DIE HARD…The Chip Horton Story
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Chip Horton is literally “a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.” And he’s kicked over 700 butts on his way to the International Hot Rod Association’s Summit Super Series World Championship of Drag Racing. Chip’s story is one of the most inspirational in sports and needs to be told on Leno, Letterman and Oprah.
Horton, who lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident at age 17 should rank right up there with sports legends like Pete Gray, who played Major League Baseball with only one arm…Tom Dempsey who kicked the NFL’s longest field goal with only half a foot and Lance Armstrong who won the Tour de France bicycle race after battling cancer.

Gregg Leary: Tell me about your motorcycle accident and your battle for life.

Chip Horton: I remember the accident like it was yesterday, even though it has been over thirty years ago. I had turned 17 only a week before. I left work that Friday night on my motorcycle and about two miles from home there was a line of traffic in the left lane. I heard a strange noise and a car popped out from behind the line of cars…really fast…I had about a second to decide what to do.

I drove off the highway as far as I could…onto the shoulder…my handlebar grip was almost touching the mailboxes. I found out later the car was going 80 and the driver had been drinking. I was going 50. The front bumper got by me and I thought I had it made…but something in the back of the car caught my left leg HARD.

It launched me into the air…spinning…I hit the ground head first…splitting my crash helmet in HALF. It was REAL BAD and I knew it.

The first person there was Eddie, one of my neighbors. Several people took off jackets and covered up the worst parts of me. Eddie helped me sit up. I think he thought I was going to die right then and there. He kept asking if there was anything he could do for me? I replied, “Send somebody for a can of Coke and some cheese crackers.”

Our county was small back in 1971 so funeral homes used their hearses as ambulances as well…so I got a ride in a “coffin toter” a lot earlier than I had planned!

We got to the hospital in my hometown of Jesup, Georgia, and they rolled me into a room where the doctor quickly closed the door. I told the doctor, “It’s bad,” and he agreed with me.

“Let’s get on with the surgery,” I said. He said he couldn’t help me there…that I’d have to go to Brunswick’s hospital. I asked if he could give me something for the pain. He said he could…BUT then I wouldn’t make it to Brunswick. He asked if I thought I could make it to Brunswick. When I said yes, they quickly loaded me for my second ride in a hearse, way too early in life.

My Mom got into the vehicle with me and we headed out. I had ridden that highway many times on my motorcycle so I knew where we were most of the time, and I can tell you , “That was one FAST ‘coffin toter!’”

When we got to the Brunswick hospital, it was only about an hour after the accident…but God had already given me the wisdom of old age. There was a team of doctors waiting on me. When they first saw me, I could see in their eyes that they thought I was a goner. They were talking to me…I was talking to them…but we were NOT on the same wavelength. They thought I was a goner, and I was thinking about BREAKFAST.

Just before they put me under, the “gas guy,” the anesthesiologist, asked if I’d had anything to eat or drink since the accident. The others in the room looked at him as if he was stupid.

I smiled and said, “Yes, I had a can of Coke and a pack of crackers.” We laughed and for some reason I think me and him felt better after that. I was in surgery most of the night, and I woke up the next morning with more troubles. I had heard the expression, “being knocked cross-eyed” before, but thought it was just a saying. I had taken such a hard blow to the head that I WAS cross-eyed. They put a patch over one eye so I could see. I figured I looked like a one-legged pirate!

They told me that I could probably go home in about two weeks. As usual, they were wrong again. I was in for 57 days and had surgery 17 more times. About a week before I was going to go home the doctor came in and gave me “The Speech.”

He told me that my riding and racing days were over…that I had to grow up, accept what had happened to me and go on. After he left the room I felt bad…for about thirty minutes. I decided that he was wrong and I was going to PROVE it.

I called the local motorcycle shop in Brunswick and asked if they had a three-wheeled ATV like I had been reading about in the magazines. He said, “Yes, but it had already thrown off two people and hurt them.”

I traded in what was left of my motorcycle and put in the money people had given me since my accident…and bought it. I had made up my mind that I was going to ride that three-wheeler… OR ELSE! I rode it for hours, and I felt a lot better about my future.

GL: You are the IHRA Summit World Bracket Champion…WORLD CHAMPION…like Michael Schumacher in Formula One. How did you feel when you first found out you had won the title?

CH: I was THRILLED. I did not know up till the last minute whether I was going to be the World Champion or second. I have been chasing this dream for 32 years. I laid in bed at night and wondered just what it would be like. It WAS and IS better than I ever imagined. I count my blessings everyday about winning, and being the World Champion.

GL: Your $10 entry fee earned you more than $160,000 in cash and prizes. That sounds like hitting the lottery. What did you win?

CH: Thanks to the IHRA, Summit, Pontiac, Reher and Morrison and Buell, I won a check for $111,000, a brand new 2002 GTP supercharged Grand Prix, a 15 grand Reher and Morrison race motor, a Buell Blast motorcycle, two beautiful one of a kind plaques from Summit, a World Championship ring, gold card and an IHRA Ironman trophy.

GL: With over 700 race wins, do you realize you have 500 MORE than Richard Petty, SIX TIMES as many as John Force and ELEVEN TIMES as many as Jeff Gordon?

CH: Yes, I have lots of wins. I know I have more than Force, Gordon and Petty but the main reason is that I have gotten to race a lot more than them…and my competition has not been as tough as their’s has been. They won in professional classes…I won mine in sportsman…amateur classes.

GL: Tell our readers about your one-legged foot braking technique.

CH: My driving technique is pretty simple. I hold the brakes with my heel, twist my foot sideways…and step on the gas with my toes. I slide my heel off the brake pedal when it’s time to leave the starting line. I practiced the technique thousands of times at red lights in town. Driving at top speed near the finish line is the hardest part.

GL: Does the old expression…He stands as much chance as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest…offend or motivate you? After all you’ve kicked something like 700 racer’s butts in your 30 year drag racing career.

CH: Michael Beard from the IHRA called and asked if he could use that expression in an article he was writing. I said, “Fine.” I have to admit it MOTIVATED me.

GL: In the age of multimillion dollar race teams with state of the art race cars and backup cars , eighteen wheeler transporters and luxury motorcoaches tell us about your race car and transporter.

CH: My car is a 1969 Dodge Dart powered by the original motor that came in it when I bought it for 600 bucks almost thirty years ago. My “transporter” is a “drive up on” ramp truck- car hauler that I bought around the same time for $2200. I did put an automatic transmission in it for four hundred bucks so I have about three thousand dollars total in the team. I raced the car as a teenager and in two more years I’ll be racing the same car as a fifty year old. The car has made me pretty well known. It was the best six hundred dollars I ever spent.

GL: Why did you name your Dodge Dart, “Trinity?”

CH: I got the name from a Western movie. The guy could draw his gun AND slap you before you could draw yours.

GL: What is your yearly racing budget?

CH: I really have NO yearly racing budget. The car has always won enough to take care of my whole racing operation.

GL: Why on earth did you race a “Hot Rod Lincoln?”

CH: Other racers were always trying to come up with an excuse as to why I had won so many races. Some of them said it was because I had driven the same car for so long. About five and a half years ago, my son Kenny was 15 and wanted me to teach him how to race. I broke out my ’91 Lincoln 4 door Town Car. We started winning right off with him riding shotgun. I won three track championships in a row. I put a wing on the back so you could tell my “Stinkin’ Lincoln” from all the others. It was one thing to get beat by a one-legged man in a race car…it’s a WHOLE other story when a one-legged man beats you in a HOT ROD LINCOLN.

GL: What drivers do you most admire and why?

CH: I admire Bob Glidden, Don Garlits, Don Nicholson, Shirley Muldowney and John Force. These racers EARNED their way to the top, they did not MONEY their way to the top.

GL: What are your hobbies?

CH: My hobbies besides drag racing are riding ATVs, dune buggies and modified golf carts, hunting, swimming, fishing and gardening. I like the outdoors.

GL: What is the greatest thing that has ever happened to you?

CH: My 22 track championships were nice, but the greatest thing had to be the IHRA Awards banquet when I won the Summit Super Series World Championship. When I headed to the podium to get my awards…the standing ovation from my peers is something I will never forget.

GL: What inspires you?

CH: Things that inspire me are when the underdog kicks butt! That’s why I like Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” movies so much.

GL: What advice do you have for young people just getting started in racing?

CH: Race for fun. It’s a great chance for you to hang out with family and friends.

GL: Tell me about your family.

CH: My wife’s name is Suzette. We have two children, Kenny and Kayla. Kenny is 21 and just graduated from college. He bracket races some and has been the high school track champion before.

Kayla is 11 and won her first junior dragster race last year. The night she won…I won also. That was pretty neat. Kenny and I both won championships at the same track in the same year. A family that races together stays together. Kids want two things from their parents…time and attention. And they’re going to get it…one way or the other. Racing is a positive way to keep them away from drugs and alcohol and to spend time together as a family

GL: You have had some of the coolest nicknames in your drag racing career.

CH: In the seventies they called me “Hole Shot” because of my quick reaction times at the starting line. In the eighties it was “Dixieland Destroyer.” In the nineties it was “Die Hard Racer” and “The Terminator.”

GL: What advice do you have for people who are physically, mentally or emotionally challenged?

CH: My advice for people with any type of disability is NEVER GIVE UP! If a broke down, fat, one-legged ole man can be WORLD CHAMPION, anything is possible. I am LIVING PROOF!  

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