Teen overcomes disability to chase racing dreams

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (WTHR) – He’s raced at tracks across the country, he’s won more than 100 trophies and he’s not even old enough to get learner’s permit, let alone a driver’s license.

Chris Hacker is even more inspiring because of how he’s been able to overcome adversity to accomplish all of it.

Not every kid has a late-model stock car in their garage. But Hacker isn’t your ordinary 13-year old. The Noblesville boy, with NASCAR dreams, is driven.

“A lot of my friends, they play basketball, football, baseball and they tell me how they did. I say well, ‘I went to a race track and raced a car’,” Hacker said. “I’ve been racing for five years now. My favorite part is the speed. The fastest I’ve gone is probably 125 (miles per hour).”

Chris started competing at eight years old in quarter midgets. Now, he’s worked his way up to racing with the big boys, going fender to fender with drivers two and three times his age.

He’s the youngest competitor in the CRS/Jegs racing series. In fact, he needed a special permit because he was below the age restriction.

“When he gets out of the car, you got all these adults who’ve been doing this for 20 years,” his dad Mike Hacker said, “and he’s out running right with them, passing them. It’s just really cool.”

Nicknamed “Smalls” by guys in the pits, Chris has earned trophies taller than him. More than 150 awards adorn his bedroom, alongside pictures of his idol, Jeff Gordon.

But more impressive than the trophies, even more amazing than his age, is what you wouldn’t notice watching trackside.

Chris Hacker drives his race car one-handed. He only has use of one arm.

“I can only go this high instead of going like this. I can only reach to my forehead and I can only extend it about halfway,” Chris explained.

At birth, Chris suffered an injury to his left arm called Brachial Plexus.

“They had to really work to get him out and in the process, they tore the nerves and tendons loose from his spine,” his dad said.

Three major surgeries gave him more mobility, but nerve damage and weakness mean when he’s behind the wheel, Chris’s left arm is just along for the ride.

“I have to hold the wheel crooked,” Chris said. “My left arm would just be grabbing the wheel hanging on and my right arm would be doing the work while I’m driving. When it’s over like 50 laps it gets a little hard.”

Chris does training in his bedroom, with a specially-created seat and steering wheel, to make up strength on his good side.

“I adjust a knob to make it harder or easier to turn,” Chris explained. “I just sit here and turn it back and forth, basically doing this whole thing with my right arm.”

But Chris doesn’t call his injury a disability. In fact, his family doesn’t tell many people about his arm because they want Chris to be known for what he can do, not what he can’t.

“I think of it as an advantage because it makes me work harder. I’m just a normal kid, trying to do what I love,” Chris said.

Chris races almost every weekend. His goal is to compete right alongside Jeff Gordon one day.

And his message to people who think he can’t do it with one arm?

“Watch me.”

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