Riot Racing chief mechanic working to walk again


One of the biggest UNLV boosters I’ve known was an old Marine named Bob Snyder. He became a friend. He became a friend of the old baseball manager Dick Williams, too. We’d meet on Thursday for lunch with some other old baseball guys. But then Dick died, and then last September, I guess it was, Bob died, too.

UNLV basketball coach Dave Rice sent a white Nike basketball, signed by himself and all the Rebels, to the wake at Big Dog’s Brewing Company. A lot of people spoke and said nice things about Bob. Told stories. Shared anecdotes, as people do at wakes.

Suzanne, Bob’s adult stepdaughter, talked about how he would offer her advice on affairs of the heart and whatnot, and then she got emotional. And a lot of people got emotional when the realization hit that Bob would not be around to walk Suzanne down the aisle when she finally married her longtime beau, Sammy, a chief mechanic for a local off-road racing team. Bob had been a car guy, too.

So on Jan. 12, Suzanne and Sammy “The Wrench” Zaranti, chief mechanic for the Riot Racing trophy truck team and drivers Marc Ewing and Jordan Poole, finally did get married, in a quiet ceremony downtown. And on Jan. 14, Suzanne drove her new husband to the hospital, because Sammy no longer could walk.

Sammy has transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder of the spinal cord caused by inflammation brought on by a virus. He is paralyzed from the waist down.

Before they started sticking needles in Sammy The Wrench’s arms, he could build a 5,200-pound, 785-horsepower off-road trophy truck from the ground up, tear it down, then put it back together again. As many times as you ask. Now about all he can do is offer advice to the other mechanics about how to do it.

He doesn’t have grease under his fingernails anymore, and it’s killing him. Not literally, because he’s improving by the smallest of increments. When somebody gives him a foot massage, and after a while he feels a small sensation? That’s a small increment.

So now Sammy spends more time in the hospital hooked up to machines than turning wrenches at the race shop. He receives these treatments called IVIG, which is short for intravenous immunoglobulin. The antibodies in the plasma give him more mobility. But then it wears off and he needs another treatment.

Sammy The Wrench has had five of these IVIG treatments, and they cost $15,000 each. Suzanne is a legal assistant, but insurance pays only for so much, and insurance pays nothing toward Sammy’s medical equipment needs, such as his walker and his wheelchair. Which is why Linda Snyder, Bob’s widow, has been reaching out to people without Suzanne and Sammy’s knowledge.

Like Baja, this is a long road. There’s probably a 50-50 chance Sammy will walk again. There’s a 100 percent chance the physical therapy and the drugs will cost a lot of money.

“While he is showing ever so slight improvement, he still is unable to walk,” Suzanne’s mother says. “His attitude is wonderful, but here’s two people who love each other, were just starting out on their lives as married persons and all this happened. They need help.”

So on Friday night, there will be a benefit for Sammy The Wrench at Pole Position Raceway, 4175 S. Arville St., from 7 to 10 p.m. (An account in Sammy Zaranti’s name also has been set up at Wells Fargo bank.) Most of the Riot Racing team will be there. Racing stories will be told. Some may even be true.

If you don’t believe that Mexican mariachis playing tubas, trumpets and drums really did gather ’round the trophy trucks to serenade the crew during a transmission change down at Ensenada, a video on Sammy’s Facebook page will prove it.

There’s also a picture of Sammy The Wrench, who is from Chicago and sort of looks like Jim Belushi, holding a beer in his hand at Cashman Field during Big League Weekend. He is wearing a Cubs T-shirt, and there is grease under every one of his fingernails.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.