Not one to shy away from a challenge, 18-year-old Austin Riley of Uxbridge, Ontario has shown autism the black flag while advancing his racing career.
Starting out in karts, as most of the greats once did, Riley went on to win three karting championships, proving his capability behind the wheel.
At age 12 the young racer was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, but instead of pulling Riley back from racing, or reflexively sheltering him, as many parents would no doubt be inclined to do, Jason and Jennifer Riley doubled-down on their son’s racing career, giving him the support and financial backing he needed to succeed.
“Motorsport has given my son countless things he hasn’t been able to find anywhere else in life, and one of them is acceptance,” said Austin’s father, Jason Riley.
“It also teaches coping mechanisms you can’t learn anywhere else, but ones that you can apply every day, no matter what the situation.”
After realizing Austin had genuine talent in the heat of competitive racing, his parents decided to share their son’s story as a source of encouragement to other families struggling with autism.
In 2013, with Austin’s approval, they founded Racing with Autism, a platform to raise awareness about autism and Austin’s budding racing career.
After hearing of Austin’s struggle with autism, and impressive racing success, Nissan Micra Cup veteran driver Metod Topolnik of Azure Racing and his wife Marie Christine Bédard reached out to the Riley family, inviting Austin to take a race seat in their well-established Micra Cup car.
“Our son Thomas was diagnosed with autism at two-years-old and at that moment, our world stopped. We never could have expected this for our beautiful, curious, and affectionate little boy,” said Bédard.
“Metod and I began doing everything we could to give Thomas the best chance for a better life, and became advocates for autism awareness. When we learned about Austin’s achievements, it gave us immense hope, and we wanted to help support and encourage Austin in the pursuit of his dreams and share this message of hope with people like us who need it most.”
Riley will thus take to the grid during this year’s Nissan Micra Cup Championship, which kicks off this weekend at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park near Bowmanville, Ontario.
Nissan Canada is supportive of Riley’s racing efforts, and looks forward to seeing him in action behind the wheel.
“Offering innovation and excitement for everyone is the heart and soul of the Nissan brand and absolutely carries over into the motorsport side of the business,” said Joni Paiva, president of Nissan Canada.
“The Nissan Micra Cup grid is an assembly of highly-skilled, passionate men and women with a mixture of driving backgrounds. Austin diversifies the Nissan Micra Cup series in a wonderful way. I look forward to seeing how Nissan Micra Cup and spec series racing will further advance Austin’s already-impressive career.”