Morin defies the odds
Ever seen a hard-core villain try to shoot Superman? Good luck. The bullets simply bounce off his massive chest. The man feels no pain. He takes whatever punishment his archenemy dishes out and responds with, “That all you got?”
Toby Morin may not wear a costume like the Man of Steel, but much like the legendary super hero, the 27-year-old from El Cajon, California, has taken the hardest shots life has to offer and responded in a huge way. Though paralyzed at age 15 by not one, but two auto-pedestrian accidents, Morin, with movement only in his arms, neck, and head, has spent the past 10 years driving the quarter-mile tracks of California in an effort to become the fastest Para-quadriplegic in history, and his recent 10.61, 126mph effort at Fontana Raceway proves he’s more than ready for the challenge.
At a very young age Morin was already hooked on motorsports, a fact that gave his father Randy cause for concern. “He was always a daredevil,” stated the elder Morin. “When he was 5 years old I would find him outside jumping dunes on quads, so I’d have to chase him down on my 3-wheeler.” Though Toby’s need for speed sometimes raised his father’s pulse rate, his precocious son’s interest in cars and racing led him to make some interesting acquaintances. “When he was 5, I took him to Orange County Raceway in Irwindale,” said Morin, “One time he met Shirley Muldowney while he was at the track, and he invited her over to our house. He told her we had good cookies and she needed to come and have some. This was when he was only 5!”
Two years later, on a street outside his home, a passing motorist instantly altered Toby’s life. “Toby was about 7 years old the first time he was in an accident”, Randy said. “He had just stepped out into the street, and this kid in a Volkswagen Baja Bug hit him. I heard this noise that sounded like a box dragging, and everything inside me stopped. I went out and his eyes were rolled back, so I gave him CPR.” At the hospital, Morin wasn’t allowed to see his son for 24 hours, but, “The doctors didn’t come out during that time to talk to us so we felt he was alive.”
The next day Randy learned that even though Toby would never walk again, his injuries could’ve been much worse. “The doctor told me that if his spinal injury had been a half inch higher, he would’ve been completely paralyzed.” Toby himself vividly recalls the moment he learned his fate. “You know, the doctor never told me what happened. There was a student teacher from the school district who was sent to tutor me, and she actually told me the news. No one had said anything to me yet because they wanted me to be mentally stronger before they told me about it. Later, I found out she was fired because of what happened.”
Unbelievably, Toby was later involved in a second accident, this time at the age of 15 when he was struck while headed to school in his wheelchair. “He ended up on top of a Caprice”, Randy said. “He was saying ‘Can you stop please, lady? This is the second time I’ve been hit by a car!’”
During Toby’s recuperation, Randy made a pact with his son concerning a car, the very same car Toby races today. “I told him that when he graduated, I would buy him a car” said Morin, “And even after a 20-hour surgery to replace the rods in his back that put him in bed for a year, he graduated with honors.”
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Toby’s reward for his academic efforts was a 1968 Camaro Coupe. To modify the car for Toby’s special driving needs as well as the racetrack, the father-son duo utilized their own automotive talents to complete the task on the 3,400-pound, Corvette Chevy Red machine. They also enlisted the help of a family friend. “It took us about 3 weeks to build it”, said Randy, “We got Toby’s buddy Brandon Johnson to help us, and we worked on the car in our own garage.”
Because Toby’s injuries rule out the use of his feet, he relies on his hands to get down the track. Randy, who taught Toby to drive the car, said, “He drives with his right hand, and operates all the handles with his left. People always ask me how he does it, and they’re amazed when I describe the process, but they’re even more impressed when I tell them, ‘Imagine placing 200 pounds on your chest and driving your own car down the road. You wouldn’t be able to move at all.’ Toby doesn’t feel G-forces on the lower part of his body, only in his neck and arms. He doesn’t feel like he’s going fast.” However, moving quickly down the track didn’t happen overnight for Toby. Like the memory of a first love, he very specifically recalls that day in 1997 when he lined up for the first run of his career. “I was running at Carlsbad Raceway in San Diego in 1997”, he stated, “It was really slow. I ran a 15.9 at 78 miles an hour.”
Since that day in Carlsbad, Toby’s elapsed times have improved noticeably. However, the attitudes of some members of the racing community haven’t always been so quick to change, and Toby specifically recalls one such event from 1997 like it happened yesterday. “I was at a RaceLegal event, and there was another handicapped driver who was also racing. During his run, he had a muscle spasm, and he hit the gas pedal and bounced off a wall. After that, the track official said that no more handicapped drivers would be allowed to race. I got a little mouthy with him and told him he was prejudiced, and we proceeded to have a little disagreement. Two weeks later, I came back and raced anyway.”
Since that time, Toby has honed his two-handed skills at Barona Drag Strip, located in San Diego County, along with many more RaceLegal events, where his talents have resulted in multiple trophies for his top speed efforts. Then, in March 2007, at a Pacific Street Car Association (PSCA) heads-up event in Fontana, California, Toby turned in a personal best E.T. of 10.61. “Because he doesn’t feel the G-forces, he just wants to keep going faster and faster,” Randy said. “He tells me he wants to run in the nines and then the eights. This kid is not afraid of anything, and that scares me. I said to him one day, ‘Why don’t I just put you in a funny car?’” Randy said with a laugh. Toby’s response? “I’ll do it. Who needs a test? I’ll go for it.”
Like all successful drivers, Toby has been known to possess a bit of a competitive streak. “People see him in the Super Chevy division or Heads-Up racing and they say he’s crazy. They can’t believe he’s physically capable of driving, but when he’s in his car, he’s just like anyone else”, said Randy, “And then they have to watch out, because he’ll kick the crap out of them.” However, Randy admits that Toby’s assertiveness is a trait he comes by naturally. “We’ll tell each other what we really think”, he laughed, “I tell everyone the Orange County Chopper guys have nothing on us, because we’ve been arguing a lot longer than they have!”
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Having already overcome incredible physical odds, Toby Morin’s combination of talent, fearlessness, and unrelenting drive fuels him to become the fastest Para-quadriplegic in the history of the quarter mile. “When I thought about doing this, it just always seemed to me that if could drive, then it wouldn’t be any different for me to be racing,” he said, “I mean, either way, I’m just behind a wheel. Now, I want to be the fastest disabled driver in history. I want to run 7.40s on 10 and ½ inch tires with stock suspension.”
So, he wants to be the fastest disabled driver in history. OK, let’s wait just a doggone minute. Toby Morin is a Pari-quadriplegic, a young man paralyzed for the past 20 years from the chest down who dreams of someday being a Pro Stock driver. He’s battled for years through multiple physical concerns and the prejudice of those in the racing world who refuse to accept his talent, all while attempting to tame a 3,400-pound beast using only half the physical resources available to other drivers. Doesn’t he feel just the tiniest bit of concern regarding his own life and safety?
Toby’s response? It’s simple and to the point: “Why should I be scared to race? If all I’m going to think about is fear, what’s the point of driving?”
In other words, “Is that all you got?”
Yep, he’s a modern-day Superman.