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Years brothers put austim awareness on fast track
Trevor Years, left, and Eric Years are brothers to race in different classifications at Land of Legends Raceway in Canandaigua. Their goal is to win, but that goal is secondary to the effort to raise awareness for autism. (Photo: Photo by Don Romeo)
The only thing more important to Trevor Years than racing is family. And make no mistake, racing cars is important.
But when it came time to get the ink seven years ago, there wasn’t much thinking.
“It was right before Eric’s birthday,” Trevor said of his younger brother by 10 years. “I wanted to do something nice … no matter how old we get, he’s always going to be my little brother.”
The tattooed jigsaw puzzle with Eric’s name and birthdate on the underside of his left forearm is not subtle and really, it’s not meant to be. One, the bright colors help signify the pride he has in his brother who was diagnosed with Asberger Syndrome and two, the message it helps the brothers send has nothing to do with subtlety because they’re passionate about the mission they’re on.
“It doesn’t matter what dreams you have, you can do what you want in life,” Eric said during a recent visit on the porch of his grandparents’ home in Honeoye. “Nothing should stop you. Live your dreams.”
Eric, 17 and entering his senior year at Wayland-Cohocoton High School, was diagnosed at age 5 with Asperger. It’s defined on the autism spectrum as a neurodevelopmental disorder that might place difficulties and limits on things like social interaction.
But as you might expect from anyone who races cars at high speeds, limits are pushed.
“We’ve seen (autistic) kids who have trouble speaking, but can belt out a Christina Aguilera song with no problem,” says Trevor, 27, and a 2011 graduate of Geneseo High. “My big thing is surround yourself with the right people. Don’t have people around who are going to limit your dreams.”
Born into racing
The dream of auto racing started early for both Trevor and Eric, who grew up with dad and plenty of uncles at the track.
And while Trevor may be the older brother who says he’s been going to the track since he was 2 months old, younger brother Eric can at least claim victory here.
“Ten days old,” Donna Years, stepmother to the boys, said of Eric’s first exposure to racing. “He fell asleep to the sound of 600s going around the track.”
“It’s baked right into our blood,” says Trevor.
Trevor’s first race came at the age of 8 and Eric got his first race at 10, both driving go-carts made by Rich Gamrod of Honeoye. And the progression for both was what you’d expect for young drivers. Micros to 125s, to 270s and then 600s with most of the racing at Limerock Speedway in Caledonia.
But before long, the call of the big cars was too big to ignore.
It’s been three years since Trevor started racing 305s on the dirt at the Land of Legends Raceway in Canandaigua and Eric was in the seat of a sportsman modified car, but Eric’s first full season wasn’t until this year.
No doubt about it
And while the Years won’t say there was concern about Eric jumping into a car to race, there were some questions. And they centered on his focus.
As a kid, Eric wasn’t just interested in learning about the Titanic. He was consumed. Anything he could read, watch or hear about the famed ocean liner, including Titanic Legos, he digested and wanted more.
“People used to tell me he was obsessed with the Titanic,” said Donna Years. “And I said no, he’s a professional about the Titanic.”
Yet as focused as he was on specific items, there were struggles. Hyperactivity and attention deficit were the primary hurdles to overcome and today, medication helps.
“He would lose focus with certain things,” said Donna Years. “Like in school, they might be learning about trees and the leaves, but he’d start thinking about what kind of animals lived in those trees.”
Once the distraction took hold, it was hard to shake. But when it came to racing, Eric didn’t take long to show he was fully capable. And if there were a breakthrough moment that let the family know, it was the go-cart race in which Eric lost the brakes to his car.
He didn’t panic. Instead, he not only offered a display of composure, but one of knowledge. On the carts, the master cylinder part of the break system sits near the driver’s hip.
And when Eric realized the brakes were gone, he discovered that a rod part of the linkage that’s connected to the master cylinder had snapped. So he started using that rod by hand to control his braking and not only did he avoid losing control of the cart, he finished the race.
“He was 11 years old in that cart,” said Trevor. “And he kept his head like that.”
The goal, the mission
By their own admission, there hasn’t been much winning between the two at Canandaigua, although Trevor has a couple of championships from his younger days, including a USAC national sprint championship in 2017 and a 2018 Land of Legends Rookie of the Year award.
Winning remains a goal, of course, but it’s not the point. Primarily, it’s the passion. And beyond that, it’s a platform for the brothers and the entire family to educate and inform.
“As soon as Eric got his diagnosis, we wanted to do something to raise awareness,” said Trevor.
Part of that process is the paint scheme on the cars. For Trevor, the dark background on his No. 13 305 is wrapped with jigsaw puzzle pieces in bright colors. For Eric, the white background on his No. 04 car also includes the jigsaw puzzle pieces, which celebrates the complexity along with the colors, shapes and diversity of those with the condition.
The Years brothers have been part of fundraisers as well, where they can bring their cars for show and — before the pandemic — could allow young fans to jump in the seats.
One of their biggest associations is with Autism Up of Rochester and as the family explains on the YearsMotorsports.com website, it’s partial to that organization because it’s local, which is where the money raised stays.
Another big project came in Eric’s freshman year of high school, when he helped make a movie. The goal was to explain autism not only to classmates, but to parents as well.
“We wanted parents … and the kids in school to be able to understand,” said Eric.
Always the racers
It’s tough to say what the future holds for the Years brothers, but it’s not difficult to imagine that racing will be part of it.
“I love the action,” said Eric. “Side by side and the adrenaline of going 100 mph. I just love all the action it gives me.”
Both said dirt tracks will always have their hearts, although Eric wouldn’t mind giving the muscle side of himself a go in a Pontiac GTO Judge. Maybe even a Toyota Supra to appease the inner tuner.
Rest assured, though, you’ll be able to find Eric and his brother at a dirt track somewhere for years to come. And if you’re watching the sportsman modified class at the couple of remaining events this summer at Land of Legends — The Gerald Haers Memorial on Sept. 19 or the Sportsman Spectacular on Sept. 26 — you may notice Eric pushing the limits with his car set up just a little on the loose side.
“We’re both aggressive drivers,” said Trevor. “And a loose car tends to work best for Eric. He’ll whip that thing into the corner and chase that rear end all the way around.”
Whatever the setup, it seems to be working because the motivation for Eric is clear.
“I just try to get better every week,” he said. “My last race, I passed two cars. So I’m getting better and it’s building my confidence.”
That much is evident with the results out of last weekend’s races, the season finale for points at Canandaigua. Eric finished his first full season in 31st place, a solid accomplishment considering there were close to 100 cars entered in the point series. Trevor finished fourth in the 305 sprints, helped by double points that shook up the field on the final night.
The brothers plan to be back at Land of Legends in 2021 and before long, we may see Eric in a sprint car. It’s been talked about, just like all the other goals he’s set and met.
But whatever car Eric is driving, you can be sure he’ll have plenty of support.
“You want to tell any kid to shoot for the moon,” said Donna Years. “You want them to reach for as far as they can go.”
Eric Years finished 31st in the points standings for sportsman modified at Land of Legends this season, an impressive accomplishment in a field that included nearly 100 cars.