Dover, FedEx, Autism Speaks team up again for “Day at the Races”

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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.”

source: Getty Images
A detailed view of Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Dover car, which bears the names of fans who donated $11 or more to Autism Speaks. Photo: Getty Images.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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