When asked about her new dirt track ride-along program, Sue Roberson, general manager of SMP Motorsports responds with one word: "Priceless."
In May, disabled race fans will get the opportunity to ride shotgun in one of Roberson's late-model dirt-track cars at the Dirt Track in Concord.
Roberson said she started the program eight months ago after years of watching other ride-along programs.
"I watch a lot of the Richard Petty drive alongs on the asphalt tracks," she said. "There have been numerous times that I have watched children in wheelchairs or that were handicapped that could not get in the car but could only watch. Broke my heart, broke my heart."
SMP in Mooresville, which races several late-model cars on dirt and asphalt tracks, started designed three dirt-track cars that would be handicap accessible.
"It's never been done before," she said. "No one ever thought you could do it. So we developed it. I applied for a patent."
Roberson said that the cars will be fit with piano hinges that will allow the side of the car to open for passengers to get in. The seat has also been redesigned to make it easier to get passengers in and out. Drivers and passengers would normally climb through a small window area to get in the car, but that's simply not possible for the ride-along program.
"We had to completely rebuild and rethink how that (passenger) side works," said Roberson. "The seats are...adjustable and turn out so we can get them in with ease and turn them back in and strap them in."
SMP partnered with the heads of Charlotte Motor Speedway's The Dirt Track for the event. The ride-along cars will run before the World of Outlaws event in May. Four other SMP cars will race in the actual dirt-track race to promote the program. Roberson said that SMP is still looking for sponsors so that the program will be free for the participants.
As of last week, eight tracks had signed on with the program. For it's first year, Roberson said that the program will be fairly small and stay just in the Southeast.
Roberson has two friends who she said inspired her to go forth with the program. A friend's daughter, Ella Parsons, 2, has Down syndrome.
"We took her to our (Charlotte Motor Speedway) condo for a race last year, and I don't think I've ever had so much joy in my life," said Roberson. "I have never seen anyone with so much enthusiasm."
Ernie Knight, the father of one of her friends, Matt Weaver, a truck driver for a Nationwide Series team, is a paraplegic. "He comes to my race shop, and I watched him one day," said Roberson. "You could see in his eyes how much he would love to get in a car."
With this program, Roberson wants to make sure that he can.
She also thinks this program will be great for injured veterans in the area.
"It sparked something in me," she said. "I've been very, very fortunate in life. It really made me want to give back everything I've been given."
Roberson is also part of an effort to make a section of the seating at The Dirt Track disability accessible. She wants to take a part of the stands near the pit area so that spectators can see drivers working on their cars and all the other things that go on in the pit. She would also like to make it so that disabled fans can come down after the race and interact with all the drivers.
"We're pushing that," said Roberson. "It's a big thing for me and the speedway, to make them realize that they are just as important, if not more."
Roberson, who describes herself as "Dad's only son," grew up around racing and raced dirt-track cars. She ran a race shop on the west coast and also worked with NHRA Funny Cars before coming to North Carolina 18 years ago.
Despite all her racing experience, she still loves dirt-track racing the most.
"It is seat-of-the-pants riding," she said. "You get to go around a dirt track at a 45-degree angle, with the wind, the mud, up against the wall sideways."
"The dirt - it's a feeling that I don't know that you could ever explain," Roberson added. "I mean they (the passengers) will just get out screaming!"
The first car should be ready for the 4-Way Nationals drag racing even this weekend, but Roberson can't wait until they are all done and on the track.
"I eat and sleep getting these cars done," she said.