Despite rough childhood, magic can happen

A lifelong goal fulfilled: How I got to live out my dream of riding in a race car with Mario Andretti

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Ever since I was a young man, I have always had a major interest in car racing. I don't know what it was that drew me to the sport but I have always loved it. Back when I was younger, while other kids loved watching cartoons and animaes, I was different. What I watched was a VHS copy of ESPN's CART year in review from 1996. Every day, I sat next to the TV and memorized all of the finishes and the winners of the races. From that point on, I knew I was an Indycar fan for life. While I was watching the greats like Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi, I promised myself that I would get to ride in an Indycar and now thanks to the great people at Sportsmap and Giant Noise, on Thursday March 21 I got to fulfill a dream of a lifetime.

For some of the people that don't know me, growing up I had a lot of trouble socially. While I didn't necessarily have a hard time talking to people, keeping them around was a whole different story. I struggled with paying attention to other people when talking to them because I could only think about one thing and usually that was racing,

This was especially difficult in my early years of elementary school. Due to my lack of attention span, my parents (especially my mom) did all they could to try and help me have a better time in school. They took me to psychiatrists and I was placed on multiple medications to no avail. In 2002 I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. This was very difficult for me because I was treated differently than anyone else by everyone at my schools due to my disorder. I was placed in smaller classes where the work I had to do seemed to be much less than anyone else. I felt horrible and I felt like I wasn't as smart or as normal as anyone else around me.

The one thing that helped me get through it though was my dream to hopefully ride in one of the indycar's that I watched so much of growing up. At a young age, I always told everyone I knew that one day, I was going to ride in a race-car and while there were many drivers that I told people I was going to ride with, one of the many names I mentioned was racing legend Mario Andretti. Flash forward many years later that time came. After getting into one of the fire suits and putting on one of their helmets I was summoned to which car I would ride in and guess who happened to be driving? Mario Andretti! When I strapped into the car while at that moment I couldn't believe that I had made it, I always knew that if I worked hard, met the right people and never gave up I would be able to achieve the dream I had hoped for and overall, riding in the car was one of the most incredible things to ever have happened to me!

As cliche as it sounds, life is a lot like racing in a way. No matter the obstacle, everyone has to keep going towards the checkered flag. Also like in racing It's essential to have a great team around you and I could not be more grateful for the people I met here at SportsMap, ESPN 97.5 and Giant noise. The people who did the most for me though where my mom,dad and my late grandmother. They did everything in their power to get me to where I am at today while they could have easily told me that there were other careers I should go into they always believed that I could cover motorsports. At the end of the day like in racing, there will always be minor setbacks but as long as you believe that you can win, you will find a way. Don't ever give up on the things you want to do.

THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR at Bristol preview

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This week NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night race. With the playoffs approaching this is definitely one of the wildcard races that can truly make or break a driver's chances of getting into the playoffs. Nicknamed the last great colosseum, Bristol Motor speedway is one of NASCAR's most iconic race tracks on the schedule as it's close quarters racing has always been a big hit among fans. The track is an half-mile oval with 22 degrees of banking like you would see at a much bigger racetrack. While the track has been widened over the years, it is still common practice to see drivers use their bumpers to knock someone out of the way. It should be must-see TV come Saturday night.

Last week, Kevin Harvick was able to rebound after a flat tire and win Michigan. This was the second time in two years that Harvick was able to win Michigan's fall race as he was able to save just enough fuel to get his Mobile one Mustang to victory lane. The race was fairly tame compared to what we have seen over the past two months but it was still a fairly intriguing event. Like we usually see at this track, fuel strategy was the deciding factor in who finished were. In the closing laps, both Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano ran out of fuel as they ran second and third eliminating them from victory. Some of the good stories we saw out of last week's race was how great of a run Ryan Preece had as he was able to claim an impressive seventh place finish. This is the rookie's third top ten of the season as he was able to drive all the way up from 29th to finish where he did. Overall, this has been a difficult season for him but if he can continue to improve like he did last week at Michigan, he should have a bright future in this sport.

It appears as if NASCAR's famed "silly season" is upon as drivers look to secure a ride for next year. The first domino to fall is Matt DiBendetto as it was announced that he will not be returning to the #95 Toyota for Leavine Family Racing. This comes as a bit of a surprise considering how well he has done in this car. This season he has four top 10 finishes and two top fives and was definitely gaining ground so it is sad to see a good driver lose his ride. The driver that will move up and take his place appears to be rookie driver Christopher Bell. While he has remained quiet about what he will be doing next season, it would be safe to assume that he will be next in line to drive this car considering car owner Bob Leavine's relationship with Joe Gibbs. As much as I hate to see Matt lost his place, I think that it is a far cry to say Bell doesn't deserve to be Cup racing. This young driver has been lighting it up in the Xfinity series and I think he will translate well in 2020. As far as it goes for DiBenedetto, he isn't without options. With Toyota's newest crop of young drivers such as Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliand being a few years from being ready to be in the cup series, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Matt to scale down into the Xfinity series for a year or two driving for Gibbs. I think this could help his career as here he will be able to compete for a championship besides you never know what other opportunities could arise in the not to distant future.

Coming into Bristol, the driver that I have winning is Kyle Larson. In interviews and on social media, Larson has called this track his favorite and it makes a lot of sense considering how good his results have been. Larson currently has an average finish here of 7.50, the third highest amongst active drivers.This track almost perfectly complements his driving style considering the best line to run around here is the outside and if you have watched him race, you can tell that's his preferred line. This track also being a short-track really plays a lot into why he has been so good here as well considering he has been racing at tracks just like them around the country when he races his dirt car. Over the years, he has always been close here but this week I think he gets it done and gets his first win of 2019.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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