On the road again

Mario Bonfante will have his first road race in a 1996 GSX

Mario Bonfante, Jr. talks a lot about the ability to adapt, accepting circumstances for what they are and figuring out the best way to work around, or go right through, each situation presented.
Figuratively, Bonfante’s life has taken more twists and turns than the street courses he, as a teenager, used to speed around as a budding professional motorcycle racing phenom. It’s the same winding road he whole-heartedly aspires to again navigate full-time someday soon.
Adapting is what he says he has always done best, and it’s something that became a permanent facet of his life Sept. 15, 2006.
Bonfante, then 17, broke his neck in a freak BMX accident at Christmas Hill Park. He was snatched from brink of stardom on the street racing circuit and left a C5 and C6 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down with no use of his legs and hands.
“It’s a world-rocking thing is what it is. I’ve never been able to ask for help with anything, and still can’t. For someone who used to adapt to things pretty quickly, to not being able to pick my own nose, that was the worst. It’s a humbling thing,” Bonfante shared from his home in Gilroy last week.
Five years have passed since that fateful afternoon. As each day, week, month and year, that has come and gone, Bonfante, now 22, has grown stronger. He has adapted, continues to adapt, and later this month, in what will certainly be a celebratory occasion, the Gilroy native will make a return appearance on the asphalt, behind the wheel and with four tires this time, for a licensing race through the National Auto Sport Association, where he will drive for his racing license and gain entrance into the Super Unlimited class of the road racing division.
“It’s huge for me. It may not be a big moment from the racing perspective, but it’s a big day for me,” Bonfante said. “To go from just laying in bed to being able to go around and take care of myself, that’s the biggest deal. It was never about the walking thing, it was about regaining my independence. And now that I’ve done that, I’m able to go out and try and remake my dreams come true in a way. And that’s kind of cool.”
Confined to a wheelchair, he sees no challenge too great or obstacle too steep. Restrictions are his fuel. It’s ironic, really, but it illustrates Bonfante’s passion to break the mold in whatever he takes on.
“The only boundaries we are confined by are the ones we create in our minds,” Bonfante said. “Reality is a fabricated boundary placed upon us by society.”
So Bonfante constructs his own reality. He sees opportunity and takes it. That was the case with his latest venture.
Returning to the track has always been a light at the end of the tunnel. Last January, a souped-up go-cart was Bonfante’s racing tool, one that he hoped would be a launching point to full-sized cars. It never made it out of the garage. But another vehicle presented itself one day.
“I had my daily driver, which ended up blowing up,” Bonfante said.
It was an excuse, or a reason, to rebuild his 1996 Mitsubishi Eclipse. And, why not?
“I’m kind of a go-all-out kind of guy and basically spent every nickel and dime I had to invest in it that car. I started with the motor and eventually I had built something that wasn’t street legal. So I decided that it’s either going to the impound or I can take it to where I can get the intended use out of it,” Bonfante said.
His ambitions were met with some dissention. But, if one attribute remained constant over the last five years, it’s Bonfante’s self-motivation. He has a longing to be great and to test the limits on his way there. His will is leading the way.
“For the most part when I talked to people and tell them I was going to race cars, they’d just look at me and like, ‘OK, man, that’s a good dream, but you can’t even shake my hand.’ It’ll be good to show them that I can do it,” he said. “Everything is possible, you just have to figure out how to do it.”
So how does he do it?
“That’s a good question,” Bonfante said through a laugh. “Everyone always wants to know.
“It’s a lot easier than you’d think. I have a lever underneath the steering wheel and it attaches to the brake pedal and the gas pedal,” Bonfante explained as he scrolled through a series of pictures on an iPad of the steering mechanism, which is actually rectangular, that he designed and developed. “Basically, you push forward for break and toward my lap for gas. And I have a brodie knob, like for a tractor trailer, attached to my hand. So I steer with one hand and give gas and brake with the other.”
The car has been through a complete face lift, done under the direction of Bonfante through a reliable support staff.
“Right now, it’s being finished and turned into a race car,” he said. “ I’ve done basically everything to it. I’ve replaced the suspension, upgraded the brakes, the wheels, the body work and the paint. We still have to do the cage and stuff – all the safety equipment.”
Bonfante was originally scheduled to race the road course at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma on Saturday. But again he had to adapt when the final parts he needed for his cart were due to arrive one day late. He will now take the wheel either Feb. 14 at Infineon or Feb. 24 at Laguna Seca in Salinas. He plans to enter his first race March 10.
“I want to thank those that have helped me get to where I am so far, as well as actually helping me make this year and season a possibility. “I want to give praise and thanks to God for blessing me with the devine interventions and opportunities right on time to make this season possible. And also thank my family and friends that have stood by me and been there to always lend a helping hand when I need it.”
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. Bonfante describes moments of anger and frustration on the road to what he considers a pretty remarkable recovery. Hundreds of hours of rehabilitation followed by hundreds of hours more, and times where he would be on his bedroom floor alone, struggling to get back into his wheel chair. If people would come and offer help he’d say he was doing physical therapy. He’d never pictured such limitations as he freely zipped around on his motorcycle, hugging corners and speeding to the finish.
“I always took for granted how blessed I was,” he said, adding that his perspective and attitude toward life has changed.
“It’s a struggle and a blessing at the same time, because it just teaches you patience and it teaches you perseverance and if you push through you will eventually learn, get better and figure it out. As long as you keep on moving forward, you will eventually reach your goal. Just keep moving.”
Just keep moving is the basis for Bonfante’s future, which will at some point entail a racing team called Keep ‘Em Spinning Racing that will cater to “kids who have been injured, as well as up-and coming-racers, who have the potential and hunger but don’t have the support and financial backing, or even something as simple as someone there believing in them and their talents and abilities. (It’s) sometimes all people need,” he said.
Bonfante has a website, keepemspinninracing.blogspot.com, where visitors get a glimpse into his racing world and the progress he has made. It also outlines his plans for the racing team.
“You always gotta keep those wheels spinnin’ and you have to keep on moving forward,” Bonfante said. “No matter if you’re going 5 mph or 200 mph, as long as you’re progressing towards your ultimate goal, that’s all that really matters. Just don’t ever let yourself lose momentum, because once you stop, it’s hard to muster back up energy and get back on track. So you gotta always ‘Keep Em Spinnin,’ keep challenging yourself and your abilities. So every day keep on getting up and persevering towards your finish line.”
Bonfante graciously extends gratitude to
When he does cross that finish line, that moment will be the culmination of innate determination and validation through perseverance. And above all else it’s going to be fun.
“Right off the track, I’m going to have an ear-to-ear grin,” he said.

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