Hands-On Driving for Enthusiasts With Disabilities
Sunday, February 4, 2007
SANTA MONICA, Calif. Daniel Reyes had spent most of his life speed riding motorcycles and driving high-performance automobiles. So it was the cruelest irony when he was standing on a Los Angeles street corner in 1999 and was struck by an out-of-control Jeep Wrangler.
"Let me tell you what happened," said Reyes, an irrepressible businessman who lost the lower part of his right leg in the accident.
"I wasn't even crossing the street. I was just standing on the corner. Then this girl in a Jeep Wrangler hits a bus. Her Wrangler bounces off the bus and pins me against a lamppost. What can I say? It was a good day for everybody!"
He laughs at what most normal people would consider a tragedy. But the 47-year-old is, in his own words, "nowhere near normal."
"I'm weird," he said. "After they amputated my leg, I kept thinking: How the hell am I going to drive my Ferrari 330 GT?"
He owns a 1967 Ferrari 330 GT with a five-speed manual transmission and a tricky clutch, which is operated with the left foot. But his doctors figured that, with half of his right leg gone, he wouldn't be able to push the accelerator. That he wouldn't be able to use his left foot to operate the accelerator and the clutch. That he wouldn't be able to drive his beloved Ferrari, period.
"They told me to get a car with an automatic transmission and be happy with that," Reyes said. "That made me angry. I didn't want them telling me what I could or couldn't drive. I wanted to drive my Ferrari!"
He ignored the advice of his doctors and the pleadings of his family and launched an intensive search for a device to help him get behind the wheel of his 330 GT. In 2004, after years of being told that he was seeking the impossible, Reyes discovered Guido Simplex, a company in Rome that specializes in developing components to assist drivers with disabilities.
The Italian company's motto is "Free to Drive." Reyes liked that. But he especially liked Guido Simplex's array of button clutch mechanisms that allow disabled drivers to operate high-performance cars at speed, including in track and road races.
Reyes liked Guido Simplex so much that he not only bought the needed components for his Ferrari, but he also wrangled a deal to become the exclusive supplier and installer of Guido Simplex devices in the United States.
Today, he runs Redi Auto Sport from his office here on Ocean Avenue. I visited the company on a sun-blessed California weekend to get a first-hand look . . . and drive.
The place is humming with activity. Disabled drivers from all over the United States and Canada are putting in orders for equipment, priced from about $2,000 to $10,000 depending on the components ordered, to help get them back behind the wheels of their Ferrari, Lamborghini, Ford Mustang GT, Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar and Mazda Miata/MX-5 sports cars.