Neurodiverse Teens Restore A Vintage Bentley To Race Across Mexico
Mexico Or Bust hopes to improve understanding of teens and adults who are different and celebrate what they can achieve
Cars have long fostered the forming of many communities, whether they be individual model clubs, brand loyalists or general car gals and guys. A great story in particular centers around a single 1993 Bentley Continental: R. Tom Webster, former partner and creative director at Mother, dreamed of owning this model and parted with most of his savings to buy the car several years ago. It wasn’t in the best condition and Webster dropped the car off at JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts owned by John Elder Robison, a noted east coast Bentley restorer. Robison, also a The New York Times best-selling author, lives with Asperger syndrome and has written about his experiences with autism. He started a program with a Tri-County School’s special-ed automotive program to teach automotive mechanics and restoration to neurodiverse teenagers.
The teens were helping work on Webster’s car when he visited to check on progress and realized they all had something in common. Webster himself along with his son are neurodiverse with ADD/dyslexia and he realized there was potential with this project to do something great.
Webster hatched an idea with Robison about involving the teens to prepare the car to race in the historic La Carrera Panamericana, a nearly 1,900 mile road race across Mexico. From that point on, Mexico Or Bust was born.
The project aims to spread awareness and spark conversation about neurodiversity and autism by showcasing the extraordinary talents of teenagers beyond their disabilities.
Plus, it just so happens, that this will mark the first time a Bentley has ever competed in the event. The completed car was debuted in January 2017 at the Manhattan Classic Car Club. Bentley got news of the project and offered financial support as well as donated parts.
PSFK got to ask John Robison how the teens felt about being involved in the project.
“The students are really proud to be part of this program, and the idea that Bentley supports us is very cool indeed.”
For Robison, the Mexico Or Bust program is part of a vision he’s had for a long time.
“As an autistic adult I have made a commitment to help other young people grow up with pride in being different, not shame. I want this generation to be one of the first in a long time to achieve its potential. For me, the most rewarding thing is seeing young people really find their gifts. I speak about this in some of my past books such as ‘Look Me in the Eye.'”
The overall goal of the project is to expand the resources available for the Trip-County Schools programs. With more funds, the programs can continue and involve more teens in need.
Robison talked about some sobering stats that give context to the importance of this project.
“Autism affects 1 in 68 kids and is really tough for teenagers growing up. Often marginalized because of their differences, autistic kids’ suicide rates are 9x higher than normal. I wanted to show these gifted young people that even if you had a tough childhood, you can still grow up and have a good life.
I would like to see us develop a path where young people can finish high school with us and then move smoothly into good-paying work in the auto field, or move on to college. I’d also like to see us teach the same life skills but in other trades, like construction and computer repair and network setup. For instance, we have a culinary program at our Easthampton campus that I’d like to see partner with companies and brands as well.”
Correction: Tom Webster and his son have ADD/dyslexia and are not autistic as the article previously stated. It has been updated to reflect the change.
Photos: Dave Pinter