YORK HAVEN, Pa. (WHTM) – Cars zooming around the track, flaggers directing drivers, but all Chris Kennedy hears is silence as he makes his way around Susquehanna Speedway.
“Yes, I was born deaf. I learned to sign and read lips at a young age,” Kennedy said through a sign language interpreter.
Chris, of Manchester, York County, has been racing kart and sprint cars for 12 years. He’s won dozens of titles. You wouldn’t notice it while he’s racing, but he’s had to overcome incredible obstacles to achieve his success.
“I’m really proud of him. I think that when you lose one ability, you gain many others, and I think it’s actually working well for him not being able to hear. He’s not distracted,” said Kelly Kennedy, Chris’s wife.
It’s working well for him. Chris has won two national sprint car titles, almost 70 kart wins, and more than a dozen wins in sprints.
He’s also one of the first deaf sprint car racers in Pennsylvania with an almost completely deaf pit crew.
“Some people think that deaf people can’t really do things or they can’t help, so it’s kind of cool that Chris is promoting that just believing in other people and helping other people,” Justin Lawyer, a deaf pit crew member, said through a sign language interpreter.
Chris has extra challenges when racing. He doesn’t know when something is going wrong until it happens. This had led to some accidents. The worst one happened in 2011. His car flipped six times. Chris had three ruptured disks in his back and a separated shoulder. He was back on the track five months later after a lot of hard work and physical therapy.
“Chris is probably one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I’ve just grown attached to him because it’s just cool. I don’t know that I could drive a car without being able to hear when I need to shift or if my engine’s letting loose,” said Brian Racine, Chris’s pit crew chief.
It’s been a long journey for the 38-year-old father of two.
“A lot of people bullied him, picked on him, made fun of him, but he just had to learn to ignore it and keep going on and moving forward,” Chris Kennedy said through an interpreter.
His wife Kelly hopes he can be an example for those who can hear and those who can not.
“He goes through everyday life like any normal person does. He doesn’t let it stop him from anything he wants to accomplish. I think it makes him push harder,” Kelly Kennedy said.
Chris has also been successful as a quarterback in arena league football.
“Chris is living proof that anybody can do what they want to do if you just set your mind to it,” Racine said.
He’s been dealing with his disability since birth, but it hasn’t stopped him from setting big dreams and inspiring everyone around him.
“He can do anything that hearing people can do, so if you believe in yourself, you can do anything that you want,” Chris Kennedy said.
Racing is a family affair for the Kennedy family. Chris’s 6-year-old son and wife also race. His 13-month-old daughter often visits the track.