May 30, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
For the third consecutive year, children and families affected by autism will be able to enjoy the excitement of NASCAR at Dover International Speedway through the “Day at the Races” event during Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.
Track, sponsor and organization are teaming up to provide an air-conditioned, sensory-friendly backstretch viewing area for those families.
In addition to pre-race visits from drivers, food and drink, and presentations on autism from educational speakers, the attendees will have use of a ‘quiet zone’ with muted lighting so parents can help their children get out of the crowd if necessary. Among other things, the zone will have video screens in case they still want to keep tabs on the race or watch a movie instead.
“There are a lot of kids on the [autistic spectrum] who love to watch NASCAR,” said Artie Kempner, a board member of Autism Speaks and NASCAR broadcast director, today at Dover.
“Whatever it is, whether it’s the cars being the way they look going around in a circle, there’s a symmetry to it, and a lot of folks on the spectrum just get into that symmetry. We’ve got a lot of NASCAR fans out there, and it’s great to put it all together. For me to be a part of this is a real honor.”
Also helping is Joe Gibbs Racing and FedEx-backed driver Denny Hamlin, who is running a special Autism Speaks livery on his No. 11 Toyota this weekend.
It is comprised primarily of blue puzzle pieces, each of them containing the first name and last initial of people who donated $11 or more to Autism Speaks in order to be represented on the car. Per Hamlin himself, the project netted more than $40,000 for the organization.
Earlier this year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1 in 68 children have been identified as part of the autistic spectrum.
That estimate is roughly 30 percent higher than the previous estimate of 1 in 88 that was released in 2012, and now more than ever, further awareness is necessary as more people are impacted by the disorder.
“Nine times out of 10, you’re gonna know somebody that’s affected by it or a family member that’s affected by it,” Hamlin said. “For us, it was an easy collaboration between myself, FedEx, and Autism Speaks.
“The ratio of how many children are affected is heading in a direction we don’t like to see. It costs these families a lot of money to have a child with autism – a lot of time – so it’s important for us to keep with that cause.”
To help make the “Day at the Races” even better for the youngsters on Sunday, Hamlin added that the group would go to a nearby Toys ‘R’ Us during Saturday’s Nationwide Series event and fill up “a truck full” of toys that are especially designed for autistic children.
“We’re going to load up a bunch of those toys tomorrow afternoon and bring them over to the hospitality area at Dover,” he said. “Along with the entertainment of the racing and everything that’s going on for the kids to take part and watch in, they’ll also have quite a few toys to keep them occupied as well.”
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