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Powhatan racer with autism gets a boost to his career

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POWHATAN COUNTY, Va. -- Racing fans in Virginia are well aware of how Chesterfield's Denny Hamlin was discovered racing at Southside Speedway by Joe Gibbs Racing. In any sport or discipline, if an athlete has talent, someone will give them an opportunity to move up and showcase that talent.

Garrett Manes, 14, of Powhatan, already has three Arena Racing youth division championships to his name.

Garrett Manes

He began driving go karts at age four, and while he is a fan of other sports, none of them grabbed his attention or his heart quite like driving a race car.

"When I started racing, I felt a connection to it," Garrett explained. "Like, that's where I should be."

His father Jason has been around racing much of his life, and through his contacts in the racing community, became friends with members of the crew for Xfinity Series driver Ray Black Jr.

When the Xfinity Series came to Richmond International Raceway in April, Jason invited Black and his team to come to the Richmond Coliseum and take in that night's arena racing card and watch Garrett drive.

That was all it took.

Garrett didn't win that night, but ran well enough to impress Black with his driving skills.

"For a kid his size with his ability to wheel the car at the speeds they run there, showed a lot," Jason said. "He (Garrett) protected the car, he raced clean. He didn't go in there and wreck people."

Right then and there, Black had an offer.

He owns a team in the Pro Trucks racing series, which is a step below the Camping World Trucks series.

He invited Garrett to drive his truck in that series later this year in Florida.

It didn't take long for Garrett to accept.

"I had no idea that's where that was going to go," Garrett said. "But I'm very happy and very fortunate that's how it played out."

Garrett already has local sponsorship from ZZAAM's Korean Grill in Carytown.

ZZAAM Owner Derek Cha admitted he wasn't much of a racing fan before getting involved, but because Arena Racing is local, and because of Garrett's ability, he didn't have to think twice about getting behind his efforts.

Soon, the ZZAAM logo will have company on Garrett's car next to the logo from Autism Speaks.

Garrett was diagnosed on the autism spectrum when he was two years old, and through therapy and racing, has found his voice and a focus that has helped with his success.

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"I was always told it was something I had and other people didn't have it," Garrett said. "It was like a disability. I never saw it as that. I saw myself as a regular kid."

"As a family, it brings us closer together," Jason added. "Instead of viewing it as a battle, we've developed a bond as a family."

Garrett and Jason have adopted a motto for their race team that says: "Racing For A Cause".

They hope Garrett can be an inspiration to others on the autism spectrum to work towards their goals whatever they may be, and whatever obstacles they may face.

"You don't have to live with a disability," Garrett said. "You can find something you're good at and excel in it."

"Find your zone," Jason added. "This kid found his zone. Parents need to pay attention to their kids. Find their zone. Your kid can be amazing at something that no one can touch them in."