By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Detroit’s Armani Williams had a milestone afternoon in his home track at Michigan International Speedway, finishing 10th in Sunday’s VizCom 200.
This was the 20-year-old’s second career ARCA Menards Series start and while he finished four laps behind race winner Riley Herbst, it was a positive learning experience for the Fast Track Racing (owned by Andy and Michelle Hillenburg) driver with autism.
“It was a big and special day. I can’t thank Centria Autism. Without their support and goal to raise awareness with autism, none of this would’ve been possible,” said Williams, driver of the No. 12 Centria Autism Chevrolet. “We came with a mindset to just keep my nose clean, get to the end and salvage a top-10 which we were able to do. The fact this is my first race at Michigan, I had a blast and a lot of fun.”
From a car performance point of view, Williams did felt his No. 12 machine didn’t handled quite well compared to the highly competitive teams like Joe Gibbs Racing, Venturini Motorsports, Bret Holmes Racing and DGR-Crosley. That in mind, Williams was focused on keeping his car out of trouble to assure himself a solid result.
“We salvaged a top-10 and things went according to plan,” said Williams. “I’m really happy with Fast Track Racing, they brought a really good car today.”
Prior to the 100-lap race at the two-mile circuit, the biggest track Williams has ever raced in his inspiring racing career, his story about pursuing a racing career with autism was featured on Good Morning America.
Armani Williams learned about his autism diagnosis at around 7 years old and is now the first NASCAR driver openly diagnosed on the spectrum. @janai has the details. https://t.co/zaiknXCayI pic.twitter.com/8sMec33wko
— Good Morning America (@GMA) August 9, 2020
Williams illustrates how it was like to compete at his home track after running the short tracks ranging from Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington to Wyant Group Raceway in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada over the past few years.
“Michigan is definitely the fastest track I’ve gone probably in my entire racing career. Going from 190 to 100 mph in Turn 1, the adrenaline rush kicks in,” Williams on running at Michigan. “You just hope the car can pull up through the entry to the center. Our car was handling pretty good to where I wasn’t really worried about the speed at all. It came to me as soon as I got some practice laps in. Those speeds were a lot of fun and I definitely enjoyed it.”
Two years ago, yours truly (also with autism, a subject I publicly discussed in 2016) interviewed Williams in Monroe. One question I asked was what encouraging message he’d like to send to those on the autism spectrum.
He said that other people shouldn’t tell anyone what they can’t do and to pursue their passions.
Since then, Williams’ positive sentiment still stands as he hopes to continuing driving in ARCA, notably the finale at Kansas Speedway and other tracks larger than a mile that could lead to him running in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year. Maybe one day, eventually compete in the Cup Series.
“I learned that you always got to stay encouraged and believe in yourself in the ability that you’re able to do,” said Williams. “With me accomplishing my dream as a professional race car driver, I want to carry that same message to millions of individuals, families and children that have been impacted by autism and been challenged a lot to let them know:
“Just because you have autism, doesn’t mean you can’t do amazing things in this world.
“That’s something I like to take a lot of pride and just giving millions hope. There’s a light in the end of that tunnel that you can go to. Just as long as you put in the hard work and have the right support system, and you believe in yourself in what you want to do in life to be successful at. Many things will be possible.”