CONCORD, N.C. – Audio, photo and story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman –
14-year-old Garrett Manes is a racer with a huge cause at the 22nd annual Bojangles’ Summer Shootout.
Based in Powhatan, Va., Manes is competing at Charlotte Motor Speedway as an advocate for those affected by autism, a cause that is near to his heart as he looks to learn and move up the ranks in short track racing.
Diagnosed just after birth with autism, Manes has overcome a series of challenges to be successful in motorsports at such a young age. Through learning American Sign Language at 2 months old and working through a series of speech therapies to overcome the speed bumps of the disorder and chase his racing dream, the young standout first shook the Arena Racing world on his way up the ladder over the past three seasons.
Manes competed in Arena Racing, a series for half-scale stock cars competing inside the Richmond (Va.) Coliseum, from 2013-2015 and racked up a stunning record of 21 poles, 15 wins and three championships in three years – as well as setting the fastest lap (8.12 seconds) ever in the sport before moving into a Legends car in 2015.
The transition was one that was difficult, according to the young racer, but one that he has relished as a fresh opportunity and a chance to learn and prove himself among some of the best Legends car racers in the country.
“It’s been crazy,” the Virginian laughed. “I’m new to all of this. I’m new to the Legends car and I’m new to the clutch, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot so far. I’m still working on the exit of turn four, trying to keep up with the leaders down the frontstretch. If we can find that bite off the corner, I feel like we’ll be really solid going forward.”
“In Arena Racing, you’re running slick tires and full suspension on a super-grippy track. I went from having a ton of grip and not having to lift to having to work the brakes, use the clutch, get in the gas at the right times and worry about the completely different power-to-weight ratio.”
“It’s a wildly different thing than anything else I’ve ever done before, but I’m getting more comfortable in the car and I love the style of racing here at Charlotte. It’s so much fun here.”
Manes has competed in the Young Lions division, the entry level Legends class for racers 12-16 years of age with minimal experience in the cars, during this year’s Shootout, with six top tens in seven races and a best finish of sixth in round seven.
Manes’ most impressive runs have been in his last two weeks in the series, where he looked to notch top five runs before a late race spin in round six and late race contact in the lead pack during round seven relegated him backwards in the running order.
Despite the disappointments, Manes has remained upbeat through the whole process – citing the experiences as ones that have taught him what he needs to become successful at CMS and in the Legends car.
“It’s good to know that I do have the pace to run with the leaders and can run up there,” Manes admitted. “I’ve just got to work on my line a little bit still. In round six, I got a little too high into turn three and then had no brake response because of the Speedy-Dry that had been on the track. After that, I spun and had to hang on because there wasn’t a caution.”
“That was a night where I thought we were really competitive all night long – we qualified fourth-fastest and it was really encouraging to me to be able to see what I’m capable of in my first year here.”
Manes looks to use the final weeks of the Shootout to build his platform and help others like him who are affected by autism both in the racing community and outside of it.
“We’ve helped some kids with autism – that’s been something I’ve really enjoyed – and we’ve gone out to raise as much awareness as we can this summer. Proceeds from our apparel sales have gone towards the cause, and together with the Richmond Autism Society and the Central Virginia Autism Society we’ve looked to get my story out there and help those who are out there like me.”
“It’s always something that he’s been very passionate about,” added Garrett’s father, Jason. “We asked him before we took him racing if he wanted to use his situation and his story as an inspiration for others who might need it. We knew he had the talent and he decided he wanted to show other kids and adults that you can be successful and chase your dream no matter what you’re faced with.”
“His mom and I have always told him, it’s a challenge but not a disability. It’s not something that has to define you. He’s taken that and run with it.”
With NASCAR driver-turned-broadcaster Kenny Wallace being one of the first to make a name for himself while being on the spectrum of autism, Manes is looking up to those like Wallace while also hoping he can be a voice and a face that those like him can look to for support and belief that anything is possible.
“With today’s exposure to autism, and as many cases as are being pushed out, we feel like we can really make a difference and shed unlimited light through Racing For The Cause,” Manes said. “We want people of all ages to know that their passion and dreams are achievable despite the challenges that autism brings.”
“Our goal is to keep Racing For The Cause, because we do need to find the cause of autism, and tying the cause in through racing allows us to use a huge platform that has largely been untapped in the past.”
Manes is currently looking for partners to build a program for the 2016 season and continue Racing For The Cause. He is looking to move into a late model for next year in addition to returning to the Bojangles’ Summer Shootout, and early conversations have been had in regards to that goal with both Peyton Sellers Racing and LFR Chassis and Development.
“Right now we’re just taking it one step at a time,” Manes said. “Yes, we are looking ahead, but right now my biggest focus is finishing this year’s Shootout strong.”
“If I get the opportunity to jump in a late model next year, I will gladly jump into it with a smile, but right now, I’m fired up about the final three races at Charlotte and I hope we can go in and maybe contend for a win before the end of the summer.
Listen in to an extended cut of Race Chaser Online’s conversation with Garrett Manes during practice for the 2015 Bojangles’ Summer Shootout:
About sweetFrog Racing
sweetFrog Racing’s goal is that through faith and its passion for the sport, they can build a partnership with Autism Speaks to give the team an opportunity to reach a global audience and reach out to support those with autism that may not have had that support in the past.
Along with 14-year-old driver Garrett Manes, who is affected by autism, SFR looks to build on a successful Legends car program at the Bojangles’ Summer Shootout and continue to raise awareness for the cause while helping Manes to achieve his racing dreams.
Manes is a three-time Arena Racing champion from Powhatan, Va. with 15 wins and 21 poles, competing in his first season in a Legends car at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The young racer has goals to move towards the NASCAR ladder by competing in a late model during the 2016 season at tracks including Hickory Motor Speedway, South Boston Speedway and Southside Speedway.
sweetFrog Premium Frozen Yogurt began when entrepreneur Derek Cha, along with his wife Annah Kim and two children, moved to Richmond, Va., in 2009. At that time, frozen yogurt shops were primarily located on the West Coast, but Derek became attracted to the concept because of its simplicity and low cost. In the midst of an unfriendly economy, and with faith, prayer, and the support of family and friends, the first sweetFrog store opened later that year in the Short Pump subdivision of Richmond.
Five years later, sweetFrog has grown by leaps and bounds (or hops)! Currently, sweetFrog has over 335 stores operating in 25 states, with international locations in the United Kingdom and the Dominican Republic.
sweetFrog’s mission through faith (F.R.O.G. in sweetFrog stands for Fully Rely On God) is to be a good neighbor everywhere the company moves into. Through local partnerships, fundraisers, and much more, their stores become part of the fabric that wraps their communities.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s. He is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: email@example.com