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NASCAR — Quadriplegic to make history at Pikes Peak

Associated Press

Travis Tollett plans to make some history July 19 at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb when he becomes the first quadriplegic to compete in the annual "Race to the Clouds."

Tollett, who injured his spinal cord in a July 1, 2007, crash during the Gold Camp Hill Climb in Victor, Colo., will team with Steve Bennett in a specially equipped Mazda RX-7 TurboII.

He broke his C6 and C7 vertebrae when his car went off course and crashed at close to 90 mph.

"From the day they told me I’d never walk again or ride again, I knew I could prove everyone wrong," said Tollett, from Walters, Okla. "From Day 1 I’ve kept the best attitude about this that is humanly possible and continue to do that each day. I still believe I can come back from this and be better than ever as long as I believe in myself.

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"The chance to be a part of this race again is just awesome and I will make it to the top."

Bennett has competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb since 2004 and was seventh last year in the Open Wheel Division in a 1996 Wells Coyote, while Tollett has also competed in the event before, but only in Quads.

"This will be a totally new experience for me, tackling the Peak in a car with a windshield and fenders," Bennett said. "The Mazda RX-7 really is a different car than the Coyote. It’s low, and wide, lightweight with good power from the turbocharged engine, and I plan on getting everything I can out of it."

The Pikes Peak event, which began in 1916, is America’s second-oldest motorsports race behind the Indianapolis 500, which first ran in 1911. The hill climb is run on a 12.42-mile course that begins at 9,390 feet and finishes at the 14,110-foot summit.

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BEING THERE: Regan Smith, last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie of the year, watched last Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway in California on television from his Mooresville, N.C., home, and he didn’t find it very satisfying.

"It was hard to watch," said Smith, who opened the season with a 21st-place finish in the Daytona 500. "When it’s Sunday you want to be in a race car, competing against your peers. It was even more difficult to watch because of how well we ran in the Daytona 500. I wanted to be there mixing it up with everyone else."

Smith missed the second Cup race of the season because the Denver-based Furniture Row team is scheduled to run a limited schedule in 2009 due to lack of sponsorship.

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But the No. 78 Chevrolet will be back in action this week, with Smith hoping to qualify for Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"I had a good time in Daytona and felt really comfortable in the new surroundings," said the 25-year-old Smith, who drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. last year. "Hopefully, we can put it all together again in Las Vegas and come away with another solid team effort. We want to make the most out of every race we enter."

Smith’s only Cup start at LVMS was last year when he started 28th and finished 34th.

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OVAL ROOKIE: Robert Doornbos made his IndyCar Series debut during a preseason test this week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, also getting his first taste of oval racing.

The 27-year-old Dutchman, who last raced in the U.S. in the now-defunct Champ Car Series two years ago, took part in a four-man rookie test Monday on the 1.5-mile Florida oval, completing 111 laps in his new Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing entry.

"Driving on an oval is definitely different than I expected," Doornbos said. "It felt like going to a new school on the first day. I didn’t really know what to expect.

"I got a lot of information from the team, but you have to do it for yourself."

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Doornbos said he was questioning his decision to drive in IndyCar after the first five laps. But, after that, things began to fall into place.

"Once you reach that pace it’s actually quite fun, so we ended the day on a good note and I can go to bed with a smile. I already got the bug and want to go faster and faster, so that’s a good thing. That was definitely the fastest I have gone in a race car and I am quite proud.

"I have no idea what to expect with traffic. It must be something like driving in the middle of the night in China, the traffic is quite bad there. I will just take it as it comes."

Doornbos also took part in the IndyCar open test at Homestead on Tuesday and Wednesday and will drive in his first series race April 5 on the temporary street circuit in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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