Shaffer

Shaffer: Riding for a record - and a good cause

Staff WriterNovember 7, 2011 

— With history waiting and destiny nigh, Trey Shannon lowered himself into a car the size of a lawn mower, wriggled into a fiberglass seat just an inch off the asphalt, flipped the ignition and let the mighty 125cc engine whine like an angry mosquito.

At age 27, this graduate of Raleigh's Cardinal Gibbons High School aimed to break the world record for most miles driven inside 24 hours - piloting a go-kart, solo.

If he made it, if he could log 801.38 miles around an 0.9-mile track - covering roughly the distance from Raleigh to Portland, Maine - the world would hail him as the Charles Lindbergh of mini motorsports.

But Shannon sought no glory.

He ran this race for science - specifically, for Tourette Syndrome research.

With his go-kart, Shannon wanted to ram head-first into the disorder that has troubled him since childhood.

"I have a pretty mild case," explained Shannon, who now works as a mechanical engineer in Roanoke, Va. "Most of my tics are facial. I look up at my eyebrows. I flinch my cheek muscles. Some excessive blinking. But I'd been wanting to do something for the Tourette Syndrome Association, and I thought, 'Why not go for a world record?' "

Let's forget that anyone taller than 4-foot-8 can drive a go-kart at Adventure Landing.

No time to daydream

The machine that Shannon squeezed inside tops out at 95 mph, and when he raced it late last month, he rode it through New Castle Motorsports Park in Indiana - not a spot for kiddie rides.

More important, when you're circling an asphalt oval 922 times in a row, you get no chance to daydream. For a few laps, Shannon couldn't get the song "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 out of his head.

But otherwise, he focused on 24 hours of left turns.

He'd been training for a year.

Shannon practiced staying up all night on Fridays. He also put in two hours of daily weight-training to get his shoulders, neck and forearms in shape. Gripping a steering wheel all day takes a toll, not to mention holding your head upright, with a helmet, when it wants to lean left.

"Kind of like lying on your side with a bowling ball on your head," he said.

Then there's Tourette's to contend with. Shannon's disorder was far worse when he was younger. His head would nod violently and look at the sun.

But he learned to control it. And behind the wheel, this came in handy. His tics would flare up, but he'd grit his teeth through the curves and deal with them during the long straightaways.

Undaunted by rain

Shannon had good luck mechanically: A battery problem and a spark plug were easy fixes, and a nut on the clutch drum came loose. But other than that, he coasted through pit stops every 90 minutes, munching a peanut butter and banana sandwich, taking a quick massage, focusing on the elusive 801st mile.

Then it rained. It rained hard at 2 a.m., and Shannon could barely see the track. He decided to push on, even it meant crawling around the track. His left hand went numb. He could scarcely hear with the wind whipping around him. Sometimes, the whole car vibrated.

Shannon keep cool, sipping a lime-flavored nutrition drink through a CamelBak.

Finally, after 22 hours, Shannon hit 802 miles. He kept going, pushing his kart all the way to 847.318. Then he slowed to a stop, enjoyed a champagne shower and collapsed on the track - all but a few formalities away from the Guinness World Record.

Along the way, he collected $2,000 for Tourette's research, and the money keeps coming in. The way Shannon figures it, while he was clinging to his tiny, vibrating vehicle, eyes fixed on the track ahead, he was pushing closer to a cure - one lap at a time.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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