The gift supports vocational skills training provided through the Transition Academy.
Fueled by a personal desire to serve the autism community, Lubbock racing enthusiast Bryant Blakemore transformed his adventure at a legendary Nevada off-road race into a generous contribution to Texas Tech University's Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research.
Blakemore raised more than $11,500 for the center in March through a pledge drive during the 2023 Mint 400 race in Las Vegas. A total of 71 donors committed to contribute a predetermined amount for each mile of the grueling 400-mile race that Blakemore completed.
Blakemore presented the gift on May 25 and announced the establishment of the Taquache Motorsports Vocational Skills Fund, which will support vocational and job skills training provided through the Burkhart Center's Transition Academy. Blakemore said he was inspired to start the pledge drive last year after he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and learned about the Burkhart Center.
"I felt an immediate calling to help in whatever way I could, using my passion in off-road racing to be of service," he said.
Blakemore said he battled “treacherous and difficult terrain” that battered his body and caused the engine to catch on fire during the first of four 100-mile laps. Blakemore was able to put out the fire and continue, but another problem appeared during the second lap. One of the engine-cooling fans broke apart, causing major damage to the radiator. Blakemore was forced to drop out of the race after completing 175 miles.
After returning to Lubbock and gathering the donations, Blakemore drove his repaired race truck to the Burkhart Center to speak to Transition Academy students about his experience and present a giant check. He also invited Kiki Kung – a fellow racer, Taiwanese television presenter, business owner and entrepreneur who is neurodivergent – to share her inspiring life story with the students. Before leaving, Blakemore gave the academy a signed piece of his truck's fender. He said he planned to build a better truck and complete the Mint 400 in 2025.
"I want to continue to work with the Burkhart Center on bridging the gap between individuals with autism and employment opportunities," Blakemore said. "In my profession, where I drill horizontal oil wells, I recognize the unique value of my way of thinking. I want to show employers that although people with autism may have some quirks, they'll be the best employees you can possibly have when paired in an industry that piques their interests."
Vocational and job skills training helps students to discover their strengths, develop resumes and portfolios, prepare for job interviews, experience hands-on internships, understand workplace etiquette, gain time management skills and foster a solid work ethic.
The Transition Academy is a non-residential program for young adults with ASD that teaches job and social skills that lead to competitive employment, as well as life skills that enrich the overall life experience.