Armani Williams puts the pedal to the metal to pursue his dream of becoming a professional race car driver and shifts perspectives as NASCAR’s first driver with Autism Spectrum Disorder on the track.
“Hey, I can do this. Let me show ya,” Armani says, grinning. “They just had to put me in a race car.”
Armani lets his driving do the talking, leaving doubters in the dust. With medals and trophies lining his shelves, he’s defied the odds and accomplished his dream of becoming a professional race car driver. Though the doubts of the world tried cutting him off, he focused on his passion, crossing the finish line as the first NASCAR driver diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
START YOUR ENGINES
At a very young age, Armani Williams had a love for cars. Playing with Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars on the floor of his childhood home jumpstarted his fascination with high speeds and fast cars. But, once he saw NASCAR on TV, his imagination went full-throttle. Seeing the mind-boggling speeds of race cars and hearing the roar of the engines put his ambition in gear. He knew he wanted to move from being a spectator to sitting in the driver’s seat.
Armani didn’t consider autism as a possible setback—he was simply a child with a love for racing, and his parents knew his passion. They saw his desire to be the racer on the TV screen and set off on the journey with him, determined to overcome any obstacles they would face along the way.
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
Armani began racing at eight years old on the go-karting circuit in the Junior Go-Karting Division, building his skills at an early age, and moved up into racing mini-cup cars. His talents were clear, winning 18 races and two championships. The hours on the track and behind the wheel continued to accelerate his skills until he moved on to the ARCA Truck Pro Series. He raced across the Midwest with great success, earning the highest points and setting records as the highest-finishing African American in the races. He seemed unstoppable.
However, doubts hung in the air. At the time, there wasn’t an abundance of diversity in the racing world. Black Americans weren’t highly represented in the sport and there were virtually no drivers with disabilities. A man like Armani did not seem to fit the stereotypical racing profile. But, he didn’t come into the sport to meet its limits; he came to shatter them. He didn’t let the scattering doubts distract him from the track he was on, saying, “Dreams never come easy. You just never want to let the outside noise get to you. You kind of use it as motivation to keep pushing forward to show people—no, hey, I can do this. Let me show you.”
SETTING THE PACE
After years of building his skills on the track, Armani joined NASCAR Racing in Canada, which accelerated his career. On the track, he learned how to be a “pro,” how those drivers actually drove on his TV when he was a child, and how to be fast. Finally, in 2021, he made the start in a NASCAR race.
The doubts that dwelled around him were left in the smoke as people began believing in him. He proved that he could go the distance. His name was plastered over the news as reporters spread the word of this incredible driver who defied the odds. Armani was moving at full speed as he clearly showed his heart was on the track, and he wasn’t planning on hitting brakes.
“They just had to put me in a race car on a track and let me show them I have what it takes,” he said.
Armani views autism as a key to his success. Many people with autism report achieving high levels of focus when doing something that drives their passion. When you’re moving at 190MPH, focus is everything. There’s no room for error; one slip can cost the race. While he admits it’s nerve-racking—the headsets blaring, the crowd cheering, the crew working, the engines roaring—the moment Armani is in the race car, his excitement takes over as he tells himself, “Okay, let’s do this.” He’s ready to do what he’s been gearing up for his entire life — He’s ready to drive.