Q&A with Torsten Gross
Torsten Gross is a sports extremist with a passion for speed. As a C6 quadriplegic, he has made it his mission to pave a path and normalize hand-control driving and getting people behind the wheel of performance vehicles.
Torsten experienced his first taste of track driving in 2021 at Lime Rock Park in Salisbury, Connecticut, where he quickly developed an interest in driving fast cars and the need for speed. In 2022, he founded the Just Hands Foundation, an organization dedicated to getting people who use hand controls to experience racing and performance driving. Through the foundation, performance vehicles with retrofitted hand controls are now available in select places nationwide, with multiple opportunities coming down the pipeline.
Through the new Pennzoil brand campaign, Long May We Drive, Pennzoil is proud to highlight a growing relationship with Torsten, focused on his determination to celebrate representation in the motorsports industry and the advancements in mobility. To support the growing demand for hand controls in racing vehicles and on tracks across the United States, Pennzoil has donated to the Just Hands Foundation which will go towards securing multiple vehicles and expanding their reach as an organization. Not only will the donation benefit the production of retrofitted vehicles, but it will provide more visibility for the foundation to branch out into different markets around the country.
Pennzoil sat down with Torsten to discuss his story and explore his work for the racing community with the Just Hands Foundation and Just Hands Motorsports.
Title: PENNZOIL TRANSCRIPT—So Torsten Can
Duration: 15 seconds
Description: A quick look at how Pennzoil helps disabled race driver Torsten Gross push the limits
So Torsten Can Transcript
[Background music plays]
[Pennzoil logo “opens” to reveal scenes of Torsten Gross. Throughout narration, quick cuts of Torsten and his race vehicle.]
Since 1913, we’ve had one job: pioneering a motor oil so advanced, Torsten Gross can push his engine to the limit, and defy expectations.
[As narrator speaks, Torsten Gross is in his wheelchair, closing the hood of his race car. He wheels to the driver door, gets in and closes the door. The vehicle is seen racing around the track, with “Just Hands” emblazoned on the side. The needle on the tachometer climbs. Torsten uses the spinner knob on the steering wheel to compensate for not being able to use the pedals. Quick cuts of the track, the outside of the vehicle, Torsten’s eyes reflected in the rearview mirror, and then he quickly shifts gears.]
[A container of Pennzoil is placed on a workbench.]
[Long may we drive
[Background music slows and stops]
Pennzoil. Long may we drive.
[©SOPUS Products 2023]
PENNZOIL: When did you first fall in love with cars?
GROSS: I’m not a car guy at all, and when someone asks what’s inside my car, I say my two seats, a steering wheel, and hopefully me going fast! But I have always been a fast driver. On my anniversary with my wife in 2021, she gifted me a track day at Lime Rock Park. I got on the track in my car and on lap 16, I had an incident with a bit of brake failure going into a turn. When I got into the paddock after that lap, I told my instructor “I need to buy a race car.” That was the moment that I knew I wanted to race, and I wanted to continue driving fast.
PENNZOIL: Was there a specific moment that lit your competitive spirit, that you realized you wanted to pursue racing?
GROSS: The moment I knew I was good at racing was when I got a sub-one-minute lap time at Lime Rock Park on street tires. I didn’t know I could be competitive until I had a few instructors ride in my car, and when we got back into the paddock, they gave me feedback like “I’ve never driven with anyone who has driven as smoothly as you have, I don’t have much feedback to give you.” I couldn’t quite understand that, but that was the confirmation I needed to solidify that I knew what I was doing and that I could compete.
PENNZOIL: You’ve said you feel equal amongst your peers on the track compared to other sports. Can you explain that a little more?
GROSS: For most sports, I am put into a specific, separate division against other disabled. However, I would like to compete not only against disabled people but also against able-bodied people like my friends, something I don’t have the opportunity to do in other sports. When I’m on the track, no one can tell that I’m in a wheelchair.
PENNZOIL: How did you decide to create Just Hands Motorsports?
GROSS: I started Just Hands Motorsports, which is the team name under which I race, because racing and performance driving changed my life, and I felt the need to get into the sport. I then started the Just Hands Foundation, the charity which helps disabled get into what I love to do too.
PENNZOIL: The Just Hands Foundation impacts so many across the United States. What’s your vision for the future?
GROSS: Right now, Just Hands has one car that services the Northeast, going to places like Lime Rock Park, Thompson Speedway, and Palmer Motorsports Park. However, our goal is to normalize hand-control driving. We want to put hand control vehicles all over the country at different tracks, so anyone can have the opportunity to go to a track near them and ride and experience what I get to experience on the track.
PENNZOIL: What has it meant to you to work with Pennzoil?
GROSS: Being part of a company that doesn’t just want to make cars better but make mobility better, is incredible. I partnered with Pennzoil because they understand that I’m in a chair AND I can be great, not that I’m in a chair and using it for marketing purposes. They understand the importance of mobility, whether you use your feet or hands to drive, and they recognize that you are just as important to the world and to the sport as anyone else.
PENNZOIL: The Long May We Drive campaign is about highlighting Pennzoil’s passion for mobility and celebrating the spirit of car culture. What does it mean to you personally?
GROSS: It symbolizes a community of people who are passionate about anything that is 4 wheels with an engine. With car culture, anyone can be a part of it, and it is about “we”. We all help each other when it comes to the creativity of driving. Long May We Drive is about a group of like-minded people, not individuals that only believe in themselves.
PENNZOIL: Your story is now being featured across North America in this campaign. What does it mean to you to be in this position?
GROSS: I’m excited about this spot because Pennzoil is sponsoring a quadriplegic. Most of the time, in advertising and marketing, you see the handicapped person in the background being pushed by somebody, or we’re seen as a pity case. In this case, this is about empowerment, and it’s not just about showing that a paraplegic, but even a quadriplegic, can be just as great at a sport as anyone else. To me, that means there is representation that doesn’t exist, and I’m really excited to see it grow.
PENNZOIL: Is there a piece of advice that you wish you knew at the beginning of this journey?
GROSS: Don’t be scared to talk to people that you think are way more knowledgeable about cars. There is a massive car community that is out there to help you get started. There are really no stupid questions!
PENNZOIL: How can people get involved with the Just Hands Foundation?
GROSS: Visit www.justhands.org to learn more about the foundation. For people that use hand controls, head to the website to explore the different types of programs we offer. For those that generally want to get involved, in whatever way that may be, the website will answer all your questions.
Interested in learning more about Torsten? Keep your eyes peeled for a series that explores Torsten’s journey to performance driving set to premiere at the end of 2023!