Ronnie Presnell crossed an item off his bucket list today at Charlotte Motor Speedway as the retired Mecklenburg County sheriff’s deputy, who lost his sight in 1998, took a spin around the superspeedway in his restored 1968 Chevrolet Camaro.
The 62-year-old Presnell received a bit of coaching during his cruise around the track from NASCAR driver and SPEED TV personality Kenny Wallace, who rode with Presnell and instructed him when to turn left or right.
In 1998, a car accident left Presnell in a coma for six weeks. His injuries were so severe that he needed reconstructive surgery on his face and he permanently lost his eyesight. After he returned home from the hospital, he told his wife that he needed a project to work on. Presnell began restoring a 1968 Camaro, complete with 327 high-performance engine and Viper Red Metal Flake paint job, with the hopes of one day driving it around Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Presnell’s ride around the track was the first time he had been behind the wheel of a street car since his accident. However, throughout his life Presnell, who lives in Mooresville, N.C., has spent plenty of time behind the wheel. He has racing in his blood, having competed in the Limited Sportsman division on local dirt tracks and at Metrolina Speedway in the Hobby division, the latter on the same nights as NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. Presnell even won a race at Metrolina Speedway on the night before his accident. He built his own race cars and did all of the engine work himself.
After his ride around Charlotte Motor Speedway, Presnell compared the experience to those from his racing days.
“That sure felt different than driving a car on a dirt track,” Presnell said immediately after emerging from his Camaro. “It was awesome. I always wondered what it would be like to ride on the banking like that. It was more extreme than I thought it would be.”
Though he joked that he wanted to “turn a lap fast enough to qualify for the Bank of America 500” on Oct. 15, Presnell and Wallace cruised around the track between 20 and 25 miles per hour. Presnell thanked Wallace for his help, but also joked that while the Camaro was handling well, he started to have concerns about his co-pilot.
“I thought at one point we were going to have to come into the pits to make some adjustments on Kenny,” Presnell said. “A few times during the ride he kept saying ‘My heart’s skipping a beat.’ I was worried.”
Following the ride in the Camaro, Presnell and Wallace swapped seats and Wallace gave Presnell a full-speed ride around Charlotte Motor Speedway in a Richard Petty Driving Experience stock car.
“I loved the sound of the engine, it was awesome,” Presnell said.
“It was a life lesson for me,” said Wallace. “I was so excited to help Ronnie out. This is a big deal for me, being able to meet him and help him fulfill his dream. He’s an inspiration and it’s a day I’ll never forget.”