My tour across America continues on and today I am back in Las Vegas. It's been odd just how much I've been in this town during my life be it for the SKUSA Supernats, going all the way back to the first IndyCar race here in 1996 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, or the time I was an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy.
Before I was an instructor though I was a student there and back in the first week of November in the year 2000 I came out here for a class as a dreaming 17 year old sure that I had what it takes to be a race car driver. When my dad and I came out here we stayed at the Circus Circus and several nights ago when we [Rob and I] were in Denver he noticed an ad on the internet for very cheap rooms. I jumped at the chance to stay at where I stayed back then and being here at the Circus Circus once again has rekindled many memories much like my trip through Limon last week.
To be honest, this place hasn't changed a bit and I can almost feel the emotions I felt the first time I walked into here. Oh, wait a time that was! My nerves had never been higher because I was worried about so many things; would I be able to handle the sensations in the car? Also, and I wasn't diagnosed at this point in time, but I was highly concerned about how loud it was. I was sure I was doomed to failure and that after one day I would make a mockery of everything that is proper driving.
As I was checking in I saw the bench I sat in back in 2000 and I was in awe of all the lights and sounds, but I was focused unlike any other point in time up to that point in time in my life because I didn't want to fail at the race school. You see, I had been racing karts for five years and had never driven a proper race vehicle, and on top of that I had 15 minutes of manual transmission experience and it was a very rocky, and grindy time at that.
I barely slept that first night and the next morning my stomach felt as if I had 100 tightly wound rubber bands around it. The entire drive to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway complex was the most tense drive, or rather ride as my dad was driving, of my life. Yeah, I know I've said "most" and "my life" several times but that's where I was in my life. A lot was riding on my performance because if it was obvious I didn't "have it" then what would be the point in continuing to dream? So with that being so it felt as if all 17 years of my life was leading to this and the following two days.
When I got to the academy I stood in awe as I saw the Formula Ford like cars being prepped. This was my dream, my life was leading to this point and I knew this was the start of the rest of my life. Talk about adding pressure to myself!
Walking through the doors was like walking into the middle of a dream; everything was so crisp, clean, and perfect. After some paper work it was three hours of classroom stuff and then it was time to strap in and experience a real race car. Of all things I've done in life there hasn't been a time I felt more secure and safe than being strapped into the five-point harness of that car.
We drove our cars on the public road to the track and a couple times I slowed down so I could put some power down and I was in shock at how much force I could feel. At first it felt like it hurt, but after 15 minutes on the technical oval I wanted more and as the 2nd day began and we hit the 1.6 mile road course I got it.
Each night I remember being in bed wondering what the future would hold. It's so fitting that I am here now because back then, on that third and final day, I showed true speed and was told that I did indeed, "have it." Do you know what it's like to dream about doing something and then to be told that you have the skill to do it? After hearing that leaving the Derek Daly Academy on that final day was one of the hardest things I've ever done because I didn't know if I'd ever drive a car like that again and it was such a euphoric experience. I'll be honest and say I'm glad I had my very old pair of sunglasses on because I was an emotional wreck leaving the track on that final day.
And that brings me to where I am now. After that experience in 2000 I would be back in 2001, 2002, and then as an instructor in 2003. All that time I was getting better and better behind the wheel and it looked as if I was getting closer and closer to truly making it professionally. Of course that didn't happen because you are reading this today, and back then, when I originally stayed here at the Circus Circus, that was my biggest fear. I had many sayings, one was, "If I don't race there is NOTHING!"
If there is one thing I feel now, being back here, it is that everything worked out perfectly for me. If I had not been so close and if I didn't "have it" then the pain of everything wouldn't have been the same. If that had been so would I have been as depressed? And, if I weren't so depressed would I have started to write? And obviously, had I not written anything I would not be here today and I would only be living for myself perhaps helping no one. How would the world have gained anything from that?
12 years ago I lived my dream in Vegas and you might say that getting so close was cruel. Perhaps it was, but it had to happen. I realize that and while yesterday as I walked the halls of Circus Circus I felt that anticipation of the future I had back then. I can feel all the emotions I felt as that naive, undiagnosed 17 year old. However, I feel that exact same sense of emotion right now, but for a different purpose. You see, I have a presentation tonight here in Vegas, and many more after that in other towns. 12 years ago I thought about myself and how big I could be in the racing world, but now it isn't about me but rather giving the world the terms and metaphors to explain the autism spectrum. What I am doing now, and what I am capable of, is light years beyond anything I could have imagined when I first came out here as a student in 2000. Yes, it's good to be back here as all those emotions have been rekindled, but as with the first time I came out here I once again am living a dream, but this time it isn't about racing and it isn't about trying to shave a tenth of a second and apexes. Instead, it is about the race to spread as much awareness as understanding as possible and what a great race this is to be a part of!