Up to speed

Only 16 and diagnosed with autism, Adam Parker is preparing to take on grown men as the youngest ever driver to compete for the Honda Civic Type R Trophy

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“Adam became mute. He wouldn’t talk. He didn’t want to leave the house,” recalls his mother, Maxine. “If we did have to leave the house for some reason, he used to curl up in a ball in the footwell of the car so that nobody could see him.”

Adam Parker, a young motor racing driver from Heywood, Greater Manchester, made his first step into car racing three years ago. But his journey has been far from simple.

At a young age, Adam was diagnosed with high functioning autism, struggling with large crowds and loud noises. Primary school was no problem, as he was supported throughout, but everything changed when he made the step to secondary school.

“For about three months, it went well until everyone started picking on me,” Adam, now 16, says.

He was excluded from friendship groups, with children bullying him for being different. Eventually, five students beat Adam, kicking him on the ground.

Maxine and his father Andrew took Adam to be home-schooled until they could find a better place for him.

“I remember there were times when he would curl up in a ball, hide under his bed rocking and hum,” says Maxine. “He’d got to the point where he’d whisper to me. He wouldn’t speak to anybody.

“He’d go to the extent of putting a balaclava over his face, a hat on his head and a coat zipped up so all you could see was his eyes. He didn’t want anyone to see him. He felt safer.”

“It was shit, wasn’t it,” Andrew adds.

Adam was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, struggling to leave the house and scared the boys who attacked him would come back.

He and his family eventually got out during the summer to an event raising money for a family member.

“It was a bit of a joke,” Andrew laughs. “I ended up being the auctioneer, stood in front of a room full of people and my family were bidding on these tickets.

“I was trying to get other people to bid, because I knew that it would be me paying for it!”

Among these prizes were two VIP tickets to Team Karting in Rochdale. Andrew bid on the tickets and won them, not understanding that this would change his son’s life.

Adam would jump into a kart, racing his brother Aaron, dominating the track and leaving his brother in the dust.

“It was like a lightbulb moment,” Maxine says. “He just took to it. He fitted in. He was happy. Not only was he happy, but he was really good at it.

 “He cut the track to try and keep up with me, but he couldn’t catch up.”

“That enabled him to start going from the reclusive person that he’d become and slowly interacting with the other lads on a Saturday morning.”

The owner of the track, Matty Street, became Adam’s driving coach, training him to become a driver around the circuit. Matty had an idea to drive behind Adam with a camera on the front of the car, capturing up-close footage to send to potential sponsors. “He couldn’t keep up,” Adam says excitedly. “He cut the track to try and keep up with me, but he couldn’t catch up.

“He went out in a car to try and get a lap time, and I beat it on my second lap. He said it was the car, so he went out in my car and went two seconds slower.

Racing has given Adam something to help him get out of a dark place in his life. But most importantly, it’s given something he can enjoy.

“It’s exciting,” he says about waiting in his car for a race to start. “When you’re waiting for the lights to change, it takes too long. It feels like hours.

“You can sit there relaxing for a bit, then they’ll show you a five second board and that’s when you know you need to start concentrating.”

With this potential, Adam started racing in competitions. In 2020, he finished eleventh in the National Karting Championship before moving into car racing at just 14 years old.

Andrew Parker with the car his son’s racing in this year. Main photo: Adam Parker doesn’t even hold a driving license but can compete on the fastest tracks

Stepping into the Junior Saloon Car Championship, the team rose through the pack to score good results.

“Our single goal at the start was not to be last,” Andrew says. “And we got to our first race, and we weren’t last. We were over the moon. He got a few overtakes.

“We went from being the team that everyone felt sorry for, and people would tell us how to set the car up and help us out.

“As time went on, people were less helpful because we started beating them. They started coming to us. When we got to the end, we were regularly in the top ten.”

Adam continued for two years, learning his craft, and working with his parents and coach to become a better racing driver. But at the same time, he was also improving off track. Thanks partly to the confidence that racing had given him, Adam had moved back to education, at Rossendale School, and has a conditional offer from Myerscough College to study motorsport engineering.

“It’s saved him from a very dark place,” Maxine says. “He shut a lot of what happened out because it was so difficult.

“So it’s definitely saved him from being a child who wouldn’t leave the house, being treated for PTSD. Now he’s confident, sociable, he’s got friends. He’s doing quite well.”

After years of racing in junior ranks, Adam and his family are now preparing to break into their first season in adult racing, the Honda Civic Type R Trophy, beginning on 15 April.

Adam will be the youngest driver ever to race in the series, not even holding a legal driving license, and will soon be driving a machine with 200 horsepower at some of the fastest tracks in the country.

“We’re going to be racing with actual adults soon,” Andrew says. “We’re going to rock up with a 16-year-old autistic kid and a second-hand car that we’ve bought, and we’re going to try and compete with them. It’s bonkers! Who’d have thought that was a good idea?”

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