Autistic children and their families to enjoy day at the races in Dover


Encounter the world of NASCAR and you’ll receive a sensory overload – the bright colors of the cars, the smell of the burning rubber, the sounds of crowds and engines roaring. Unfortunately, for young children affected by autism, such a scenario can simply be too much to bear.

But for this weekend’s NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway, the track is doing its part to help those children enjoy the experience of live racing in an environment that’s friendly for them. The “Monster Mile” is expected to host more than 300 autistic kids and their families in a climate-controlled seating area along the backstretch. There will also be dedicated quiet zones available, allowing families to provide a safe place for their children away from the action if necessary.

“That’s part of the idea here: To have an environment where people on the spectrum can sit comfortably and enjoy racing – whereas outside, with the amount of noise and interaction with the elements, they might not be able to,” Dover vice president of sales and marketing Mark Rossi told National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

NASCAR and autism awareness group Autism Speaks first began the “Day at the Races” rally last year at Dover, and this year, multiple drivers and team owners will visit the youngsters before Sunday’s 400-mile Sprint Cup race. Autism educators will also make brief presentations as part of the proceedings.

Autism Speaks board member Artie Kempner, who also serves as a coordinating director on NASCAR television broadcasts and has a child on the autistic spectrum, has praised Dover’s efforts to reach out to those affected by the disorder.

“Just to bring an autistic kid out to a typical race with all the noise and stimuli would be enormously difficult,” Kempner told HealthDay. “But the environment created at Dover addressed that anxiety and took it out of the equation. It’s a controlled and welcoming and comfortable space, surrounded by parents who have seen it all and staffed by incredibly supportive people — right down to the drivers themselves, who were actually really excited and impressed by the whole thing.”

Recent studies have shown that 1 in 88 American children is on the autistic spectrum.