MIDWEST: Paraplegic Micro Sprint Racer Eric Saunders Sweeps on Independence Day at Plymouth, Sets Even Higher Goals

Aaron Bearden Featured, Micro Sprints, Midwest, Southeast, Sprints & Midgets 0 Comments

LAKEVILLE, Ind. — Story by Race Chaser Online Correspondent Aaron Bearden — Saunders Racing/Cracked Lens Media photo —

I can. I will.

Those are the words painted on the front of Eric Saunders’ 600cc Micro Sprint. Saunders, 22, suffered a terrifying injury while practicing for a Motocross race in 2011. In the blink of an eye, Saunders’ life was changed.

Saunders’ injuries — two broken vertebrae among them — left the Lakeville, Ind. driver a paraplegic. He would be unable to return to Motocross.

However, he didn’t give up. Instead, Saunders transitioned to racing sprint cars, and adapted the “I can, I will” motto.

Four years later, Saunders is racing a Micro Sprint — and winning.

Saunders fought his way through the field while Americans celebrated their independence to take two 600cc micro sprint feature wins in one day at Plymouth Speedway on July 4.

In an exclusive interview with Race Chaser Online, Saunders discussed his two victories.

“We had a makeup feature (from a June 20 rain-out), and my brother (Garrett Saunders) was leading — there was about 15 laps that he led – and he was kind of checked out from me, pretty far away from me,” said Saunders of the first feature. “But then, he ended up getting into traffic and spun out with about five to go. I ended up winning that feature.”

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“For the normal show, I know that I won my heat race. For the feature, I started sixth, and ended up getting by Dylan Woodling with about five to go to work my way up to second, and then with about four to go I ended up passing the leader, and ended up winning that feature. I had a super good car.”

Saunders, whose sprint car team is partnered with Tony Stewart Racing, took a second to try to put his wins to words.

“They are super special to me,” said Saunders. “Just being able to race is one thing, but getting the feeling of winning again is a whole different level of joy. It’s crazy. I’m just speechless because of how crazy it is.”

Saunders’ switch from Motocross to sprint cars was a challenging one. It’s taken the Hoosier three years and many races to fully adjust to the differences between the two vehicles. Still, the 22-year-old stayed upbeat when asked about the learning curve.

“It hasn’t been that bad, honestly,” said Saunders. “I know that everyone says racing a race car is super easy, but half of the people that say that have never even tried it.

“The thing is, I’ve just learned a lot. Everyone thinks with using my hand controls it must be a lot harder, but it’s not. I’m used to using the clutch and the brake, the throttle just using my hands. That’s all I’ve ever used with racing in general.”

“(The hardest part) was probably just switching over from a different car brain from the different chassis,” Saunders continued. “We had to learn the whole car, different setups and everything. This is the first year that Spike Chassis has ever made 600 mini-sprints. We had to learn the car basically from scratch, and we didn’t have anybody that really knew about these cars, so we had to learn it all on our own, but we’ve really caught onto it. The cars are actually really, really good.”

Saunders also took a second to acknowledge David Bice, a former CRA Street Stock Series driver, whose hard work as a crew chief has played a large role in the team’s success.

“The first couple years of racing, I really didn’t understand with the car, how to set it up or anything,” said Saunders. “I never knew what actually felt good on the setup or anything with the car, so he would just throw something at me, and ask: ‘How does that sound?’”

“I’d say ‘Oh yeah, that’s good.’ But truthfully, it wasn’t even good at all. Finally I started realizing what I was actually comfortable with, and what actually made the car go pretty darn good.”

With a couple new feature wins under his belt, Saunders has two goals for the next year.

““We’re probably just going to try to win [the] points at Plymouth (Speedway)” said Saunders. “At the end of the year, we’re going to go to some big shows and big money races.”

Which big money race does Saunders have in mind, you ask?

“My one goal that I really want to do is run the Chili Bowl (Nationals) next year,” Saunders acknowledged.

Accomplishing that goal won’t be easy. The Chili Bowl Nationals, held in Tulsa, Okla., is the biggest midget race in America. However, Saunders is certain that he can make it, even if he isn’t sure how yet.

“I’m not too sure honestly right now, but I think,” Saunders paused, “With my story, everybody says ‘You should get your name out there.’ I think my story is more than my name, which I think is like television. I think that if they’d hear my story, it’d be an inspiration to a lot of people. It would help a lot of people.”

“I get messages on Facebook all of the time, like: ‘Oh, you’re such an inspiration. You have no idea what you’ve done for me and my family.’ I think with people hearing this, it would inspire a lot of people to not give up, you know?”

Saunders has an incredible story. Just four short years ago, he nearly died. Few believed he could ever race again, and even fewer thought he could win. Yet, here he is, a winner, an inspiration, and — most importantly — a racer.

He can. He will.

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