Hamilton Returns To The Track
September 2, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Hamilton has one more surgery to endure, but he was in good spirits as he mingled with the media and the IRNLS community at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Hamilton was in a wheel chair with both feet heavily bandaged and covered. From the waist up, however, Hamilton said he’s in perhaps the best shape he’s ever been in, which makes him hopeful that he’ll be able to begin competing again in March.
“It’s hard to watch these on TV,” Hamilton said. “I wanted to come here and see all the guys and the family here. Hopefully we’ll get healed up and get back in for March of next year.”
Although he’s had a tough three months, Hamilton never thought about giving up racing.
“It’s all I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s all I ever wanted to do. I’ve been injured before, but nothing of this magnitude. There was never any question.”
“I’ve been around racing with my father since I was 2, and as soon as I was old enough to get in it that’s all I’ve done all my life.”
As far as his recovery goes, Hamilton is on schedule, and he would like to be walking again in December.
“The feet are healing well, everything’s coming along,” said Hamilton, who will undergo another surgery on his left foot Wednesday. “There’s a lot of steel and rods and screws and a lot of things in there, but as far as the feet are concerned this should be the final one.”
Hamilton undergoes therapy in a whirlpool tub three times a week and works on his upper-body strength twice a week.
“I’m actually – upper body – in better shape than I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of upper-body strength when I walk again, hopefully that will come in December.”
To help him mentally as he goes through the rigors of therapy, Hamilton has talked with former Indy driver Rick Mears, who suffered severe leg injuries of his own, and his former car owner Sam Schmidt, who was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident at Walt Disney World Speedway in January of 2000.
“The right heel bones on our feet are pretty much the same,” Hamilton said of his conversation with Mears last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I went out and talked to Rick and looked at his foot. He’s been an inspiration as to what to expect.”
Schmidt, who Hamilton drove for in the first five races of the year, also encouraged him immediately after his injuries.
“I think the biggest thing he helped me on was after about three weeks in the hospital, Sam came into the hospital to visit,” Hamilton explained. “I was whining and complaining for about 20 minutes. When I was finished complaining, he said, ‘I’ll trade you if you want.’
“From that point, I thought I didn’t have it so bad. From that point, I said I was going to walk again and drive a race car again.”
Hamilton hopes to do that in the IRNLS next season.
“I’ve got to work on which team I’m going to be with,” he said. “I’m working very hard on it. I’m going to where the team is. I want to win races. I want to win championships. I know I can get it done.”