Dreaming of Speed

Andy Callahan
Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2014

Although paralyzed from the chest down, Andy Callahan’s internal drive pushed him to keep his dirt-track racing career going.

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Life throws us all a curveball or two, and how we deal with those defines us as people.

For Andy Callahan, life was good. He had grown up loving to race and been doing so since the age of 15. He defended his country with a stint in the U.S. Army, where he served as a Military Policeman at Fort Carson (Colo.) from 1973–76. After leaving the Army, he returned to funny car racing.

Things were fine until he started feeling not up-to-par in 1986.

“I had flu-like symptoms and just didn’t feel great, but I didn’t think much about it,” Callahan says.


Over the next few months, his symptoms worsened.

Callahan was getting clumsy and doing day-to-day tasks became difficult. His family doctor diagnosed him with a neurologic problem and sent him to see a specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital in Salt Lake City. That was in October of 1986.

“I walked in, or really rather hobbled, into the front door of the VA hospital,” Callahan says.

Callahan’s illness worsened and he came close to death. Medical treatments finally saved his life, but at a cost. He became paralyzed from his chest down. Eventually, Callahan got the use of his left arm and hand back. Then the use of his right arm and hand returned, but not 100%.

Four-and-a-half months later, Callahan was released from the hospital, but not as the same person he was when he walked into it.

“During those four-and-half months I had to relearn everything, how to get dressed, how to brush my teeth; it was like starting all over,” Callahan says.

But there was one thing which had stayed with him — his love of racing.

A Way to Compete

After being released from the hospital, Callahan and his family brought the South Utah Timing Association back to life. They also resurrected a local drag strip in St. George, Utah, that had been shut down for a few years.

However, Callahan still had a burning desire to get behind the wheel. His passion and ambition led him to develop hand controls so he could return to the track.

But Callahan didn’t just get back on the track; he excelled on it.

He returned to the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) circuit and competed with the “big boys.”

“Nobody told me I wasn’t supposed to compete, so I figured out a way to compete,” Callahan says.

Callahan set out to race on sand where there were no restrictions. But the track Callahan and other local racers were using was eventually taken over by the city. Once again, it looked as though Callahan had hit a roadblock.

Race & Have Fun

Instead of giving up, Callahan decided to buy a piece of property about 30 miles from town and build his own track. He has been operating it for the past five to six years.

“It probably wasn’t the best investment I have ever made,” he says. “But I just wanted a place where people could come out and have fun and race ... I don’t have a lot of rules at my track. You come out, you pay a small fee to race and you have fun. That’s all I want.”

Though Callahan has a spinal-cord disease, he hasn’t given up on his dream of finding speed.

That internal drive is what has kept Callahan going for the past 25 years. Some who don’t know him well might be amazed at his bright outlook at life, but to Callahan there is no other way.

“This is a temporary body and it’s messed up right now,” Callahan says. “My faith in God helps me know that someday I will get a new body. We are our own worst critics. No one ever said life is fair. Life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still make the most out of it. Set goals. Work toward those and push yourself. No one else can push you like you can push yourself from inside.”

So what is Callahan’s next adventure? He has already bought some Texas Longhorn cattle and raises them next to the racetrack.

“Sometimes we have to shoo them off the track,” Callahan says with a chuckle.

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