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Amy and Brian France fight autism, provide hope

March 12, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

Amy and Brian France fight autism, provide hope
As 'parents first,' NASCAR Chairman & CEO and his wife host event to help special NYC school

Continuing in the tradition shared by America's other major league sports organizations from the NFL to the NBA, NASCAR will host one of the most significant Autism Speaks fundraisers in the country Tuesday at New York City's iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Aptly called "Speeding For a Cure,” the benefit -- hosted by NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and his wife Amy -- will raise money for the Autism Speaks organization, specifically New York's The Gillen Brewer School, which specializes in learning and health-related disabilities for children in pre-school through elementary school. 

"We're all parents first. So the fact, the NASCAR Foundation has its focus on children, and the fact I'm a father and Amy is a mother, by definition it strikes your heart whenever we're around children who need something to go right in their life."

--NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France

"The sport is big enough with enough reach to be in step with the other major sports leagues in this country to chair a big night and raise the kind of money you need to, to make this school and the cure more possible," Brian France said.

As parents first, and as philanthropists, the Frances felt an immediate and heart-tugging connection to the students at Gillen Brewer during a visit there earlier this month. They hope this school can be a national model of help and hope.

While interacting with a young boy at the school, Amy France saw firsthand the potential and promise that the right resources and educational focus can provide for any child affected by this condition.

"There was a really sweet moment in which I was speaking with a little boy, who was older than my children, probably about 5 or 6," Amy France shared. "He was working on something and I was giving him some encouragement. I said, 'Did anyone help you with that?' And he said, in a really confident tone, 'No, I used the power of my mind.'

"I just thought that was so sweet, and I was so encouraged by his confidence in his own capabilities and capacities. 

"For him to have such confidence, I thought to myself, 'We need to be more confident in this area,'" said France, noting that only 8 percent of the children who apply to Gillen Brewer School are accepted because of a lack of funding.

"We need to be invigorated, energized and to have hope and retain a lot of faith because there is a lot of capacity and potential in these children affected by autism."

Even though the Frances have no direct family connection to autism, they are keenly aware that their 2 1/2-year old twins, Luke and Meadow, are precisely the age many autistic children are first diagnosed. 

"To be quite honest, I became more interested in educating myself about autism when I was pregnant because I am aware of, quite frankly, an epidemic we have," Amy France explained. "One in 88 children and one in 54 boys are now diagnosed on the spectrum. So I took the time to educate myself, and through that process, I found myself saying, 'There has to be something we can do.'

"We have to dedicate resources, time and energy to finding out the underlying reason for autism and how to effectively work with autistic children.

"We don't have autistic children, but I am a parent, so I feel impacted by it. These children are going to be in our schools, in our communities. So we are all affected on some level or another."

Not only are the Frances hosting this event, but the NASCAR Foundation -- whose work is primarily focused on children and family causes -- and the Frances, personally, will be making what Brian France calls a "significant" donation to the cause.

The 2012 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award winner, Lorri Unumb, is another co-chair of the event and a member of the NASCAR community with a connection to autism. Her son is the namesake of "Ryan's Law," a bill enacted by 32 states to require insurance companies to cover treatments for autism.

Last year, the NASCAR Foundation donated $100,000 to the Autism Academy of South Carolina in honor of Unumb.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison along with some of today's stars such as Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Nelson Piquet Jr., Kyle Larson and Darrell Wallace Jr. also will be attending the gala and supporting the cause.

These drivers will join the Frances in their sincere and heartfelt motivation to make a difference.

"I am a big supporter of the school," Amy France said. "I strongly believe in education and research in the area of autism, and I think this is an area we need to be more aggressive in, in terms of providing more resource and research. It's been incredibly rewarding and I am very happy to be a part of it."

For the Frances and the NASCAR community, this hits home at a very fundamental level.

"We're all parents first," Brian France said. "So the fact, the NASCAR Foundation has its focus on children, and the fact I'm a father and Amy is a mother, by definition it strikes your heart whenever we're around children who need something to go right in their life.

"To be able to help in some small way is a big deal to us and a big deal to the sport. That's what we've got to be about."

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and wife Amy visit students at The Gillen Brewer School.

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and wife Amy visit Gillen Brewer Head of School Donna Kennedy and her students.

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and wife Amy visit Gillen Brewer Head of School Donna Kennedy and her students.