There’s something different about Rob Parsons’ workshop. An overhead hoist spans about the 29-year-old’s welding and fabrication space, allowing whomever holds the remote to do everything from shelve a longblock to position a main hoop inside of a car. Dollies are everywhere but are used for more than just moving race cars around. You won’t find the sort of two- or four-post lifts that typically occupy an auto garage, either. Instead, a portable one that ascends no more than 48 inches, according to Parsons, gives him all the clearance he needs.
Parsons lost mobility of his legs in a 2011 dirt bike accident, but it only takes a quick peak around the fabricator and drift-car driver’s work area to realize that none of that’s stopped him. Following the crash that broke both legs, punctured his lungs, and severed his spinal cord, it was a bout with E. coli that just about did him in and left him to the hospital’s care for six months. “There was no waiting,” he says about his so quickly coming to terms with what’d happened. “I instantly accepted the fact that I was busted up and I dealt with it.”
Today, Parsons is on a mission to give those with similar disabilities an opportunity to develop a passion for motorsports. “It’s an inspiring thing to do to get back into a car,” he says about the whole idea behind the Chairslayers Foundation, the organization that aims to operate a series of clinics designed to get people out of their wheelchairs and into the seat of a 600hp drift car. According to Parsons, “The goal is to give them that adrenaline rush again.”
Like Parsons’ workshop, Chairslayers’ Nissan 180SX drift car is like nothing you’ve seen. “I knew exactly what I wanted, but I still had to invent the system,” he says about the unprecedented combination of hand controls and electronics that allow drivers to bang through a regular old H-pattern gearbox—clutch and all—but using only their left hands. Paddle shifters and drifting don’t mix, which led to the electro-hydraulic clutch that, now five prototypes in, allows for full-throttle upshifts and the sort of slip you’d expect from a more conventional and fully mechanical disc. Oh, it can also move from gear to gear in just .2 seconds.
Parsons says he initially built the car for himself, but his dedication to help others get behind the wheel means the car he put together from the seat of his chair is just as much a part of the foundation’s adaptive motorsports program as it is his. In a hurry the factory’s four-cylinder was tossed in favor of a 5.7L LS engine built at the hands of Schwanke Engines. All of those cubic inches and the Vortech supercharger that feeds them ticks the adrenaline box and is a far cry from the 2.0L turbocharged mills Parsons grew up with back in Calgary, where the Canadian drift circuit was his to lose. “Me and my teammate, we were unstoppable,” he says about his success in the series that, ultimately, led to his getting invited to compete in the U.S.
It was back in Calgary where Parsons first realized his affinity for making cars like Nissan’s 180SX, for example, better. A specialty car importing business he and his dad operated soon led to heavily tuned, custom engine swaps for their clients and, ultimately, his racing the same sort of cars on the skidpad that they were selling. “Drifting came naturally,” he says about the transition from selling North Americans the sort of cars they’ve long not been privy to—like Skylines and Silvias—to his involvement in motorsports and later mastering his fabrication craft.
Parsons’ life has changed substantially, and yet much of it remains the same. 2011 took him out of his drift car and back into a modified version of it. He’s still a world-class fabricator, often called upon by fellow racers for his ability to lay a solid bead. And early June marked Parsons and his drift program’s first time qualifying on a professional stage in nearly five years. “It’s awesome to get to that level again,” he says, but its the Chairslayers Foundation and the lives he expects it’ll change for the better that’s really got his adrenaline teeming.
Parsons and the team at the Chairslayers Foundation recently completed their first clinic. To learn more about the foundation and to see clips of the inaugural event, visit chairslayer.com.