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Oleg Vorobiov: Determination on Wheels

Most sport drivers need to overcome mental obstacles to excel on the track. One ProFormance regular has a couple of extra speed bumps to negotiate, but he’s got it handled.

It’s an Afternoon Lapping session on a sunny September day at ProFormance, and the drivers are about to head out to their cars. Oleg gets an early start so that he can perform another task after climbing into the cockpit: disassembling his wheelchair so it doesn’t roll away.

Oleg Vorobiov in Scion with hand controls
Oleg Vorobiov ready to take a lap in his Scion FRS.

When he’s not coding for Microsoft, Oleg Vorobiov is lapping or doing autocross in one of his three performance cars, using hand controls for throttle and brake. The altered controls are necessary as a result of a snowboarding accident seven years ago, which left Oleg without use of his legs. But on the track he moves with the best of them.

Back to the Starting Line

Most people are unaware that an injury like the one Oleg sustained voids one’s driver’s license. “You have to go through the whole process again: driving school, test,” he says. Since having hand controls installed was pricey and involved, he jerry-rigged some himself in his garage. He admits that the setup wasn’t ready for prime time, though: basically just sticks on the pedals. “It was a manual car, so when I shifted my hand wasn’t on the steering wheel.” Eventually he located and installed a legit set of hand controls from a van that was being parted out.

hand controls in Scion FRS
No feet needed: the lever to the left of
the steering wheel controls throttle and brake.

Not everyone was convinced. “The first driving tester saw my setup and said, ‘You know, I’m not going to drive with you.’” She handed Oleg over to another tester, who took him on and gave him his license.

A ProFormance Welcome

Three years ago Oleg moved to Washington to work as a software engineer for Microsoft. He started doing autocross, and found he enjoyed it. The next step was the One-Day High Performance Driving Experience at ProFormance.  Oleg was worried that the staff would not let him drive once they saw his hand controls, but they didn’t bat an eye. He also thought his instructor, Shannon McGuinness, might be nervous sitting with a driver who used hand controls. “But at the afternoon session she was like, ‘Push it! Push it!’ I was pretty scared, but it was a great experience.”

Shannon had no worries after seeing how well Oleg handled his car. “He’s very quiet and humble, but the moment he pulls onto the track something in him lights up. He’s extremely fast and very smooth.” He’s also proved a popular off-track addition to the ProFormance community, thanks to his ready smile and engaging personality.

In Control on the Track

Oleg has three cars in his stable: a Nissan GTR for the track, a Lexus IS300 (“I tried to drift it, but without a clutch it’s hard”), and a recently acquired Scion FRS for autocross. Today he’s putting the Scion through its paces. Before the lapping starts Shannon assembles the group and goes over how to use hand signals to let another car by (“point to pass”). The one exception, she says, is Oleg, who needs both hands to drive at all times, and so uses his blinker as a passing signal. “But don’t worry,” Shannon advises the drivers. “Most of you won’t be passing Oleg today.”

Oleg out in front, a “fast and smooth” driver