By all appearances, the young racer is a potential sponsor’s dream. He’s got a racing pedigree, he’s got the hunger, he’s got the looks, and he’s got an incredible back story.
What he hasn’t had is much in the way of seat time. There’s the rub. An element of Kris Martin’s story makes sponsors, at least on first glance, understandably nervous. He doesn’t have a criminal record, a drug problem, or a history of on-track misbehavior. The native of Burlington, Ontario is a model citizen. We all have challenges, but in the minds of many, Martin has what is perceived to be a deal breaker.
Kris Martin was born profoundly deaf. While that physical challenge may offer an obstacle, but with the determination of a Rocky Balboa, the driver who also works as a fitness trainer and motivational speaker won’t hear of it.
He caught the bug at an early age, as the grandson of Doug Syer (who raced at Oswego, New York) and nephew of Canadian Racing Hall of Famer Wayne Coniam. Martin is the first to admit that if he can’t hear, he can’t race. He got a major boost when he received an cochlear implant at age eight. For you talk radio fans, it’s the same technology that enabled Rush Limbaugh to continue his hosting career, though he suffered a sudden and dramatic loss of hearing in 2001.
Phonak Hearing Systems also created a radio system that hooks to his helmet and wirelessly connect to his cochlear implant. With a simple adjustment, the noisy environment of his car is shut down, and his ability to receive communication is enhanced.
It is said that those who have one of their five senses disabled compensate with a heightened sensitivity with the others. Martin says his well-honed sense of touch allows him to “feel” what is going on in the car, and quickly alert his crew chief of trouble with the handling or the motor.
At 10 years old, Martin’s parents gave him a chance in a go kart. He sailed right through with a number of championships to his credit. Still, when he showed up with a ride, courtesy of Lee Faulk Racing at Hickory Speedway in May of 2009, track management balked at letting Martin. With the same persistence that he used to win over his parents, track officials said he could race if he passed through a test. Martin drove clean, and time trialed seventh out of 30 cars.
Even with these successes, sponsorship dollars have been hard to come by. The struggles of current, established NASCAR Sprint Cup stars to find financial support have been well documented. After numerous appeals to the business community, Kris Martin is now taking his case to the fans.
In the tradition of Kenny Wallace and David Pearson, Kris Martin is passing the hat. By visiting http://igg.me/at/krismartinracing/x/2900200, fans may learn more about how they may help him find his way in, as Martin looks to try to gain seat time for three races this summer in the NASCAR K&N East Series. Lee Faulk is ready with the ride, all Martin needs is the funding.
Whether or not you believe that its possible for a deaf race car driver to succeed at racing’s highest level, those who root for the underdog can only hope Kris Martin at least gets the chance. Yours truly gives the young man credit for working his tail off, not using the courts or special interest group pressure to pry his way in. Even if you missed his story on NASCAR Race Hub, or at Shake and Bake, and you are hearing of Kris Martin for the first time, here’s hoping it won’t be the last. One suspects the final chapter on this inspiring story hasn’t been written yet.
By the way, while reasearching for this post, I discovered there are a number of athletes competing at a high level who are overcoming deafness. A number of them compete in motorsports, plus you might surprised to learn that safety Reed Doughty of the Washington Redskins and the WNBA’s Tamika Catchings, who starred collegiately at Tennessee also deal with impaired hearing.
Jim McCoy is an award winning TV and radio sports reporter and play by play announcer residing in the Medford, Oregon area. Among his greatest sporting passions is NASCAR, because all the others "are just games."