The past two days meant a lot to me in terms of what happened on those dates in years past. Saturday marked one year since I gave my first presentation. One year! I can't believe it has only been a year. If you scroll down to my map of Missouri on the right side you can see that I have traveled many a mile in that time.
I think back to that MNEA conference from last year and I can't believe the growth I have experienced. By no means was that presentation bad, but I have gotten much more confident in myself and what I have to say. Never in 1,000 years would I have imagined, last year, that I would have sat next to Temple Grandin on a panel.
A lot can happen in a year yet at the same time it seems as if last year's presentation was just yesterday to me. I still remember where the TouchPoint booth was and conversations I had with those in attendance. It's weird to think that it was just one year ago and I have come so far. I wonder what I will be saying when next year when it will be two years?
Yesterday was a big anniversary for me as it marked 10 years since I first drove a formula type race car. Round number anniversaries, or those divisible by five are always major and this one actually was sad for me in a way. Of course, ten years ago I did not know I was on the spectrum and I knew, without a doubt, that I was going to be a race car driver. There was no doubt, no plan B, and why should there have been as I was fast.
I can recall the entire journey of ten years ago in my mind. From the flight out of Saint Louis to the round of miniature golf my dad and I played in the indoor amusement park at Circus Circus. What I also remember was my fear.
I was frightened because the experience in a formula car was new. I had driven karts for five years, but now I was behind the wheel of a true race car and I was very concerned with how it would feel and how loud it would be.
Oh, I forgot to mention why I was in Vegas. We looked at different racing schools for me to attend and from those who we talked to it was clear that the best bang for the buck was the Derek Daly Academy in Las Vegas.
On the first day of the class the instructors had us drive on a small oval in a parking lot. These cars weren't ultra powerful, yet when the throttle was applied all the way on the small straights I was amazed at how much force there was. Imagine being sucked into the seat because that was what it felt like, and these cars, I think, were only 155hp.
While the car sped up the vibrations in the car were intense. Trying to look in the mirrors was a task because images were just a blur due to the shaking. Not that there was much time to look in the mirrors as things seemed to happen much faster in this car than karts.
The next step was learning how to shift gears. I was 17 at the time and had all but 45 minutes in a standard transmission. I stalled the car more times than I have fingers and I was getting frustrated. My frustration grew immensely as I tried to figure out the "heel and toe" downshift. My coordination at the time simply was not good enough to pull this feat of a downshift off.
After the first night I was highly dejected. I had the car control, but I felt as if I was useless. Remember, at the time, racing was THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERED! Failure was not an option and it looked as if failure was going to happen.
The next day proved to be better for me. They switched cars for me and this new car had a more forgiving transmission and the stalls quit. Also on this day we hit the big track for the first time and I flew around it. The fears of the noises and sensation of speed quickly went away as I began to feel the car. This is one thing that few racing simulators can mimic and that is the feeling of the car. The feeling of the car and being one with it is something that, unless you have done, can't truly be put into words.
On day three, the final day, I began to have confidence behind the wheel and with each lap that I grew more and more scared as with each lap completed that meant I was one lap closer to the end. I didn't want it to end and to this day, well, even as I write this now I can feel the emotion that I had as time wound down. I was 17 and didn't know if I would ever get the chance to drive anything again so I was cherishing every second behind the wheel.
When it was over I had to stay in the car with my helmet on for several minutes to gather control of my emotions. Knowing what I know about the autism spectrum and my Kansas concept I can't believe I was able to control my emotions at all as this was the best experience I could have had.
As you can tell from my line of work now and this blog I did not make it in the world of racing. I am 100% okay with this as this entry states: http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/04/autism-awareness-month-and-how.html.
After my Vegas trip in 2000 I went back in 2001 and 2002 and then was an instructor in October of 2003. If you have any curiosity of what cars I drove out there, you can view my promo video we made to send to potential sponsors. The video from Vegas was from my 2002 trip and the parts where I am talking are from 2004. As for me today, I am headed to the Parents as Teachers conference to help out at the TouchPoint booth. I also worked this conference last year so I love when history repeats itself!