Monster Mile Makes Monster Smiles with Autism Speaks Day at the Races
By Mary Jo Buchanan On Sun, Jun. 03, 2012
The Monster Mile, otherwise known as Dover International Speedway, has partnered for the past several years with Autism Speaks, a nonprofit organization with the mission of raising funds for and calling attention to this spectrum disorder.
But this weekend, Dover took that partnership to a completely new level, creating an innovative, first of its kind ever autism-friendly NASCAR race track experience.
Families with children along the autism spectrum were provided special race seating in the Monster Mile’s air-conditioned grandstands, with dedicated quiet spaces for children to get away from the frenzy if they became over-stimulated.
“We created an autism-friendly NASCAR experience at the track and that’s never been done before,” Gary Camp, Sr. Director of Communications, Dover International Speedway, said. “For a first-time event, there’s been a lot of planning.”
“There’s a quiet zone where, if the kids get overwhelmed, they can go,” Camp continued. “Ollie’s Bargain Outlet has donated some bean bags and we’ve got toys that Toys R Us donated.”
“It’s just a real fun atmosphere.”
The children and their families were also treated to special appearances by NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson, sporting the No. 48 Lowe’s Madagascar car this weekend, and Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Allstate Chevrolet, whose family has a close connection to the issue of autism.
“It is always a nice feeling to make an appearance like that,” McMurray said. “It is something that is so simple for me to do.”
“To see the excitement on the faces in that room really makes you feel special,” McMurray continued. “I know that I really appreciate what Dover International Speedway and the Autism Speaks group does to host all the families for this event and I am just glad that I can do something to put a smile on someone’s face.”
McMurray has been so committed to this cause because of his family’s involvement that he also has recorded a public service announcement for the cause.
“I have received so much positive feedback from friends and fans on the public service announcement that we did for Autism Speaks, with my niece who has autism,” McMurray said. “It is just a small part to try and promote awareness about autism and to encourage the public to learn the early warning signs.
“Autism Speaks is the largest and leading science and advocacy organization in the world, founded seven years ago,” Mark Roithmayr, President of Autism Speaks, said. “We are a $60 million organization, funding research, awareness, advocacy and family services, all to combat the fact that one in 88 children in the United States are being diagnosed with autism.”
“First and foremost, Autism Speaks and our autism community are blessed by Dover,” Roithmayr said. “We’re blessed with NASCAR. We’re blessed with FedEx, who for the second year in a row are sponsoring this.”
“It’s been six years ago when NASCAR and Dover first came to us and said they wanted to make us the beneficiaries of that sponsorship and call this the Autism Speaks 400.”
“Denis McGlynn (President and CEO, Dover Motorsports), Mark Rossi (Vice President Sales and Marketing, Dover Motorsports), and Artie Kempner (Executive Producer, NASCAR on FOX) who is involved with Autism Delaware saw that autism was becoming a big issue for their families.
Roithmayr continued. “So, they came to us and said they would like to offer the opportunity for lots of awareness and promotion and that it was important to their fans.”
“NASCAR, of all the sports, has a tremendous heart and soul and came to us.”
“Dover has been incredible,” Roithmayr said. “Since that first year, we always tried to do something to encourage families with autism to come out to the track.”
“So many of the families tell us their children love NASCAR and they wanted to be part of the experience. We tried a couple of different locations but with autism, the noise, the smells and the sensory experiences were overwhelming, Roithmayr continued. “So, to have a grandstand that was air conditioned, price the tickets at $88 for the adults to symbolize one in 88 who have autism and $20 for the children, and an area buffeted from the over-sensory part of NASCAR but still a part of it, has been amazing.”
“There is a quiet room, where the lights are muted, with toys that are specially designed from our good friends at Toys R Us for kids from autism,” Roithmayr said. “The last piece is that we are going to have a series of special presentations for the families, presenting on science, services, and family support. We even have a young man with autism who graduated from college who will talk about what his life has been like.”
“We are so blessed.”
In addition to Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray, team owners Coach Joe Gibbs and his son J.D. Gibbs also made appearances to interact with the children and their families for the Autism Speaks day at the Monster Mile.