Dust off your 2016 book of Guinness World Records and turn to page 97. There you will find Mike Newman, the Sale-born adrenaline junkie who quit his day job as a former bank manager to start Speed of Sight.
Based in Bolton, speed demon Mike founded the organisation in 2012 to offer people with varying disabilities the chance to experience both on-track and off-road motoring.
Currently holding six world records and brandishing the title of ‘fastest blind man on land and water’, it only seems fitting that Mike now spends his time helping other disabled people of all ages get behind the wheel – many for the very first time.
The team firmly believes that taking part in their events helps participants with self-esteem, social interaction and their physical and mental wellbeing.
Using specially designed and adapted vehicles, the organisation has two race cars and one off-road ATV, with a fourth vehicle currently in the works. Named after Mike’s guide dogs, the cars are designed with dual controls, twin steering wheels and additional hand controls so that qualified instructors can help guide users safely around the tracks.
Relying fully on donated tracks and open spaces with a large enough area for a circuit to be created, the experiences are hosted nationwide. And for the past six years, the charity has been working with intu Trafford Centre, who frequently donate their overflow carpark to the cause.
We headed down to check out one of the events for ourselves, and even had a drive around the track – blindfolded. Recognising the importance of promoting positive awareness of disabilities, the team have created the activities to be fun but also give an insight into a life without certain senses.
Gearing up for our drive around the track, a team of volunteers helped us into our racing attire. Each helmet has a wireless headset built-in, so you can keep in constant communication with your instructor.
Blindfold at the ready, we set off around the track. The instructor gave constant guidance for steering and how much acceleration was required. We did roughly six laps, but normally participants get 20 minutes of drive time each.
Being blindfolded created such an exhilarating and enjoyable – if slightly nerve-racking – experience. And it completely altered our perception of speed. It felt like we were driving round the track at 40mph, when in reality we were barely reaching double figures.
That’s coming from someone who’s been driving for over eight years, so you can only imagine the thrill that people get from this experience who haven’t or can’t drive.
We spoke to mum of three Tanya, who brought her two nine-year-old boys Zac and Ruben for the driving experience. The twin brothers have a degenerative genetic condition, but mum Tanya says that doesn’t hold them back.
“I read about the experience on Facebook,” said Tanya.
“We told the boys about it and they really wanted to do it. We’ve done disability skiing at Beyond (formerly Chill Factore), sailing at MediaCity and now this. I’d love to come back again. Zac, who has just come off the track now, said that he absolutely loved it. And Ruben couldn’t wait for his turn.”
“The team asked us for a contribution of £45 and it costs roughly £150 to put a single person on the track. And for families that can’t afford that, they can give you sponsorship forms so that your family and friends can help out and raise money.
“A lot of disabled people will never get the chance to drive a car. It’s very inclusive. You’re getting the chance to take the ‘dis’ out of your disability and make it an ability experience – something that can often be difficult when you’re in this situation.”
Also present at the event was charity founder, Mike.
“We have five members of staff,” he said. “Myself and John who founded the charity are full-time, and we have three part-time workers, too. Everybody else that works with us is completely voluntary. In total there’s a pool of about 40 volunteers.”
“We want to be able to offer many more experiences like this locally in Greater Manchester. As a charity we operate all around the country – South Wales, Yorkshire, Nantwich and Teesside. There are about 10 different venues we currently have access to. And we rely fully on donated venues or tracks to run the experience days.
“The experiences have changed the lives of so many people, giving them the confidence so that activities taken for granted by able-bodied people can still be enjoyed by disabled people.”