(Photos by Dean Kirsten and Chad Reynolds) When Steve and the gang from the East Coast Timing Association hit me up and asked me to come out to the ECTA Spaceport America Invitational I thought it sounded intriguing and cool. After all, who gets to go hang out at Virgin Galactic’s headquarters and race cars on what might be the most bad ass runway ever? This guy apparently! And I wasn’t alone. There were a bunch of folks there to race, on what might be the most exclusive race location ever, and every one of them just kept saying how amazing the place was. Between Spaceport America and Truth or Consequences New Mexico, this is one special place to visit. While I was mostly busy running around at the top end doing interviews, and eating awesome food from the Luchador food truck, I did manage to snap a few photos. Thankfully so did Dean Kirsten who was kind enough to send them over for us to share with all of you.
No remember, this was an ultra exclusive invitation only event. Racers had to submit a request to race and were then approved. Because it was the first year for this event, which was put together on pretty short notice, there were just over 20 racers on site. Rest assured, now that the Spaceport America and Truth or Consequences folks have seen what is possible, we are looking forward to a whole new level of land speed event happening on this site.
But what really moved everyone at this event, and I’m talking everyone, was our friend Dan Parker. Dan was injured in a Pro Mod crash several years ago and when he woke from a 2 week long Coma found that he had no eye sight left. He had nerve damage that would never allow him to see again. But instead of letting it break him, even though he wanted to let it at first, Dan decided he wasn’t done going fast or done building hot rods. As a machinist and chassis builder, he had used his sight to build awesome machines for decades, but now he’d have to use everything he knew to do it without the use of his eyes. He had some help along the way from amazing friends, and ultimately teamed up with real rocket scientists to design a guidance system that would instruct him on what corrections to make in order to drive his own race car without sight. To start he set a record at Bonneville, on a 3 wheeled motorcycle, going over 60 mph with only audible corrective instructions to go off of. That system has been improved upon and on the maiden voyage Dan was able to make several runs down the runway at speeds over 100 mph, with his final being 152 mph. It’s 50 mph short of his goal of 202 or faster, but the entire team is thrilled with their progress and so excited to see the next goal fall. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me and the entire ECTA staff and every single person on the property to watch this car do what it did with a truly blind man behind the wheel. A racer through and through, Dan did what needed done and made it all look pretty easy, which I assure you it was not. Ultimately he even took Jay Leno for a ride in the car for an upcoming episode of Jay Leno’s Garage! So stay tuned and you’ll see just what this thing can do.
But Dan wasn’t the only unique aspect of this event. What smacks you first when you get to this location is the isolated beauty that it has. And the fact that the back of the Virgin Galactic hangar looks like a space ship that has landed. Once you get to the gates, where they welcome you and check for your credentials, you realize just how serious and yet friendly this place is. There is serious security here, and for good reason. You are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in aircraft, space shuttles, hangars, and more on the facility and that’s just the Virgin Galactic stuff! There is also a Vertical Launch facility that has launched more than 300 rockets into space with everything you can imagine as payload.
Unfortunately, you can only see lots of the space stuff in the background of photos, in the form of the main hangar, etc. We were not allowed to shoot photos of, or get too close to, the space stuff but man was it fun to be around it. Check out the photos, and keep an eye on the ECTA as there will be announcements coming about the next event at this facility. Trust us when we tell you that this is one you do not want to miss.