Nfld. & Labrador

Speed is the key to calm for teen race car driver with learning disabilities

The 16-year-old's family raises money for the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador while he races at Eastbound Speedway.

16-year-old Michael Neary racing in his rookie season at Eastbound Speedway

Portugal Cove's Michael Neary is racing in his first season at Eastbound Raceway. While he competes, his family raises money for the Learning Disabilities Association of N.L. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Michael Neary of Portugal Cove grew up watching racing with his family, who love the sport.

Now the 16-year-old is a racer himself as an INEX car driver racing in his rookie season in the US Legends racing series at Eastbound Speedway in Avondale.

"Everyone always looks at racing as an adrenaline sport, just something that people do just to get their adrenaline rushing," said Neary, who began to race on his own at 14 or 15, starting at the go-cart track in Torbay.

Michael Neary now races at Eastbound Speedway in the US Legends race series. (CBC)

"I don't know if it's just me or if it's like this for everyone, but racing just calms me down and lets me be me and do whatever I want."

INEX is the sport's third largest short-track sanctioning body. Competing provides a boost of confidence for Neary, who has learning disabilities.

He was first diagnosed in Grade 2, when a teacher flagged the possibility to his parents due to his inability to read or write.

Michael Neary says race car driving provides a boost of confidence for Neary, who has several learning disabilities. He was first diagnosed in the second grade, when a teacher flagged the possibility to his parents due to his inability to read or write. 2:47

In the years since, the family has received a lot of help from the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (LDANL).

Raising money for learning disabilities

Michael now races with the LDANL logo on his car. And the Nearys give back to a group that he says has helped him cope with his inability to read and supported his family over the years.

At every race, his mother and sister sell programs that introduce the racers and outline the events. They cost $2, and last year they raised $1500 for the LDANL, he said.

"It's always nice to have a reason to race and a reason to go back to the track, so we decided to give back to something that helped me out and helped my family out a lot in our lives," he said.

The association is thankful for the support, said Lynn Green, volunteer chair of the LDANL, both for the visibility and the donation itself.

"We're so proud of him, that he was kind and thoughtful and wants to give back to the learning disabilities association," Green​ said.

"The monies donated will certainly help those with learning disabilities."

'We still have a long way to go'

Having a learning disability can be a blow to your confidence, Neary said, and you tell yourself that you can't do certain things because you can't read or write.

"Racing gives me the confidence to say, I can do something that I put my mind to and I can do this and I can succeed at what I want."

Michael Neary races with the logo of the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador on his car. (CBC)

Stories like Neary's aren't unheard of — one in ten people in Canada has a learning disorder​.

Getting that diagnosis can be difficult, Green​ said, especially because a child may have more than one learning disability and the conditions may go hand-in-hand with mental health issues.

An early assessment can help get a child on the right track and ensure they get the needed modifications to support them, but there are still barriers within the school system to overcome.

Michael Neary's mother and sister sell race programs at the events. (CBC)

"Unfortunately, even today our teachers don't always have the education that they need to recognize the learning disabilities and know how to accommodate," Green said. "It's getting a lot better than it was, but we still have a long way to go."

Ultimately, parents need to become strong advocates for their children, Green said.

"The biggest advice I can give is to trust your gut. If you know something's not quite right, you're probably right."

Racing is a source of confidence for him, Michael Neary says. (CBC)

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Here & Now