Dan Parker admits he’s gained a good measure of gratification by beating the odds.
Parker, on March 31, was seriously injured in an accident while testing at Alabama International Raceway in Steele, Ala. While he suffered bruises and broken bones, the worst injury was the loss of his eyesight.
He admits it would have been easy for him to give up on what he believes was his life’s calling and become a couch potato.
Parker said it could have; had he ever actually considered it.
The thought never crossed his mind.
Thanks to Jay Blake, Top Alcohol Funny Car team owner, the sight impaired Parker has begun taking steps to adjust to life without vision.
Blake lost his eyesight in a tire explosion in the late 1990s, and eventually overcame the setback to step into the role of tuner of his alcohol flopper.
Blake reached out to Parker, and has helped Parker in taking the initial steps to create a new normalcy of self-sufficiency and efficiency in day-to-day activities.
"I was utterly impressed with Dan from the time we started talking,” admitted Blake. “He has a phenomenal attitude. It sounds like he has a great support system around him. Being blind is not always easy, and at times it just really sucks, but I really think he'll be able get through those times. He's going to be fine.”
Last week, Blake’s words proved prophetic as Parker stepped into his machine shop and began working at the machinery.
“Jay has given me the confidence to believe in myself and to also believe that most anything is still possible and not to give up on my life and the things I love to do and to be able to continue using my hands,” said Parker. “I have to approach it differently; but to believe I can do it.”
Parker operated a milling machine thanks to confidence reinforced by Blake and proper training through friends Jeff Hansen and Mark Sisk, who visited a Seattle, Wash.-based machine shop known as The Lighthouse. The Lighthouse workforce consists entirely of blind machinists. Fellow Pro Mod racer Mark Sisk made the trip to the northwest armed with the knowledge of how to train Parker for his new normal.
Sisk also returned with a Mitutoyo Box, equipped with tools designed for the sight-impaired. This is a product heavily used by blind machinists at The Lighthouse.
“Mark says when you walk through the facility you can’t tell who’s sighted and who’s not; he said it looked like an old machine shop,” said Parker.
The Mitutoyo Box, which is called a “talk box”, is said to be tough to acquire. Sisk also purchased a Mitutoyo Box Digital Caliper and digital indicator. The talk box hooks up to the indicators and calipers, and includes a button which lets Parker hear the readout.
“I can measure parts now,” Parker beamed.
Last week’s milling machine experience was the first since Parker’s accident. After setting up the Talk Box, Parker put a 1 X 3 piece of aluminum on the milling machine and milled each end.
“I wanted to end up at 3/500000th and ended up at 3/493000th just by feeling my table.” Parker admitted. “Not being able to see any graduations on the milling machine and then I used an end mill and paper that I touched off each side. I went by basically me counting. I went to the center of the part and I drilled out a 3/8 16-hole.”
At the end of the first day back on the job, Parker found it difficult to hold back his emotions, all the while keeping his keen sense of humor intact.
“I still have all my fingers,” Parker proudly proclaimed.
Confidence has even inspired Parker to consider returning to his home of Pro Modified, as a crew chief. He still remains in a crew chief role for NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Ann Hansen.
“It’s possible,” said Parker, of rejoining team owner Bill George’s Pro Modified team. “Bill has a business and he still helps customers and we are in contact all the time and in the past few weeks. He’s been testing with some people and will call to ask if I will help with four-link set ups or nitrous tuning.”
Parker even assisted a good friend recently at nearby Phoenix City Drag Strip.
“I was helping them and giving them some ideas on stuff to do, so definitely staying and trying to stay in the loop on tuning as far as that goes,” added Parker.
But when he looks back to the courage of stepping back into the machine shop, Parker credits the initial steps Blake took to instill confidence in what could be considered his highest profile protégé.
“Jake has been real inspirational and sent a care package with some tools in it,” Parker said proudly.
In addition, Blake supplied Parker with a talking voltmeter for troubleshooting electrical, checking battery voltage, etc. Blake also supplied Park with a “click rule”, which is a measuring device that will measure to within 1/16th of an inch as well as a Braille scale.
Blake’s contribution of tools was invaluable but not half as much as the confidence he instilled. Parker made up his mind that morning he was going to implement the encouraging words of Blake and his friends.
“Up until last week, I wouldn’t have even walked close to my milling machine,” admitted Parker. “I was intimidated by it. Through Jay and my buddy Mark going to the Lighthouse they gave me the confidence that I could do it. Jeff put my device on the table, all the work I did on my own, selecting my tools, measuring my drills, everything. And I wouldn’t have done that if Jay hadn’t given me the confidence and the mentoring that it can be done.”
And for Parker, the milling machine is just scratching the surface of those tasks he has planned.
YOU CAN HELP DAN PARKER
The medical bills have been overwhelming for Parker.
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