"Tell me I can’t so I can show you that I can."
That’s Armani Williams’ mantra. It has been his entire life.
The 18-year old racer from Grosse Point, Michigan, is one of the few openly autistic drivers in NASCAR. And despite various doctors telling him his goal of making it in the sport was too far fetched to become reality, he’s proving them wrong.
"When I was a little kid, I would always play with Hot Wheels," Williams recalled. "Later, I discovered something called NASCAR. And that’s when I really started getting into it. I realized it was on TV, so every time it would come on, I would watch it for hours. It always fascinated me how fast those cars were going. How cool it was. Passing people, how the winner would get a trophy at the end."
"That kind of caught my attention. From that point, I realized that’s something I was interested in and something that I wanted to do in life: be a professional race car driver."
And he did everything in his power to do exactly that, starting with go-karts at the age of 8. After attending a two-month camp learning the intricacies of racing the karts and subsequently winning races, he then quickly moved up into bandoleros. In 2016, the ARCA Truck Pro Series came calling. After a full season there, he made the transition into the type of racing he’s always wanted to pursue: stock cars.
The 2017 season had five races in Canada in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series was in store for Williams, where he scored a best finish of 11th at Ontario’s Delaware Speedway. This season, he’s made the move to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, one step closer to his ultimate goal of racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
RACING-REFERENCE: Armani Williams Career Statistics
"It was such a big deal for me because it was important for me to get the experience and as much seat time as I can," Williams said of racing in the K&N Pro Series. "Really around this business, it isn’t easy to put deals like that together. It was just important for me to go out there, learn as much as I can so that way next time I get one of these opportunities again, I can just improve on things I did last race. It was really an honor to be out there."
Williams has two races under his belt this season, resulting in a 16th-place finish at Memphis International Raceway in the K&N East and 15th at Evergreen Speedway in the K&N Pro Series West.
"The competition out west is very competitive, especially with these guys that race week in and week out," Williams said. "These are a lot of young drivers, like myself, that are trying to build up their resume and help continue to improve themselves and move up into the elite series. You see a lot of competitive drivers that work hard, and I respect that. You want to see some competition, that way it’s not easy. It kind of challenges you to race against competitive guys that are good and make you into a better race car drivers. I love that competition."
Williams spoke highly of two specific people that have helped him achieve what he has thus far in his short NASCAR career. They’ve supported him endlessly, but in different ways.
"My dad was really the one who supported my racing efforts right away," Williams said of his first time racing in Jackson, Michigan. "As soon as I told him I wanted to be a NASCAR driver, he stuck with the plan and helped me whenever he could. My dad has done such an excellent job and has been a big supporter as well as my family motivating me. Without him, I wouldn’t have gotten to this point. It’s really important you have someone to kind of build you up and support you. I can’t thank him for that enough."
On the track, he grew close to D.J. Kennington, the 2010 Pinty’s Series champion. Running only five races last season, Williams was able to gather a wealth of information from the St. Thomas, Ontario, native that he’s take into the cockpit with him ever since.
"He’s just a great guy to guide you through things," Williams said of Kennington. "Learn more about the cars, learn about the racing, what stuff you do and don’t have to do. It’s nice to lean on a guy who’s been around the sport, who’s a champion and has participated in the Cup Series. He knows his way around."
Williams is looking at opportunities to run the next K&N Pro Series event at Gateway Motorsports Park, the second of two combination events between the K&N East and K&N West, as well bigger one-mile tracks like New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway on the East side.
But regardless of how many races he runs and where he finishes, Armani Williams is doing something every single day that many people can’t say.
He’s living his childhood dream and having fun doing it.
"Some people can tell you you can’t, some people can believe in you and tell you you can," Williams said. "For me, I know what my abilities are. I know I can drive a race car and I’m just trying to show people that I can do the things I wanted to do in life and achieve my dreams. I want to help people that have a disability, whether it be autism or any other disability. To show them that you can achieve your dreams if you just put in hard work, be committed and just show the determination that you can be successful in life. You can do the things you want to do. I’ve always believed that and it’s always motivated me whenever I go out on the race track and do what I do."
"For me, it’s really been a long journey," Williams said. "It’s something that I want to continue throughout my career and keep moving forward."