Meet Armani W.
Armani W., 21
It was an opportunity to use my racing platform to help bring awareness, inclusion, and acceptance for people in the autism community.
As one of three African American professional stock car drivers currently competing in NASCAR, Armani knows what it feels like to be different. But even before he turned his love for toy cars and go-karts into a budding career in NASCAR’s truck series, Armani was faced with challenges to fit in with friends, classmates, teammates and even other members of his family.
“I was diagnosed with autism when I was 2 years old, but I didn’t know until I was older. It was around the time I was heading into middle school that my parents told me. They sat me down and did their best to explain what that meant to have autism. It immediately made me think back on all of the experiences that I had as a young child. That’s when it started to make sense for me. Once I could put all those memories together, that’s when I realized just what it meant to be on the autism spectrum.”
Armani said most of the time, other kids would find it interesting and ask a lot of questions when he told them he was autistic. As he got older and his career flourished, he decided to use his platform to take autism awareness to another level, ensuring other kids like him wouldn’t have to feel “weird” or “out of place” when talking about who they are.
“So many people have either come up to me in person or connected with me on social media to tell me about their experiences with someone in their lives who has autism. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or child, so many people are touched. They often ask for advice, and I try to share a positive message.”
Learn more about Armani in this Spectrum Spotlight Q&A:
What went into the decision to publicly disclose your autism diagnosis to the NASCAR community and the rest of the world?
It was when I started to really move up through the ranks of racing. I felt like there were people and families that needed to know, that needed the kind of hope and inspiration that could only come from someone who was challenged by similar circumstances. So, I talked it over with my family and I decided to go public with it. For me, it was an opportunity to use my racing platform to help bring awareness, inclusion, and acceptance for people in the autism community. In addition to that, I was able to share with everyone, including the NASCAR community, who I really am.
How have you been received since sharing that information with the world?
It’s been received very positively. People find it unique and inspiring given how much adversity some of us with autism have to overcome throughout our lives. I hope that by sharing my story, I can provide a sense of hope and inspiration to other people on the spectrum, as well as those with children or family members with autism. I want everyone to know that just because you have autism it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your dreams.
In what areas has your autism helped you excel in life and on the racetrack?
One of the characteristics for many people like me is the ability to have intense focus on something that interests us and provides enjoyment. Those interests can become big parts of our lives. For me, racing was that interest. On the racetrack so many things happen so fast. You can be driving up to speeds of 180-190 miles per hour, so you can’t lose your concentration. You always have to be prepared for what might happen up ahead, behind you, and around you. A lot of race car drivers have that ability to stay focused for a long period of time as well, but I feel I have a different level of focus. Off the track, when it comes to any task that I’m responsible for, whether it’s at home, school, or work, I feel like I’ve grown a lot in terms of knowing exactly what I need to do to complete that task successfully. I think I’ve improved greatly in that area of my life.
What struggles have you faced because of your autism?
Like many others with autism, I have struggled with social interaction, communication and sometimes repetitive behaviors. But as it is in life, you are always going to face challenges, it’s only a matter of how you battle through them. I’m thankful to have a family who has helped and supported me throughout my life whenever I needed them. They’ve helped me figure out the kind of person I truly want to be. I feel fortunate when I look back on how far I’ve come with their guidance.
Who have you relied on most as a support system throughout your autism journey? How have they impacted your life?
My parents and my entire family for that matter. They have always understood me and the challenges I’ve faced due to my autism. They’re always by my side whenever I need them. I’m thankful for my dad believing in me when I told him at 8 years old that I wanted to be a professional race car driver. He encouraged my entire family to come along on this journey which included a lot of ups and downs. I could not have asked for a better, more positive support system. At the end of the day, families should always help each other no matter what.
What services and supports have you received since being diagnosed? How has it helped help you along the way?
I have received services and support since being diagnosed. I’ve had many therapies, including speech, behavioral, occupational, etc. Those things helped me, but what has really helped me along the way is my personal drive and initiative. I go on the internet and learn every little detail about autism so I can gain more knowledge about myself and others. My parents also helped me understand social interactions and how to have a conversation with people. They taught me the importance of eye contact, greetings, and certain topics to talk about to connect and form relationships. Those things have certainly helped me along the way throughout my life.
What are your biggest accomplishments to date?
This year, reaching NASCARs national spotlight level of the NASCAR Camping World Trucks series has been my biggest accomplishment. Other accomplishments along the way include:
First NASCAR Top-10 Finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway- NASCAR Canada
First Top-10 Finish in the ARCA Menard’s Pro Series in my 2nd start at my home track at Michigan International Speedway
What are a few of your personal long-term goals?
Getting to the NASCAR Camping World Truck series has been a huge goal. I’m there now, looking for partners who would like to help support this journey. I want to take my time here and learn as much as I can. From there, move into the NASCAR Xfinity Series and maybe someday the NASCAR Cup Series. Ultimately, I want to be a champion race car driver in NASCAR and a champion for those who are impacted by autism.
How does it feel to be one of three African American drivers on the NASCAR circuit, as well as one of the first to disclose their autism diagnosis? As a young man in the public eye, do you feel a sense of responsibility to advocate and lead by example?
I feel very fortunate to be recognized as a NASCAR driver and happy that I have the opportunity to achieve my dreams. The fact that we now have three African American drivers in NASCAR is a good sign for what’s to come and I certainly hope we get more in the future. I feel that given the fact there are African American people who love racing, we just have to keep working hard to attract them and get them to invest in the sport.
Seeing how there is one in 54 children in this country today that have been diagnosed with autism, there are a lot of people who need a voice. I want to advocate and help inspire people to understand that life can be fulfilling with autism. I feel there is that sense of responsibility in leading by example to help others that are like me to find what exactly they want to be successful at in life.
What advice would you give to a young person, recently diagnosed with autism, wondering what the future holds?
I would tell that young person to find things that they enjoy doing, and ask yourself if that is something you are greatly passionate about? Is it your dream in life? If it is, chase the dream. Believe in yourself and your ability, stay encouraged no matter what, put in the hard work, and bring your support system along for the ride so they can be there for you. If you can put all of those together, you’ll open the door to many possibilities.
What are five words that best describe you?
I would say the five words that would best describe me are fun, passionate, determined, hard worker and caring.