Joey Logano has ‘Eye-Opening Driving Experience’ with Torsten Gross, Pennzoil

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

CONCORD, N.C. – Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano found a new appreciation for driving and mobility after filming a video with Torsten Gross and Pennzoil.

Gross is a C6 Quadriplegic and the founder of the Just Hands Foundation. The Sharon, CT native was in a car accident in 1994. Since then, he has competed in a variety of sports from skydiving to skiing to marathons. However, only one sport allows him to compete with the average able-bodied person, motorsports.

“This is the only sport that makes somebody in a wheelchair equal to able-bodied people,” Gross said in the Pennzoil video. “I skydive, I ski, I do 12 marathons in 12 months, and all of that is great. But you and I would never be in the same division together. But when it comes to car racing, the car doesn’t care if I’m in a chair, so that’s why I needed to do this.”

Through a unique hand control system, Gross can drive even though he’s a quadriplegic. The system that the Just Hands Foundation created, which bolts directly into a stockcar, forces the driver to steer with their left hand and have control of the throttle and brakes with their right hand.

Gross showed off the system to Logano at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. He taught Logano how to drive using the unique system before letting the Team Penske driver have a go. Gross even tied the Middletown, CT native’s legs to the door to prevent him from instinctively driving traditionally.

“This is a really neat program that Pennzoil is partnering up with Torsten and his foundation and really just giving everyone the ability to drive their vehicle when their mobility isn’t quite the same as everybody here,” Logano said. “They have a great way of trying to help everybody get in a vehicle and drive with just your hands and with no feet. It was a neat experience. The hand controls bolt right into a car. 

“We had a stock Ford Mustang Dark Horse right there and they bolted it all in there pretty quickly. The throttle, you turn it. The brakes, you push it in and then you strap your hand in on the other end of the steering wheel and off you go. It’s definitely a really neat experience, challenging to learn how to do it because your initial reaction is to hit the brakes with your feet, or the gas, but he tied my feet up to the door so I couldn’t even use my feet. We had a good laugh about that and then we tried driving it around the Roval.”

It took a little while for the Pennzoil-sponsored driver to get the hang of driving with hand controls. That gave him a new appreciation, not only for driving and mobility, but for competition as well. Gross competes regularly at Lime Rock Park and elsewhere with the hand control system.

“I wasn’t very smooth (with the hand controls) for a while,” Logano admitted. “I eventually got a little bit more of a handle on it, but the point is it’s really neat that he races and that he can compete. Think about it. There aren’t other sports where a paraplegic can compete with somebody who has normally functioning legs and be able to compete together in the same league. 

“He does that weekly, so how neat is that to be able to do that. He was very good at it, much better than me with as smooth as he was, but definitely a really neat experience. That’s something neat Pennzoil has done to really show how they’re pushing forward in a lot of different areas and just a fun experience, for sure.”

Gross’ comments about being able to compete with able-bodied athletes stuck with Logano. It made the 34-year-old think about competition and talent in a different way. The experience left Logano thinking that there could be a competitor that could one day compete with the Cup Series drivers.

“(What Torsten said in the video was) very eye-opening,” Logano explained. “To be honest with you, I never thought about it. We’ve done a lot of things at the Paralympics before with the sled hockey stuff years ago. There’s no way that they would be able to compete in the NHL, but with this scenario I do believe with enough practice and God given talent and determination if there is somebody that can get good enough driving just with their hands there’s no reason [that] they can’t compete on Sunday with us.”

Drivers like Gross are already competing at high levels. One such driver, who was an open wheel racing star long before he was seriously injured in a crash in 2001, is two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi. The Italian driver lost both of his legs in the accident. Zanardi competed in the 2019 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, finishing ninth in the GTLM class as a double amputee using hand controls.

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