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Professional driver a highlight at Penticton soapbox races

Penticton Western News - 4/8/2019

It was a day at the races for a group of kids, thanks to the Penticton Centre for ExceptionalLearning.

The centre held the first annual Soapbox Saturday with food, booths set up for a wide range of services for children with Autism or other physical or mental disabilities. The main attraction were the ramps and tires set up for the soapbox races.

"It's a little of a different spin and a little more fun instead of just an educational event, which are also great," said Carrie Ferguson, the executive director of the centre and the lead organizer of the day. "We wanted it be a little more fun and hands-on."

The racers either designed their own cars, or they were able to race one of the two built by the centre for the day's events. There were plenty of unique and well-built racers, with features ranging from aerodynamic flames cut out of the wood-body, to brakes and suspension systems, to a plastic engine that spun and moved.

"We knew there were going to be a lot of homemade cars coming," said Ferguson. "I was totally blown away with how great they were. I made one, crashed it, the brake doesn't work, it's ridiculous. There were some pretty impressive cars, so it was pretty neat to see."

The event also had a special guest. Families got a chance to meet with professional racecar driver Austin Riley, the first with Autism to drive competitively. Riley, as well as his father Jason and cousin Shane, were meeting and greeting the little driver's next to Austin's green Racing with Autism Nissan. They also brought along with them the Autism Reality Experience trailer, a personal project of Riley's that gives people an opportunity to experience what it is like to live with Autism.

"I had been working since last April to get Austin Riley here," said Ferguson. "So the whole event kind of wrapped around him, and we made it car themed. It was a collaborative effort, one of my colleagues came up with the soapbox idea, another for the potato cars. We had the Boyd Autobody 'car'beque here, and an Autism service provider expo, we even had a car-themed bouncy castle."

The soapboxes weren't just for the kids either. There were races for the adults too, and even the special guests got involved, with Riley racing his cousin, before losing in the finals to local Nicole Baker.

 
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