Man makes his debut on the raceway as an amputee
BARRE, Vt. (AP) — Tim Hunt doesn’t use the word “inspiring.”
He simply lives his life — running a business, raising kids — like anyone else. That’s how he sees it, anyway.
But some see it differently.
“He’s been an inspiration to a lot of people, including us,” said his father, Perry.
Hunt was 14 years old when a tubing accident immobilized his left arm. Eight years later, after unsuccessful treatments, he decided to amputate it.
Since then, Hunt has discovered you don’t need two arms to push a lawnmower, fix a camper, share your heart, hug your children or — more recently — drive a race car.
The Derby Line native began running street stocks at Thunder Road Speedway last year at age 40.
He’s proven a quick study. Now in his second season, he won his first race in July and is in the thick of the street stock standings.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I’m almost living a dream. As a kid I loved racing, I never thought I’d do it myself.”
Hunt didn’t set out to inspire anyone. He simply loves the thrill of sitting behind the wheel, pressing down on the accelerator, and — hopefully — zipping past the competition.
And that, in a way, is what makes him inspiring.
“He’s not looking for any favors, he wants to earn what he gets,” said Thunder Road media director Mike Stridsberg. “That’s what people like about him.”
It happened during his father’s birthday celebration at the family camp on Lake Salem on July 21, 1991.
“I was on a tube behind a boat and was whipped into the side of a floating dock,” Hunt said. “I had multiple broken bones, head to toe. I don’t even know how many now.”
Looking on from the shore, his father remembers, “The first words out of my mouth were ‘He’s dead. He’s gone.’ He hit it so hard.”
Fortunately Perry served on the Derby Line Fire Department, and many members of the fire and rescue squad were in attendance. They sprung into action and Hunt pulled through. But his injuries were extensive.
“He had a fractured skull, broken collarbone, three or four broken ribs, broken leg, broken arm, broken pelvis,” Perry said. “All kinds of injuries, it was touch-and-go for a while.”
The accident also severed the nerve controlling his left arm. He underwent many surgeries, some of them experimental, to repair the connection. None were successful. After eight years with his arm in a sling, Hunt made the difficult decision to amputate the arm.
“After eight years I decided enough is enough,” Hunt said.
Added his father, “That’s a big decision. He’s a pretty gutsy man.”
Following the accident the family sold the camp on Lake Salem and, Hunt said, his father “doesn’t like his birthday as much anymore, he tries to forget it.” But Perry puts it another way.
Said Perry, “I’ve always told people, I don’t care if I ever get another birthday present again, I still have my son.”
The accident changed Hunt.
Immediately afterward he was helpless, relying on his parents — including his mother, Patricia — for everyday basic needs. He endured countless hospital stays, procedures and grueling rehab sessions. He learned a lot about life in a short span.
“I had to grow up very quickly,” he said. “It makes you realize: Life’s short, make the best of every day. My attitude is I’m not going to waste it, I’m going to do what I want to do.”
Equipped with that positive attitude, Hunt regained his Independence and then some.
In time, he resumed all of his favorite activities (four wheeling, golfing, etc.) and took up some new ones, competing alongside his older brother, Chris, in demolition derbies at the Orleans and Caledonia County fairs.
He began a landscaping company, North Country Lawncare, and over 20 years it grew into a success, with two full-time employees, three commercial zero-turn mowers, and over 100 weekly accounts, until taking over his father’s North Country Campers business five years ago.
He is also the father of two young children (Jackson and Emerson); an occupational therapist assistant at North Country Hospital; and he and his brother followed in their father’s footsteps, becoming members of Derby Line Fire and Rescue.
“The word quit was not in his vocabulary,” said his father, adding, “He always says he hates the word disabled, he says ‘I’m inconvenienced.’”
Said Hunt, “I’ve spent so much of my life with one arm, I’d be lost with two. I own a business and work on campers, doing mechanical stuff on them everyday. I hunt, fish, and ride snowmobiles with the best of the boys.”
“I do everything anyone with two arms does. I just do it a little bit differently.”
Hunt always dreamed of racing.
He grew up around cars. He spent his childhood attending races at local tracks and Loudon International Speedway. He had Jeff Gordon and Bill Elliott posters on his bedroom wall. Once, before Gordon was a star, they shared the same go kart track.
“As a kid, I always loved racing,” Hunt said. “But I never thought I’d do it myself.”
That changed when he took over North Country Campers and began talking with customer Mike Martin, a veteran driver in the Flying Tiger division at Thunder Road. Hunt shared his dream to drive a race car, and Martin encouraged him.
“I told him he was as capable as anyone,” Martin said. “Eventually we found a car, (Hunt) and I went to look at it one night, and he bought it.”
Just like that Hunt was a 40-year-old rookie competing in the street stock class. He took the number 93 — the same number he used throughout his successful demo derby career — and commenced an abbreviated scheduled at Thunder Road.
But after five races he was sidelined by another injury.
He was working on a camper when a ladder slid out from under him. He fell 14 feet and shattered his left heel. Doctors told him to stay off the foot for six weeks, but he had other plans.
“I think he was home maybe a total of two days, then he was back to work,” said his father. “There’s nothing that holds him back. If there’s something a little difficult, he finds a way to do it.”
It might sound extreme. But for Hunt, it’s the only way he knows how. “I have a lot of pain from spinal cord damage (from the tubing accident) and I don’t take prescription medication. I deal with my pain by working, keeping myself busy.”
Following his debut season Hunt upgraded cars, purchasing a 1980s Ford Mustang, which he rebuilt with crew chief Reggie Theroux, in preparation for a full season of racing.
The only concession Hunt makes to having one arm is power steering, an option most teams turn down. Otherwise he drives like anyone else in his class.
“People ask me, ‘How does Tim shift that car?’ I say, ‘Just like you and me’ and they look at me funny,” said Theroux, a veteran driver of 15 years.
Theroux (the technical mastermind) and Hunt (the star student) have become fast friends and form the core of a successful race team.
Hunt is currently tied for the most Top 10 finishes in the street stock class (12 in 15 races) and he earned his first career win on July 12.
Hunt described the win as “just surreal.”
“I didn’t think it was possible,” he said. “It’s my first (full) year racing and I’m competing against guys who have raced there for 10 to 15 years. The competition at Thunder Road is unbelievable.”
The racing is fun but Hunt hasn’t lost sight of what’s most important. This week he stepped away from the track to spend time with Jackson and Emerson (he and their mother, Taryn, share custody and maintain a strong relationship).
“You can’t take life for granted,” Hunt said. “I have twins, we do a lot of fun stuff together. You have to live in the moment and enjoy life.”
But next week Hunt will be back at Thunder Road and the other drivers will be glad to see him. Not because he’s an inspiration. But because he’s one hell of a driver.
“If you saw him on the track, you’d never know he had one arm,” Martin said. “I don’t look at it as a disability for him because he’s found a way to make it work.”
Information from: The Caledonian-Record, http://www.caledonianrecord.com