A young Bandolero
Published 9:44 pm Saturday, August 24, 2013
Suffolk girl takes on a racing challenge
Courage and compassion are two fitting words to describe 9-year-old Autumn Weaver of Suffolk, who made her debut driving a Bandolero-class car at Langley Speedway on Saturday.
With already over four years of competitive racing experience, Autumn is excited to reach this level of racing, which features speeds of about 70 miles per hour in a vehicle that is slightly bigger than one-fourth the size of a NASCAR racecar.
Her two simple goals going into Saturday’s race were “to finish the race, at least, and to have a smile on my face always,” she said.
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Her father, Jody Weaver, said Autumn just started working with the Bandolero about two weeks ago, but has already shown development in it.
She has previously raced at the 5- to 7-year-old Kids Karts level, which features go-karts that race at about 27-30 miles per hour. She was winning races as early as 4 years old, and she chalked up victories in 16 of 23 races during her inaugural season.
Next, she moved on to the 8- to 12-year-old Junior Sportsman Champ level, racing at around 45 mph. She won 11 of 15 races, including the 2012 JSC Championship at Langley.
Most recently, Autumn competed in Arena Racing USA, which featured a quarter-scale race car, running indoor races at about 40 mph through the winter and spring of 2013. Against drivers averaging 14 years of age, she finished in the top three of her first four races and frequently made the top five.
Driving a Bandolero Car at 70 mph is Autumn’s next step up the ladder of racing.
“That’s a big jump, (30) miles per hour, for a 9-year-old girl,” Jody Weaver said.
He was the one who helped get her into the sport. Having raced go-karts himself for about 10 years when he was younger and even now, occasionally, he has become entrenched in the racing world.
One of his primary activities in the last decade has been travelling around, helping other drivers get established.
His girlfriend and Autumn’s manager, Stacy Bailey, said, “He has a big heart. He has a hard time telling anybody ‘No.’ But he takes me and (Autumn) with him. It’s a family thing.”
During these trips, Autumn got a first-hand look at the sport and decided she wanted to try it.
Jody Weaver admits that he can barely watch when his daughter races because of the dangers involved.
“She’s had her share of accidents,” he said.
Once when Autumn flipped over, Bailey said, “He jumped over a few seats and even stepped on a few people trying to get down to the track.”
A great amount of safety equipment helps protect Autumn, and her courage helps do the rest. After one such flip, Bailey described Autumn’s reaction: “She said, ‘I almost threw up, but it was awesome!’”
Mark Roberts is Autumn’s spotter, the one who talks to her on the radio during races and instructs her on what to do. He described his 9-year-old pupil as an “adrenaline junkie,” prompting Autumn to ask, “What’s that mean?” Upon learning the definition, she agreed with him.
Roberts said the right attitude and determination are essential for a successful racecar driver, but at 5 or 6 years old, you cannot tell if someone has the driving skills until taking in at least eight or 10 of their races.
With Autumn, even before then, “I could just tell she had what it took to drive a car,” he said.
She’s frequently been the youngest driver on the track and will race against 15-16 year-olds in the Bandolero class.
But in addition to her courage, Bailey said Autumn is unusually compassionate, and this manifested itself through her friendship with Bailey’s 8-year-old nephew Aidyn Kleczewski, who has autism. Autumn has emblazoned on her car the logo for Austim Speaks, an organization seeking to find the causes, effective treatments and a cure for autism, while also raising awareness about it.
Autumn also has helped create a donation page at fundraise.autismspeaks.org, where she encourages her supporters to help Aidyn.
“Aidyn and I love to play together, and sometimes he even comes to watch me race,” Autumn states on the page.
The page is accessible by typing “Autumn Weaver Motorsports” or “Stacy Bailey” into the search field on the website.
“I want my racing to be more than just winning an $8 trophy,” Autumn said.
People believe in Autumn, as evidenced by her garnering her first major sponsor, Extreme Pizza. The restaurant will have its grand opening in Newport News on Oct. 26, and Autumn will be there, all suited up, with her race car.