GRIMES – Last weekend, 24-year-old Emily Brown traveled with her mother, Denise, to her “hometown track” – Iowa’s Action Track, the Boone Speedway – to experience the IMCA Frostbuster modified, northern sportmod, hobby stock, and stock car racing action.
But, she didn’t watch the cars as they made their full-throttled runs for the checkers out of Turn 4. Like about 1 in 6 Americans who suffer from severe vision impairment and blindness, she instead felt the racecars as they turned their laps and listened to track announcers Jerry Vansickel and Ryan Clark’s descriptions of what was happening:
“The engines make different sounds depending on which kind of car is on the track. I love the vibrations the cars make when they go by. It makes it so I can feel them when they go by. I love the announcers describing what is happing.
“I like the compact cars. They sound pretty funny.”
That’s what got Emily hooked on racing at the age of 18. Her mother first started taking her to the closest dirt track to home, the Iowa State Fair Speedway. Since its abrupt closure nearly five years ago, they have been going to Boone and a few other tracks, like Stuart International Speedway and Sports Park Raceway in Fort Dodge:
“I am adding Marshalltown, Harlan, and Vinton to my list this year.”
And while she can’t see them on the track, Emily has a number of favorite racers on the track:
“I like a lot of drivers. Some of my favorite drivers are Solomon Bennett, Daniel Hagen, Adam Tiernan, Tobie Talk – he has my favorite number – Blair Simmons, Stephen Doss, Miciah Hidlebaugh – I call him ‘Hot Dog’ because I couldn’t say his name – and Seth and Shane Butler to name a few.”
Emily says part of her disorder includes heat intolerance, which requires accommodations from racetracks like Boone Speedway. Denise says promoter Coty Mallicoat always goes above and beyond:
“Coty with Boone Speedway allowed Emily to go to VIP booth. Going to the VIP booth allows Emily to attend due to her medical health. We appreciate any chance she gets to attend the races. We hope to be able to work with more tracks to accommodate her medical needs so she can attend as you can see from her smile, it makes her day to be there in person to hear the cars, feel them go by and meet the drivers.”
Other ways racetracks can accommodate fans with disabilities or special needs is by providing a special parking area that allows them to have quick access to their medical supplies. Also, offering noise reducing headphones that can be borrowed and returned is another way to help.
There’s a way racers can help fans like Emily, too. It’s called the Braille Plate Drivers program, started by a family friend, Shelby Klinger:
“My friend Shelby Klinger started it because she knew I loved going to the races. She thought of a way for it to be accessible for the blind to know the name and number of the driver when I went to their car. It made it so I can be included as a race fan.”
Shelby started the program just last year, but it is already growing quickly around the U.S.:
“Braille Plate Drivers started last year with just 25 drivers and has now grown to over 700 in the last 6 months. It’s also in about 20 states right now and growing!
“Braille Plates allow the visually impaired to have something that’s for them at the track since they can’t see the cars like we can. The Braille plate has the driver’s first name, last name, and car number in Braille.
“Emily has been my friend for 10-plus years so it was so special to adapt racing for her and now it’s grown for others as well!”
The Braille plates have been approved by the International Motor Contest Association, so racers don’t need to worry about getting dinged on a tech inspection. Having them on the racecars has been a special treat for fans like Emily:
“[My happiest moment as a racing fan was] my night at Boone Speedway when I found out a bunch of drivers put Braille plates on their cars for me.”
Racers who would like to participate in the Braille Plate Drivers program should click HERE. Fans who are interested in supporting the program can donate to the program with all the funds going toward making and shipping plates to racers who have requested them.
Emily isn’t just a fan of racing. She’s also a racing sponsor:
“It is not about my disabilities, it’s about my abilities! I can’t see you, but I can hear you. I am not just a fan. I am a sponsor. I sponsor eight drivers.”
The eight cars Emily sponsors this season all have the “I can’t see you, but I can hear you” logo on them. Outside of getting to more tracks this year, she says her other big goals for 2021 are to sing the National Anthem a lot more and to get to ride the pace truck.
(Photos provided by Denise Brown).
For more news and information that “covers the Iowa dirt track scene,” visit www.iowaracingnews.com.