Providing the “thrill of being equal” through hand control-only driving
(3 May 2023) Sharon, CT- The Just Hands Foundation is a 501c3 that is dedicated to normalizing the use of hand controls in performance driving. Founded by Torsten Gross in 2021, Just Hands’ mission is to unlock the experience of performance driving for those that are only able to use their hands to operate a car.
Just Hands will participate in nearly 50 track day events in 2023, providing once in a lifetime opportunities for handicapped drivers to experience the thrill of using hand controls to drive on track. Gross is a C6 quadriplegic who has focused his extreme motivation and drive into a relentless pursuit of achievements that have included completing 12 marathons in 12 months, sky diving, and becoming the only qualified licensed quadriplegic Rescue SCUBA diver.
When an anniversary gift of a track day at Lime Rock Park from his wife saw Gross take to the track with a car that was equipped with hand controls to allow the wheelchair bound to drive, the day at the track proved to be transformative, as he moved his full focus to giving more drivers the opportunity to have that same experience.
“That was the moment for me—not just the thrill of driving a car at the edge of its capability, but more so the realization that this was the only situation where my body’s limitations were no longer having an effect on the outcome,” said Gross. “Using the hand controls, I can do everything that any other driver is capable of doing. The car doesn’t know the difference, and neither does the guy who I’m racing against.”
Having built a well-established record of adventure accomplishments, Gross always felt as though his physical limitations always factored into those activities—but with hand controls, everything was equal again.
“I had done a lot of exciting and thrilling things before I got into a car at Lime Rock, but this was the first time that I wasn’t just competing with disabled competitors,” said Gross. “I was just another car out there trying to find the perfect lap. It is hard to describe the feeling that it gave me. Not just the driving the car, but just the knowledge that with these tools, I can go up against anyone on equal ground. And that was what inspired me to work to get as many people as possible to also have that experience.”
With nearly 50 track days planned for 2023, the Just Hands Foundation continues to grow its list of graduates, providing the opportunity for handicapped drivers to experience high performance driving in a safe environment. This experience includes coaching, the use of hand controls and a car, and the track time access.
Providing ride and drive experiences to drivers for free is a key component to sharing that experience, something that keeps Gross busy, not only managing the logistics of the track day events, but also working to develop the sponsorship, partnership, and donation support to be able to provide these experiences for free.
“We operate like a ride and drive experience, but we have a very specific kind of participant,” said Gross. “The feedback that we get from drivers having that first experience is amazing. I just got a text from someone saying how incredible it was to experience ‘the thrill of being equal again.’ And we want as many people as we can to have that same experience.”
Beyond the on-the-track initiatives, Just Hands Foundation is also working to build awareness of the options that hand controls can create for drivers, and using the successful case studies to grow the footprint for the Foundation.
“We are working on a lot of different initiatives, all around the country and some in Germany as well,” said Gross. “One big goal of our fundraising is to help fund the building of more hand-controlled cars for clubs to use. Having these cars be available for disabled drivers is the first step. Even if the driver doesn’t go on to do more track days, or go into competition like I am doing, it is a once in a lifetime experience that can have a huge effect on someone and inspire them to take on whatever challenge they decide. I feel really fortunate to be able to be part of giving people that experience.”