LEE SHEPHERD - SUPERKART RACER - PARAPLEGIC

1y ago

3.6K

My name is Lee Shepherd I am 48yrs old and on 14/07/96 I had an RTA on my motorcycle and sustained a spinal injury at T9/10 that let me paralysed at the age of 26.

Motorsport had always been my passion from an early age watching my dad race Brisca F1 Stock Cars and from him always having motor bikes when I was growing up.

I had motocross bikes from the age of 12 and then yrs later raced myself for 10yrs before sustaining a cruciate ligament injure that ultimately made my have an operation for a reconstruction. Post op I was told that I could not race for approximately 12 months so in this time I thought I would take my road bike license and at least I could still get my fix of bikes !

Unfortunately 12 months later I had my RTA which was very life changing to say the least!

During my time in hospital in rehab and the gym etc you are introduced to others sports and activities that many spinal injury patients take part in with the main one I was introduced to being wheelchair basketball.

Unfortunately this was definitely not my 'thing' so to say, I was never interested in it before so I didn't see why I should start now just because of my new disability! Although I was always keen on the gym so I did try and carry on doing what I could in that respect if nothing else just to keep fit.

Once I was discharged from hospital a hobby was not necessarily the top of my list as I just needed to adapt to being confined to a wheelchair in the big wide world and getting on top of things.

After a period of time and once I had adapted to my new lifestyle I started to get out and about much more, I went to watch my friends race at motocross whom I had raced with pre-accident and enjoyed it immensely. It was great seeing everyone again and as motorsport was my passion at least I could still enjoy watching if not competing.

A few of the lads I had raced with that were getting a bit older and not as fit as they were had started to have a go at karting as it was not as physical but still have the element of competition.

I got chatting to one of them and arranged to go along and watch at the next meeting they had just for moral support, also as I had never watched before I thought it would be fun.

I went along and thoroughly enjoyed myself, it was a lot easier to go along and watch karting as it was on tarmac which is a lot better for wheelchairs than the mud of motocross for a start!

I started to go along regularly and got to know a few other lads and it was a great day/weekend out also.

After a period of time I got to thinking it would be great to compete in karting or even have a go in one rather than just watching all the time but as nobody I had heard of had ever converted a kart to hand controls I wasn't sure how to go about

I spoke to another friend of mine who's job was maintaining and tuning motocross bikes/engines, who had also started racing karts, about me wanting to have a go in a kart and he said that we should have a go and see what we could come up with.

Fortuitously one of my friends who had decided karting was not for him and decided to stop racing said that I could borrow his and see if it could be converted to hand controls in order for me to give it a go.

It took quite some time, approximately 12 months of working on it in between his regular business until we had come up with the first attempt at hand controls. Unfortunately, I had decided to convert the most difficult class of kart that I could of possibly done in a gearbox kart, mainly because all the people I know raced in that class but also because the engines used in that class were motocross derived engines that I had knowledge of when I raced motocross years before.

So not only had we needed to come up with an accelerator and brake but a clutch and gear lever all on hand controls.

It was defiantly trial and error for a few months but we did get a set up that we thought would work and so decided to go up to the local track on a test day for an initial outing.

I was lifted into the seat, which was just a standard kart seat, and tentatively set off on my first laps!

It was an amazing feeling actually being out there going round and it made my forget about my disability at least for a while.

I went up more and more and as I got going faster and faster the physical limits of being paralysed became more and more obvious!

It was not the controls that seemed to be the limiting factor but the lack of core muscles that started to become prominent, actually holding myself in the kart with all the g-forces was the hardest thing.

I started looking into ways to try and overcome at least some of these problems and eventually spoke to one of the kart manufacturers of seats and went to see him.

We came up with a design that wrapped partly around my shoulders in order for me to lean into whilst cornering and this was a massive improvement, so much more than the hand control improvements that we were constantly designing.

The final version of my seat was from Tillett a seat manufacturer who made some slight adaptions for me and that was definitely the biggest in terms of percentage gains for me, it really needs to fit you very well for the maximum support.

Getting in to the kart from the wheelchair was also a problem but I made a wooden seat that would straddle the side pod on my kart and I would transfer on to that first before being helped in by my friends.

My feet were held in by foot cups with Velcro around them with did the trick and I never really changed that during all the time I raced.

The hand controls and seat on my kart went through many many changes during my time racing and it is definitely a personal thing to everyone, what works for one person would not necessarily work for someone else but I didn't have anything to relate or look at to compare but I think I definitely got it to a system that worked very well for me.

Accelerating, braking using the clutch and changing gear whilst holding yourself in the kart was definitely an experience but one I would never have changed!

Eventually I decided that I wanted to try and race but not knowing where to start I made some phone calls to the Motor Sports Association who put me in touch with David Butler from the British Motorsports Association for the Disabled.

I spoke to him and he said he was on the medical panel at the Motor Sports Association who are the governing body for motorsport in the UK.

I spoke to him and he said he was on the medical panel at the Motor Sports Association who are the governing body for motorsport in the UK.

It was a very 'interesting' meeting to say the least, it seemed that the only things that most of the panel came up with was the reasons why I shouldn't race rather than looking at how they could help me race.

It didn't help that nobody had help a kart license whilst being paralysed before and I think that nobody was willing to put their neck on the line.

They came up with many things including what would the marshals and medical attendants at the meeting do if I had an accident and had to be removed from the kart, to which I replied 'exactly the same as you would do if anyone had an accident and had to be removed from the kart' which brought a few smiles from a few of the panel.

I was very forthright in my persistence of wanting to try and race and tried to assure them all that I wouldn't put myself in a situation that I didn't think I could cope with after all that I had already been through.

Eventually the meeting was over and they said they would further liaise with David Butler and let me have their decision in due course.

After a few weeks David informed me of there decision and to my great joy they agreed I could have a license so long as I passed my ARKS test (the test everyone has to complete in order to get a kart license) and the I would be limited to a Kart National 'B' on medical grounds. I had to put a big plate on the rear bumper of my kart with a 'D' on it in order for the marshals to identify me in case of an accident.

I didn't fully agree with both of these stipulations to start with but agreed and I thought at least I could have a go and race!

I started racing in 2000 as a novice and did short circuit racing for 4yrs, I did eventually get my kart National 'A' license which allowed me to compete in the gearbox kart National Championship which I did for a couple of seasons.

I did a lot better than many people thought I would with many good results and my first final win came at Shennington kart circuit in the wet a few yrs after I started.

The wet racing was a great leveller as it reduced the g-forces and physicality significantly and thus loved it!

I did have a few problems initially when racing with some of the other competitors as when they saw the 'D' on my kart they thought they could not be beat by a 'disabled' driver and so I was subject to quite a few rash moves to try and overtake me!

I did eventually earn their respect as a competitor and was then looked at as just another racer and beat many of them on a regular basis anyway!

It definitely gives you satisfaction as the only disabled driver racing against abled bodied drivers and beating them, it also felt good that whilst I was in the kart nobody that didn't know me and was watching knew I was disabled and I was just another driver.

In 2004 I decided I wanted to try and race 'Long Circuit' which is a conventional gearbox kart with full aero dynamic bodywork racing on all the national circuits around the country such as Silverstone, Donnington Park and Oulton Park etc.

I raced up till 2012 and was placed in the top 10 of the championship on 2 occasions out of a field of up the 50 drivers and being the only disabled driver gave me great satisfaction in being so competitive.

I even won an outright club meeting at Mallory Park with being fastest in qualifying, wining both races and having the fastest lap in both races too!

Not bad for a paraplegic I thought!

It really is a great sport to get into and there is definitely no reason anybody cannot do this if I did, I would wholeheartedly recommend giving it a go it's just a shame I'm a little to old to do it now!

I only broke my leg once so I didn't do too badly in terms of injury either, at least it didn't hurt when I did and I wouldn't of changed a thing!

Article and images supplied by Lee Shepherd

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