Logano experiences hand-control Mustang with Torsten Gross

Joey Logano showed up at Charlotte Motor Speedway in mid-March admittedly having done zero research beforehand about what he was getting into.

The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, through his sponsor Shell, was set to spend the day with Torsten Gross. Logano and Gross, a C6 quadriplegic and founder of the Just Hands Foundation, which focuses on adaptive driving solutions, were going to highlight the inner workings of a retrofitted hand-controlled Ford Mustang before each took a turn driving it through the road course section of the racetrack.

The latter is where the expectations of having no preconceived notions met reality for Logano.


“I actually thought there was going to be a throttle squeezer and brake,” Logano told RACER, who was in attendance at the production shoot, after driving the car. “I thought, ‘How hard can this be? It’s like driving a four-wheeler. I can do that.’ Then, when there was a handle there, I was like, ‘Now you’re getting me!’

“I thought it would be gas, brake, steer (and) I should be able to do that. Once you take your other hand off the steering wheel, it changes the game.”

How does it work? Gross walked Logano — and everyone else — through the details of the hand controls before giving up the driver’s seat.

“He (Gross) ties his leg to the door handle, so it holds his leg from flopping around, so I did that, too,” Logano said. “I think he wanted me to because he said I was going to cheat. I said, ‘Probably.’ So, he tied my leg up with a Velcro strap. Your natural tendency is to (hit) the brake.”

Gross was 15 years old when he broke his neck in a diving accident. However, it wasn’t until last year that he began competitive driving after his wife signed him up for a track day as an anniversary gift. Gross competed in NASA Time Trials, International GT and World Racing League.

It came a year after Gross founded the Just Hands Foundation, which has a simple mission of making it easy and realistic for anyone who needs hand controls to be able to race. Another word Gross embraces is “normal,” normalizing hand-controlled driving and racing. It was also important that there were different options – whether a professional racing competitor or otherwise – not of the same financial means or resources as someone like Robert Wickens.

Wickens became a paraplegic after a crash in the NTT IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway in 2018. Since his return to racing a few years later, Wickens has been the most recognizable hand-controlled racing driver.

“Robbie saw mine and he was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” Gross said.

Gross is the type of personality that, when given a “no” answer, becomes determined to “definitely” figure out how to do it. This makes the month of May even more important to Gross, as it is Mobility Awareness Month. As someone who rolls his eyes at a lot of marketing techniques, Gross connects with companies that are inclusive and use terminology that reflects as much.

Pennzoil did that when presenting with Gross with the Long May We Drive campaign that celebrates the thrill of driving. By partnering with Gross, Pennzoil supports his goal of “equalizing mobility in motorsports, supporting the Just Hands Racing team’s development of more cars modified with hand controls to hit racetracks nationwide so people with disabilities can experience the thrill of racing.”

Spending time teaching Logano something new as part of the campaign was special to Gross.

“I want people to understand what it’s like,” said Gross, whose foundation takes the approach of not walking a mile in someone’s shoes but driving a mile in their gloves. “Joey leaving with two different mindsets is exactly what I wanted (going) from, ‘That’s not as hard as I thought,’ to, ‘Wow that’s pretty damn hard.’”

But for that to be successful, Gross acknowledges sometimes that means breaking down the stereotype or discrimination of racing against an individual with a disability. Having someone of Logano’s stature spend a day in a hand-controlled car brings another form of approval to the program.

“I thought (he) said it best that there is not another sport that he can compete with me,” Logano said. “Or with someone who is not in a chair. But this is what he can do and compete with everybody. So that part is really cool. He’s out there racing against everybody and he’s safe and fine and in control. That’s pretty neat. He has a lot of good thoughts on life, and another one is that everyone has something holding them back, whether mentally or physically.

“His outlook on life is that he’d rather have something physically wrong because then everybody knows what he’s dealing with. But mentally, if you’re depressed or stressed or whatever it may be, nobody sees it, and nobody knows what you’re dealing with. He just has a very positive outlook on his situation. I don’t think it’s an easy thing to have in his scenario, but he’s really found what some would call his weakness (to be) maybe his actual strength.”

The retrofitted Ford Mustang the pair drove at Charlotte stayed at the racetrack after the production shoot. Charlotte Motor Speedway is the home of the Ford Performance Racing School, and the car is now available to use during track days.

Just Hands Foundation is having the same type of success across the country. Racetracks have made their facilities more accessible after noticing they had a problem when Gross and others were on the property. Gross also explained how some track instructors were reluctant to instruct a hand-controlled driver, but that has been disappearing.

“That doesn’t happen anymore because they see us, they respect us, and hopefully they respect me (and) what I can do,” Gross said.

The number of drivers going through the program has also grown, and there’s also been an uptick in those who bought their own track car. Then comes an interaction Gross has to share.

“Our second driver, his wife was there with his young boy and daughter,” Gross began. “The wife comes up to me with tears in her eyes and says husbands are heroes to their sons. When my husband landed in a wheelchair, it was obvious that my son no longer saw him as a hero. The way he treated my husband was not good. Now, all my son can say is, ‘I want to be like daddy. I want to be a race car driver.’ He’s saying that over and over again, and he won’t leave my husband’s side. She said you brought back hero (status) to my husband.”

It’s a story that perfectly connects Gross’s message to all for Mobility Month.

“It doesn’t matter what appendages you use to drive, just do it,” he said. “Figure it out.”

Oh, and if you’re wondering how Logano did driving with just his hands?

“He got way more aggressive faster than I thought he would — in a good way,” Gross said with amusement. “He did a great job watching and listening and then applying. … His MO is to go fast; he’s wired that way and so am I, and so he started pushing it and I was like, ‘Cool. I’m good for this. We’ve got insurance if we hit a wall.’

“But he felt comfortable doing it and then it was interesting to see how uncomfortable he got. He started using both hands and his feet about seven laps in because he got so tired on his shoulders. We’re only using one arm to drive, and he was like, ‘I can’t do it.’

“To see that arch was interesting.”

Story originally appeared on Racer