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Rob Parson Chairslayer & His Hand-Controlled S13 240SX Drift Car

Using one of life's most crushing blows as its biggest push forward

Luke Munnell
Jun 16, 2015

It was a crisp, dew-soaked Sunday morning in June, on the rural outskirts of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and Temple Hill Motorcross Park had come to an eerie standstill. The adrenaline-laced buzz of smoky two-strokes racing in all directions fell silent, save for the crackle of a single corner-worker's yellow flag whipping through the brisk morning air. Those in attendance stood in a solemn shock, their gaze fixed on one tiny figure lying motionless in the dirt.

Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car engine work Photo 2/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Engine Work

A competitive freestyle BMX rider and drifter, Robert Parsons was beginning to discover weekend motocross riding as something he could enjoy apart from the responsibilities of daily life. Representing his sponsors, the workload of his job as a metal fabricator, and his plans for building a recently acquired Nissan 180SX were usually nowhere in mind during these precious few hours. But in this instant, they—mixed with sheer terror—flooded his mind. Moments earlier, Rob had come up short on a step-up and found himself in a mid-air collision course with a nasty-looking fence. He ditched his bike and avoided impalement, but landed awkwardly straight-legged, breaking both his legs (tibia, fibula, and femur), puncturing both lungs, and exploding his spine, completely severing his spinal cord. Of course, he didn't know all that at the time; he only knew he was unable to move and was quickly becoming unable to breathe.

Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car nissan s chassis 013 Photo 6/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Nissan S Chassis 013

Before fading from consciousness, Rob pierced the silence with three uncharacteristic words. "I need help!"

Rob spent the next few hours in transit between two hospitals, being resuscitated in and out of consciousness. Lengthy surgeries and a near-fatal E. coli infection stretched his hospital stay to six months, and as he became aware of the extent of his injuries, he realized his entire life had changed. "I had no idea what I was going to do," he recalls. "I felt dead inside."

Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car cutting Photo 10/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Cutting

Inpatient confinement gave way to outpatient rehabilitation, and Rob began seeing possibilities for living the life he'd begun to build for himself. BMX was out, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized building his car and continuing with drifting were more than possible. He had two choices: He could resign to a life of disability (and really, who could blame him?), or he could harness his ingenuity and new mobility and simply get on with it.

Rob's career as a metal fabricator was waiting for him (albeit with a greater emphasis on 3D CAD, CNC machining, and structural design), and after a brief readjustment period, he managed to fabricate a rotisserie at his shop and strip the new car down to its shell. "Once I got that far," he says, "I knew the rest was possible."

Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car imvee front bumper Photo 17/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Imvee Front Bumper

The project required a huge investment of labor and money, and as much of a "DIY guy" as Rob was, he knew he couldn't do it alone. He drew up a plan that outlined exactly what he wanted to do—a pretty lofty goal. "I presented my proposal to a lot of companies and looked for partners. There wasn't much belief that it would actually happen," he laughed. That first year was a lot of personal investment for Rob, and a lot of rejection. "Being turned down was tough at first, but after a while it wasn't such a big deal. I found a tight group of friends and sponsors willing to help, and I knew we could do it, even if we couldn't convince the world just yet."

After years of drifting four-cylinders (past cars included a 450hp SR-powered Silvia and a RWD Corolla), he wanted linear V-8 torque. To make room for what would today be a Vortech-supercharged, Schwanke Engines 5.7L GM LS with a T56 Magnum six-speed transmission, he hacked the front and rear of his S13 to almost nothing, fabricating structural reinforcements and "bash bar" supports in key areas. All this allowed him to shed weight, make room for the larger powertrain and rear-mounted cooling system, and allow easy access to the car's footworks.

Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car imvee aero origin overfender Photo 21/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Imvee Aero Origin Overfender

"The hand controls were something I started thinking about in the hospital," Rob tells. "The actual controls you see are a modified version of what you can find anywhere." But since pro drifting requires control of a clutch and gears, Rob devised a motorcycle-style clutch lever and thumb buttons that electro-hydraulically actuate an ACT twin-disc clutch and H-pattern gearbox through a modified Mastershift system. The modifications are part of Rob's patent-pending product and move 600 pounds of pressure plate force in 0.2 seconds completely linearly to the input of the hand controls. Rob can clutch-kick, feather the clutch, shift up or down at will—everything he would be able to do in a traditional setup. He also rigged his hydraulic handbrake to disengage the clutch when it's pulled. The rest is standard issue: Push the lever down for throttle, toward the dash for brake. Standing burnouts in one swift motion, with no side-stepping required? Awesome.

As soon as the car started running, "We started changing a lot of minds," Rob says. His network and resource base grew, and finding help quickly became less of an issue. One company that stepped up to the plate early on was Hoonigan. Before his accident, Rob met and befriended Tony Angelo and Ryan Tuerck at a drifting demo in Alberta and then went on to judge DMCC West competition with Tony. Once they, along with founders Brian Scotto and Ken Block, learned what Rob was up to this time around, they backed him all the way. Rob starred in an episode of Network A's Tuerck'd in which Ryan and Chris Forsberg try their hand at drifting his car (humorously). "Seeing it come together, getting behind the wheel again and being a part of it all...," Rob explains, "I began to think, 'I could really use this as a tool to help others find that same excitement.'"

Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car varrstoen wheel Photo 28/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Varrstoen Wheel

In the months preceding press time, Rob rebuilt the car with assistance from partner Vortech with two goals in mind: Prepare the car for a full '15 season of Top Drift competition in Southern California, and build it to be used as a tool for instructional driving clinics through his newly formed Chairslayers Foundation—a non-profit organization dedicated to getting paraplegics like Rob behind the wheel of high-performance cars. The first of these clinics was recently held at Willow Springs Test Circuit in California and was featured in an episode of Discovery Channel's Daily Planet, where Rob spent the day with U.K. paraplegic drifting enthusiast Ben Conolly, teaching him the finer points of hand-controlled drifting and—we think—instilling in him the motivation to work past his own challenges. "That's what it's all about," Rob surmises. "Differently abled or not, we're all working toward goals in life, and are all faced with challenges. Sometimes we just need a little help to get there."

Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car Photo 32/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car
Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car imvee aero body kit Photo 33/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Imvee Aero Body Kit
Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car advanced clutch technology staff Photo 43/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Advanced Clutch Technology Staff
Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car film crew Photo 50/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Film Crew
Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car imvee aero body kit Photo 63/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Imvee Aero Body Kit
Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car Photo 70/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car
Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car accusump oil accumulator install Photo 77/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Accusump Oil Accumulator Install
Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car fabrication Photo 87/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Fabrication
Rob parson 1991 nissan s13 drift car scwanke engines LS short block Photo 97/97   |   Rob Parson 1991 Nissan S13 Drift Car Scwanke Engines LS Short Block
By Luke Munnell
262 Articles
Rob Parson Chairslayer & His Hand-Controlled S13 240SX Drift Car
Tuning Menu
Owner: Rob Parsons
Hometown: Lethbridge, Alberta
Occupation: the original chairslayer
Engine: Schwanke Engines 5.7L built short-block; Wiseco pistons; Monlar Technologies rods; GM crankshaft; Victor metal head gaskets; LS1 heads; Manley valves; CompCams 224/228 camshaft, dual spring valvesprings, pushrods, rocker arm trunions; GMP LS7 lifters; Vortech V1-Ti supercharger, dual blow-off valves; A&A Corvette supercharger bracket; Works Engineering oil catch can, power steering reservoir, surge tank; Aeromotive A1000 fuel system with -10 fuel feed; BBK Performance throttle body; Mishimoto dual pass radiator, oil cooler, intercooler; Accusump oil accumulator; Canton Racing oil pan; SIKKY motor mounts; modified Hooker 1.875? headers; Vibrant stainless oval exhaust, Van-Jen coupler system, miscellaneous fabrication components, AN fittings; custom chassis harness; Turnkey Innovations engine harness
Drivetrain: T56 Magnum six-speed transmission; Chairslayers electro-hydraulic clutch system; Mastershift electronic shifter; ACT twin-disc clutch and lightened flywheel; PATS Driveline custom driveshaft; KAAZ GT-R two-way differential
Footwork & Chassis: KW Suspension Club-Sport coilovers; Voodoo 13 rear arms; MA Motorsports front knuckles, extended factory control arms
Brakes: Wilwood front calipers; 350Z rotors; ASD e-brake with electronic clutch disengagement
Wheels & Tires: 18x9.5" front, 18x10.5" rear Varrstoen wheels; 235/35R18 front, 265/30R18 rear Achilles 123 tires
Exterior: IMVEE Aero body kit; Dmax hood; Origin over-fenders; The Machete Group-designed livery; vinyl by Curtis Cooper and 661 Printing
Interior: Chairslayer Racing rollcage; custom Takata seats, 7-point harnesses with leg restraints; BSCI custom seat insert; Driven Steering steering wheel; Sparco weld-on quick release; Works Engineering gauges
Thanks You: My entire family for helping out and believing in me; all my friends for countless hours helping; Curtis Huisman; Eliza Coleman; Terry and Jim Middlebrook; Fred Meyer; Brian Scotto; Ashley Baker; Luke Munnell; Will Roegge; Hert Eugene

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