He’s waited for this moment for four years. Eric Saunders found his way back to his winning ways after four years of confidence testing and the will to succeed.
The Lakeville, Indiana resident was on his way to a successful Motocross career when his dreams of achieving more than 10 state championships and 500 career wins came slamming to a close in a blink of an eye.
On Aug. 29, 2010 prior to his 18th birthday, Saunders was practicing runs in the backyard of his home when he went airborne on his cycle and landed incorrectly.
That’s the moment when everything changed.
He was rushed to Indianapolis where Saunders and his family learned that he was paralyzed.
Racing was all he knew. What now?
It wasn’t until NASCAR driver Tony Stewart called Saunders and asked if he wanted to get into a race car that he had hopes of being whole and being competitive again. Saunders had been racing for Tony Stewart while pursuing his shot in professional Motocross and Stewart stepped up to give him another chance.
Saunders’ race car would be equipped with a steering wheel that would have all of the car’s controls – steering, throttle and brakes.
It took a while to coordinate the controls, but Saunders got into his 600 sprint and started to compete in races at his home track, Plymouth Speedway. In just a couple of seasons, Saunders has accumulated a few podium finishes. However, that win remained elusive.
That win would come Saturday, Oct. 4 during the World Series of Dirt event at Plymouth Speedway, four years after his accident.
Saunders showed speed as he picked up the heat win and he would start on the pole for the feature after a redraw.
The green flag flew and Saunders was out solidly out front. He was focused. He was smooth and consistent in each corner of the dirt track. It was his race to win.
Saunders found himself crossing the finish line first and the four years of waiting and wondering if he could prove that he could win races as a paralyzed driver vanished. He got his first feature win.
His family gathered around his car on the dirt surface and smiles gleamed on their faces.
“It was pretty emotional,” said Saunders. “My dad had tears in his eyes when he said, ‘I knew we’d win together again’.
“I held my line and remained focused the whole race. It was an amazing feeling to win. I want to be able to get back into the rhythm of winning again. We’ll try again this Saturday!”
Saunders, 22, will attempt a repeat win in the Lane Automotive 50 Race of Champions, presented by All Star Performance, Cometic Gasket, Inc., and JE Pistons with K1 Technologies to end the racing activities at Plymouth Speedway for the year.
His overall goal?
“I want to see how far I can go. I’m planning to race a 600 Sprint in 2015 and possibly a Modified in 2016 and we’ll see where it goes from there,” commented Saunders.
“I can, I will.”
Photo by: Stephanie Reichelt Photography