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Racer Michael Neary and his family find a way to give back to program that supported them

Racing has become a family affair for the Nearys at Eastbound International Speedway in Avondale. Michel Neary (centre) does all the driving while sister Michelle (left) spends race days in the pits serving as crew chief for Michael Neary racing and dad Carl is the man on the wrench making sure the No. 23 car is ready to race. Not shown is mom Juliana, who is in charge of selling programs at the track in support of the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Racing has become a family affair for the Nearys at Eastbound International Speedway in Avondale. Michel Neary (centre) does all the driving while sister Michelle (left) spends race days in the pits serving as crew chief for Michael Neary racing and dad Carl is the man on the wrench making sure the No. 23 car is ready to race. Not shown is mom Juliana, who is in charge of selling programs at the track in support of the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Michael Neary leads the way in …?

How would you finish that sentence?

There are a number of scenarios that could play out that include leading the field into turn one, making a run at leading the points in his division and leading the way in raising funds for a program that has made a huge difference in his life.

The Bandolero racing class driver at Eastbound International Speedway finished runner-up in his division following the season’s final race on Sunday.

But that, as they say, is secondary to what he and his family have accomplished for the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (LDANL).

Michael was diagnosed with a learning disability in Grade 2. This was something new to the family and they were unsure what steps to take to correct these issues.

“Michael’s teachers told us about the Learning Disabilities Association of NL. We met with them and started him in their reading program. Michael completed three years of tutoring with great success,” his mother Juliana Neary said.

In addition to his improved reading, Michael became more confident in his abilities, and more independent.

“The staff had a way to make him feel good about his strengths while coaching him to improve on his weaknesses,” she said.

“They made reading fun. In addition to the tutoring program, the LDANL also helped with resources and made sure we had what we needed to ensure Michael was equipped in school to succeed.”

So when Michael, a Grade 11 student at Prince of Wales Collegiate in St. John’s, started racing, he decided he wanted to find a charity he could be associated with to help make a difference in someone else’s life.

He went through the shopping list of the usual suspects that he deemed to be all worthy candidates, but in the end he chose the LDANL because of the impact it had on his life.

“Growing up, I always had difficultly reading and writing and school in general. Because of that I really wasn’t succeeding,” Michael said.
“In Grade 5 my parents signed me up for tutoring at the Learning Disabilities (Association) in St. John’s. I was there for three years and it helped me with my confidence and with my ability to read and write. For that, I wanted to give back to something that helped me along the way.”

It was not lost on the teenager how it felt to do something good for others … and for himself.
“Just proving that just because you have a learning disability, it’s not going to stop you from achieving your dreams. You shouldn’t be ashamed of who you are,” he said.

Program fundraiser

And because of the family’s gratitude, they sat down — Michael, his sister Michelle, mother Juliana and dad Carl — and came up with an idea that would support the LDANL.

“Promoting LDANL on the hood of Michael’s car was obvious, but what more could we do to support them within the racing community?” Juliana said.

She and her husband Carl approached Eastbound Speedway and pitched the idea of creating a race program to sell at the track each race. The idea was approved and their fundraising effort was started.

Each race Michael’s dad, Carl, is in the pits working on the cars. His sister Michelle also spends race day in the pits, selling race programs and also manages Michael’s Facebook page, and Juliana is in charge of sales.

Michelle, a first-year student at Memorial University, said being involved with a family venture is great.

“Nobody had any idea who they were watching at the track so this was the perfect idea to help everyone who goes to the races,” Michelle said.

“Mom does the program, updating it each week, prints it at the house, staples it together and then sells it at the track for $2. All the money goes to the LDANL and mom loves doing it,” Michelle said.
She said a lot of people realize it is for a good cause and instead of just purchasing a program, they also make a donation, knowing it is going to a worthy cause.

In total, the Nearys’ venture garnered $1,573, more than 50 per cent greater than the initial goal of $1,000, for the LDANL.

The Neary family made the presentation to the association’s executive director David Banfield Sunday afternoon.

How did you start in racing?
I always watched racing on TV. My whole family enjoys NASCAR. In 2015, a go-kart track opened and Dad signed me up for competitive go-kart racing. I like oval track racing better since that is what I grew up watching, so we made the decision to start racing at Eastbound International Speedway in the Bandolero racing class.

What are your goals for racing?
My short-term goals are to win a U.S. legend championship and race in the IWK 250 at Riverside Speedway in Antigonish, N.S. My long-term goal is to competitively race in North Carolina, the oval track capital, with the best drivers.

Who is your favourite driver?
My favorite NASCAR driver right now is Ryan Blaney because he grew up racing. He is the new guy in NASCAR and is doing quite well. My favourite local driver is Josh Collins because he has shown that Newfoundlanders can be competitive and able to race in higher levels of NASCAR.

What grade are you attending at PWC?
I am in Grade 11.

What are your plans for after high school?
I plan to go to college and get a mechanics degree.

Has being involved in racing helped you in school?
Yes, because it allowed me to write essays and answer questions on exams. Before racing I couldn’t think of anything to write about and now I have lots to write about. It also makes me want to do well in school because if I don’t do well in school I am not going to be able to race.

How did you do at the Inex Winter Nationals in Florida?
I did OK for being a rookie at the Winter Nationals. It gave me a good opportunity to learn how to approach cars, pass cars and even be passed by other cars. I learned how to read and react to other drivers and be able to predict what their next move was going to be. I also made a lot of great friends while I was down there.

Is racing outside of Newfoundland something you would consider in the future?
Yes, most definitely. To experience different tracks and drivers gives you more variety and experience rather than just racing on one or two tracks with the same drivers. This allows me to learn the different racing styles of different drivers. As of right now, for next year we are planning to go to the INEX winter nationals again and do some racing in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick next summer.

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