MORRISON — When Mike Shaak served as a starter Sunday at the Mile Hi Nationals, his spine tingled with the seismic vibrations of 14,000 horsepower, and his nostrils were assaulted by the smell of nitro-methane fuel.
The senses of sound and smell are especially acute for Shaak. The former drag racer is now blind.
Before Shaak lost his eyesight 16 months ago, he had raced Chevy Camaros for 10 years. And a few weeks prior to the Mile Hi Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, owner John Bandimere took Shaak out on the track.
As Bandimere sat in the passenger seat, the Camaro screamed down the track with Shaak at the wheel. Although Shaak had never raced at Bandimere, he walked the starting position on the track to get a feel for how wide it was, and the only coaching he needed was when to turn and when to ease up on the gas.
"If you need me, I'll grab the wheel. If you don't, we'll go straight," Bandimere told him. "We went straight as an arrow, and we got down at the other end; he just applied the brake slightly, not hard, just like you’re supposed to."
Bandimere was a little surprised.
"I said, 'Mike, how did you know to do that? And he said, 'John, I’ve drag-raced more times than you can imagine,' " Bandimere said. "… We came back around, and I let him do it again."
Shaak had a simple explanation for his desire to get back on the track.
"I like to go fast," he said.
Shaak said it was an honor to be the official starter for the 2009 Mile Hi Nationals, but he hopes that one day a vehicle can be made that will allow blind people to drag race. According to Shaak, when it comes to drag racing, "you don't need your sight as much as what people think you do."
"It's just a straight line," he said. "It’s very do-able in a 10-second car."
Shaak’s ambitions stretch beyond blind drag racing, however. He has embarked on an 18-month "Blind Walk Across America," aiming to become the first blind person to walk across the United States. He has walked 17 miles so far after starting at Bear Creek Lake Park in Morrison earlier this month.
On July 17, he will set out again from Golden, walk through Boulder to Longmont to Loveland to Fort Collins, and then it’s off to Laramie, Wyo. His journey will end in Washington, D.C.
"Regardless of what the ailment is, all things are possible," Shaak said. "I truly believe that."
Shaak continues with most of his hobbies, such as shooting a bow and arrow. He is able to accurately shoot three arrows in 45 seconds.
He also paints.
Shaak collaborated with local artist Scramble Campbell, and their painting is on display at the Blue Cow in Morrison this week.
"I thought he was great; I was thrilled to death," Campbell said of working with Shaak.
The pair hope to create posters, sell them, and then use the profits to help fund Shaak’s 5,735-mile trek across America.
"I embrace the world more now … being more open-minded to what is around me," Shaak said. "I see things differently in the true sense of the word.”