June 28, 2012
By Lee Passehl
I have raced remote control cars since I was 11. My life’s goal was winning the Tamiya North American Finals, a national championship race located in Aliso Viejo, CA. I had tried since 1998, but always came up short due to the fact that the surface I would practice on was indoors on a carpet track located in Wisconsin. When I would travel to California to race at the Tamiya North American Finals every August-September, the Tamiya America raceway was an outdoor asphalt track, a surface I had little experience running on. The local racers would always have an advantage and beat me due to the fact that they raced on this track year-round. They knew how to drive the layout of the track and how to set their car up for the asphalt surface.
(Alongside my dad in Memphis Tamiya Championship Series race in 100 degree weather in 1997.)
In August of 2008, my parents retired and my family moved to southern California, not far from the race track where the Tamiya North American Finals are held. With only five days of practice and preparation, I managed to take second place – narrowly missing the championship. If my dad and I had more time to practice, we may have won the championship.
The following year Dad and I practiced vigorously, preparing our car and ourselves to win it all. The dream became a reality in August 2009 when I crossed the finish line first in the GT2 class and earned my ticket to the Tamiya World Championship in Shizuoka City, Japan.
(Me on the victory podium at the 2009 Tamiya North American Finals.)
I practiced hard for the world championships and wanted to make sure that I came out victorious. Unfortunately, during the practice and qualifying rounds, my motor was not as fast as the competition. I requested to change my motor, but was told I could not do so. I later found out [due to a translation error] that I could have. As a result I finished 14th out of 15 racers.
(Group picture of the “GT2400” class which I competed in. I am the second person to the left in the back row with the white hat.)
Even though I didn’t do as well at the world championship that I would have liked, I am happy that I experienced the event and traveled to Japan. However, there was the feeling that my dad and I worked so hard all these years to achieve my goal only to have a poor showing because of a language barrier.
In the Tamiya Championship Series, once you win the North American Finals, you can no longer compete for the trip to Japan. You only get one opportunity. My chance of going back to Japan and the world championships were over.
From December 2009 to January 2012, my dad and I raced in many different RC car classes. I started running nitro powered cars in 2011 for a year traveling all over the west coast states to race.
(Shaw Takahashi with myself and a 5th Scale gasoline powered radio control car)
On January 10, 2012, my dad got an email informing us that the Tamiya Championship Series was now allowing past champions compete for the trip to the world championships once again. It would be in the GT-1 class, which is the fastest class for the most elite drivers in the series. Because of this new rule, I now have a new goal in life. Actually…three goals.
My first goal is to once again win the Tamiya North American Finals and return to the World Championships and do much better. But more importantly, my second goal is to learn how to work and setup my own car. I realize my dad is not going to be there with me setting up my car for the rest of my life. One day I won’t be able to depend on him to make the setup adjustments to my car. I’ll have to learn how to take care of my car and my equipment on my own.
I knew when I was younger that I couldn’t race by myself and I needed my dad for help. I was afraid of independence. Now I am more self-confident in my skills and it has motivated me to do this sport on my own. I have been going to Tamiya America raceway by myself for the past six months. My dad has come along with me a couple times this year, but I find that most of the time, I am able to work on my cars without his help. This has given me the confidence to move forward on my road to independence, both on the track and in the rest of my life. I also have to work at keeping my emotions under control. This is a new source of stress for me and all my worst habits begin to emerge. Maintaining my self-control is a hidden accomplishment just for me.
(A picture of my car that I work on, The Tamiya 417X. It’s electric powered.)
When I was younger, I wanted a lot of help from the other racers and preferred the easy way out. I also wasn’t very skilled at fixing a part on the car and it would make matters worse by either putting the part on wrong and then something gets bentor falls off. My hands would shake a lot when I was inserting the wrench into the screw or trying to insert a part. If I had to work on the car all by myself and replace every single part, I would get very overwhelmed. It was like trying to perform brain surgery. It just was too hard for me to complete the task and I would get really frustrated to the point where I would just give up and wait for my father to complete the task. But now I realize that I must find a way through the frustration and set small goals for myself so I don’t get discouraged.
I am now able to go to college by myself and my study skills have improved. Previously, I had an instructional aide with me in class. I now see a tutor, but she does not go with me to class. My attention span has also improved, as well as my fine motor skills when I am grasping the wrench. This has helped me learn how to work on my car by myself. I also don’t get as frustrated as easily and I don’t turn to dad as much for help. But I still need him for certain tasks, such as filling the shocks with oil, programing and wiring the electronics, gluing tires, and working on transmission parts. These tasks require steady hands and I’m not quite there yet.
My last goal is to learn the Japanese language. I have been taking classes at a local community college. I have gained enough understanding to hold brief conversations with online friends and practice as much as I can with many Japanese-speaking acquaintances here in SoCal. I love living here!
Topics:Living with Autism
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