Armani Williams was born in Michigan and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 2. Like many children with autism, he was nonverbal during his early years. Autism is a brain disorder that affects 1 in 68 children in the United States, and 1 in 42 males. People with autism experience lifelong challenges in learning, socialization, and behavior, as well as many associated medical problems.
Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is the fastest-growing developmental disability. Given these epidemic numbers in the United States, almost every individual knows or cares about someone who is affected by autism.
His parents, Del Williams and Irena Politano, didn’t know much about autism when doctors diagnosed him.
“I asked, ‘OK, what kind of therapy will he need, how long is this going to last’ — that was my thought process,” Del Williams says. “I remember them responding to me saying, ‘Mr. Williams, we don’t think you understand exactly what this.’ So we did some research, and as we did, our thoughts became, what would independent life look like for him as he got older — would he be able to ride a bike, drive a car, go to the prom — all the things that parents want for their kids.”
Racing turned on a light switch for Armani
Armani was shy as a child and presented with extreme struggles just participating in daily life with his peers. However, when his parents told him he had autism, he began to better understand himself and realized that he represented a large group of people. Amani’s love of racing began when he was 4 after being mesmerized by what he was seeing on TV. He officially began racing at age 8 and a light switch was turned on. At the end of the first session, Armani stated, “Dad, I understand.” From that moment, Armani’s family recognized that he had a special ability to drive and that they would do anything to make it happen.
Armani has always loved to go fast. When his parents enrolled him in a two-week course designed to help autistic children learn to ride a bicycle, Armani mastered it in one day.
“I found a love for NASCAR at an early age,” Armani said in an interview with the Free Press. “What really appeals to me about racing is how fast the cars go — these cars are going 170, 180 miles an hour. I couldn’t even imagine what it was like to go that fast. And then just how cool the cars looked. That’s how I found my love of racing. That’s what I wanted to do in life.”
Around age 16, Armani was invited to a NASCAR drivers diversity program, where “he did well enough that they placed him in what at the time was called Canadian Tire series, now it’s called Pinty’s series,” his father shares. “In Armani’s first race, he had just turned 17.”
He has continued to demonstrate incomprehensible talent on the track, competing first in go-karts, then bandalero type vehicles, followed by late models, the ARCA Truck Pro Series, and the NASCAR Driver for Diversity Combine. Armani is the first NASCAR driver openly diagnosed on the autism spectrum. He also broke records by becoming the highest finishing African American in a series race and the highest finishing African American in the ARCA Truck Pro Series championship in 2016. To date, Armani has 18 wins and 2 championships.
The future is bright
After several years of success and perseverance, Armani is now