, an incredible deployment.

Kirk Dooley:
He even, and he was there as the executive officer. Even went down to one of the lowest tactical levels at a village stability platform where the captain and two other Marines had been killed and took command of that for a period of time. So has a double amputee above knee, which as everyone knows offers its own unique challenges, performed at the tactical level and then just in the most outstanding way. So having his inspiration, his involvement with our team is incredible.

Kirk Dooley:
Someone else who has just joined the team is Shilo Harris. Another remarkable guy who survived an IED strike in Iraq and had more than 35% burns over his body. Was in a induced coma for about 70 days. And again, just another one of those stories of resilience, which is the underpinning of what this team’s supposed to represent.

Josh Anderson:
Sounds like you’ve really got a heck of a team around you. And that’s awesome. I know in racing that’s important, but also in everything else in the military as well. Kirk, what’s on the horizon? What’s next for resilience racing? I know you said you’re working with colleges and things and engineering departments to kind of keep going, but where do you see it going here in the future?

Kirk Dooley:
Well, the nearest term a mission is to take the most recent sponsorship by Telematic Actuators who has come on board to donate high-end actuators for precision and power and speed to allow us to configure our Mustangs with clutch and brake by-wire actuation. And that’s relatively unique within this space. And if by the designs that we’ve come up with, we believe that this will be easily replicatable for others. So with this development and with testing getting ready to start near term within these designs, which there are still some challenges, we got to configure a 48 goal system for the actuators because it’s kind of a requirement for again, the precision of power that’ll be required, but that’s solvable we believe.

Kirk Dooley:
But with that, the installation of something like this should be pretty straightforward, to be honest. And then we’ll be able to get out and start testing to ensure that it provides the right performance. Because when you think about peak breaking thresholds and you’re heading into turn one at 150 miles an hour, you need to be able to give maximum braking without popping up the wheels, tires there. And it’s going to take a little time to develop that. But our next race that we hope will be ready for with these hand controls should be in June there at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. So that’ll be the next benchmark. From there I think that a successful test for these and performance with these hand controls, we’d like to explore different ways to A, start the training. And we start to increase the throughput of people to get trained on something like this. And then they are free to go out and hopefully replicate for themselves in their own chasses. Certainly standby to help anybody interested and just otherwise get more guys racing.

Kirk Dooley:
The one limitation that I think might be noteworthy is that just to compete on a level playing field within these grassroots levels series, person does have to be physically fit and capable enough upper body strength to be able to pull themselves as far as up and out of a car over a roll cage, but there’s plenty to hang onto there, in about 15 seconds. So we’re focused primarily on the [inaudible 00:23:45] disabled as far as below waist type of injuries. But as long as they’ve got decent upper body strength to do that, these guys are letting us race. So we get the right hand controls, they pass tech inspection and we’re going to get guys racing. So from there, it’s just a matter of just trying to promote this and spread the word and get more guys involved.

Josh Anderson:
That’s awesome. And Kirk, I assume that upper body strength requirement, that’s purely a safety feature, is that correct? Just to get out of the vehicle if there’s a wreck?

Kirk Dooley:
That is correct. It may not be graceful, but as long as you can kind of pop yourself up and over and barrel roll out, I suppose. They just got to know that a person can get themselves out of a vehicle, free from fire, in about 15 seconds, which it’s not a short time, but when you’re motivated to get out, should be plenty of time for guys who still just have decent upper body fitness.

Josh Anderson:
For sure. Kirk, if our listeners want to find out more, how could they find out more about Resilience Racing and what you guys are doing?

Kirk Dooley:
Our website is resilienceracingfoundation.org.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And we’ll put a link to that over in the show notes. Well, Kirk, thank you so much for your service and what you did for America, but also for Resilience Racing and what you’re doing to help veterans, especially those who might have amputations or other disabilities get in race cars and be able to participate in this great sport.

Kirk Dooley:
Absolutely. Well yes, it’s something that we are all so motivated to do. It’s difficult. It’s more than we ever had perhaps bargained for, but so excited to see this thing become really successful. And the one thing I might add is to the listening audience, if anybody else has innovative ideas or if this has been solved in different ways or parts already, please let us know. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but we’ve yet to discover something that kind of pulls the entire package and functions for road racing together. So happy to take feedback from anybody from the listening audience of course.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. Make sure, definitely if you are listening out there and you’ve had ideas or like Kirk said already kind of solved this problem, definitely reach out. You guys can work together and hopefully be able to help out. And Kirk, we’ll have to make sure to try to have you back on the show once you guys get everything solved and kind of hear about how that all came into play. So thank you again.

Kirk Dooley:
Thank you very much.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @ IndataProject or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the Indata Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the Indata Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.