Racers’ bond goes beyond the track

first_img The Rolls-Royce Boat Tail may be the most expensive new car ever RELATED TAGSMicraNissanHatchbackCompactNews See More Videos BOWMANVILLE, Ont. — “Breathe.” It’s advice any racecar driver-in-training is reminded about on a by-lap basis, and it’s not uncommon to spot dashboard stickers conveying the same reminder on stock car, LeMans and IMSA racecars. It’s also basic instruction for anxiety sufferers or those experiencing a panic attack.Anxiety is an inherent part of taking a racecar to its limits, and its why the driver who deals with that pressure the best climbs the podium at race end.For Austin Riley, anxiety is something he’s dealt with most of his 19 years. He was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when he was 12. Driving.ca readers are well versed in this incredible young hot shoes’ improbable racing career, chronicled first by Lorraine Sommerfeld in an October, 2106 story about his karting prowess, and in May of last year by David Booth detailing Austin’s jump into the Nissan Micra Cup series. Autism can’t slow down inspiring teen racerNow in his second season in the spec series, Austin was comfortably in the mid-pack of the season standings heading into the seventh and eighth races in the 12-race schedule two weeks ago at Circuit Trois-Rivieres. But during the first practice session Friday night, he experience a major bout of anxiety, so bad that his father Jason hooked up the Racing with Autism trailer and headed out into the dark night for home in Ontario.“For me to pack up and go home, it wasn’t because Austin didn’t want to race, it was because he was dealing with a lot of anxiety,” Jason told me in the Micra Cup paddock following qualifying at Mosport this morning. “And it’s not that I didn’t trust him behind the wheel—in fact, quite the opposite as that would have been the best place for him.“However, the way he was dealing with the anxiety was the problem that I had as a parent.”Jason added he felt bad for the series organizers, as that race weekend is the biggest one on the Nissan Micra Cup calendar, and Austin is one of the drivers they have used in promoting races.“But I had to do what is best for my son. It might not be the best right now, but it will be in the long term.”That’s evident in the fact the Racing with Autism trailer made the trip to Mosport for races nine and 10, and in that Austin took to the track for qualifying this morning. He placed 14th on the 15-car grid, hampered by a tire issue.Created with Raphaël 2.1.2Created with Raphaël 2.1.2Austin Riley’s car is covered with small puzzle pieces with names of people around the world who have been moved by the young racer’s story. COMMENTSSHARE YOUR THOUGHTS Andrew McCredie Trending in Canada We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles using Facebook commenting Visit our FAQ page for more information. But it’s what’s happened in the two weeks between the races that is really important. First, a little background. Micra Cup driver Jake Exton and Austin hit it off last year, a season in which Exton captured the rookie of the year title. This year, their trailers are side by side in the paddock. So for Exton, the events of that Friday night in Quebec struck a chord.“We were just shocked to see him leave on the Friday night at Trois-Rivieres,” Exton said. “I’ve suffered from anxiety myself so I felt really bad for him.”He also has a cousin with autism, and the head chef’s son at the pub he owns also has it.Exton would place second on the Sunday race in Quebec, and during the post-race interview with RDS turned to the camera and said, “Wherever you are Austin, that one was for you mate. We all love you, we’re all thinking of you, you’re going to come back stronger than ever.”Said Austin: “I saw it on TV and I was blown away. He knows what I go through day to day.”Exton finished the interview by saying: “Anyone out there with anxiety or depression, that one’s for you. Believe in yourself, talk about your feelings, it will get better, stay strong.”Austin’s parent called Jake to tell him how much his words meant to them and their son, and the story took on a life of it’s own on social media.“That really put a spring in my step the next morning, and I started to think about how I could use racing as a platform for this cause,” Exton saidAnd so he called the Canadian Mental Health Association and by the time he got off the phone he was an ambassador for the group and had laid the groundwork for a fundraiser to be held at his pub, Canoe & Paddle, in Lakefield, about a 30-minute drive from Mosport. That fundraiser took place last night, with fellow racers, including Austin, Nissan Micra Cup officials and friends and family in attendance.The events of that Trois-Rivieres race have also prompted the Rileys to bring something called the Autism Reality Experience to Mosport this weekend.Calling it “one of the things we’re most proud of,” Jason says the headset and glove system allows people to experience what it is like to have autism, albeit for just a few minutes. During a 20-school tour of England talking to students and educators about autism and Austin’s journey with it, the Rileys met people from a company called Training to Care who had developed the Autism Reality Experience. “Both my nephew and I went through it and we were very emotional coming out,” Jason said. “People look at us, based on the numerous talks we do about Austin’s life, as experts. We’re not experts on autism. I’m an expert on Austin.”But after going through the Autism Reality Experience, Jason said, “It changed everything that I knew in fifteen minutes.”Jason says he and his nephew agreed they needed to bring this experience to Canada. They did just that, beginning with a cross-Canada tour—from Victoria to Charlottetown—in March of this year. Teachers who did the experience were all changed, he said, and the consensus was that all first responders, anyone who deals with someone with autism, needs to do it to better understand what they are going through.And now they have it in the paddock so that all the Micra Cup drivers and crew can get a better understanding of what their fellow competitor deals with every day of his life.For Austin, he’s looking forward to his buddy doing it.“I can’t wait to see how Jake reacts after going through the autism simulator today,” he said. “I think it’s going to open his eyes and give him a better understanding of what it’s like.“We want to show the people that I race with how I struggle with day to day tasks so they have a better understanding of what I go through.”Austin said he’s put the last weekend in the rearview and is totally focused on this weekend’s two races and the final race weekend at Mont-Tremblant later in September.“Racing has always calmed me down. You’re focused on one thing and one thing only, which is being in a race car. Trending Videos PlayThe Rolls-Royce Boat Tail may be the most expensive new car everPlay3 common new car problems (and how to prevent them) | Maintenance Advice | Driving.caPlayFinal 5 Minivan Contenders | Driving.caPlay2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge | Ministry of Interior Affairs | Driving.caPlayThe 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning is a new take on Canada’s fave truck | Driving.caPlayBuying a used Toyota Tundra? Check these 5 things first | Used Truck Advice | Driving.caPlayCanada’s most efficient trucks in 2021 | Driving.caPlay3 ways to make night driving safer and more comfortable | Advice | Driving.caPlayDriving into the Future: Sustainability and Innovation in tomorrow’s cars | Driving.ca virtual panelPlayThese spy shots get us an early glimpse of some future models | Driving.ca “That’s where I’m most happy.” RELATED Created with Raphaël 2.1.2Created with Raphaël 2.1.2 Nissan Micra Cup racers Jake Exton (left) and Austin Riley are fierce competitors on the track but good friends in the paddock.  Andrew McCredie advertisement Buy It! Princess Diana’s humble little 1981 Ford Escort is up for auction An engagement gift from Prince Charles, the car is being sold by a Princess Di “superfan” ‹ Previous Next › Motor Mouth: Autistic teen racer leaves doubters in the dustlast_img read more