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Bonne Terre Races Raise Needed Funds for Hope 4 Autism

Thursday, 09 May 2024

BONNE TERRE, MO — There were specific winners on the race track, but it was truly a case of everyone being a winner when IHRA-member track Bonne Terre Drag Strip hosted the ninth annual “Autos 4 Autism” drag race on April 20.

It is described as a drag racing event which increases funding to help individuals with autism learn vocational and social skills through Visions of Hope Training Program. Tonya Johnson, Board President for Hope 4 Autism, explained the Bonne Terre races have become the biggest fundraiser of the year for the program.

Around the same time she joined Hope 4 Autism, Johnson got involved in a competition with Car Chix which celebrates women in motorsports. Johnson promised if she was one of the winners of the competition and featured in the Car Chix calendar, she would do this race for a cause that’s near and dear to her heart.

“I ended up placing in the top 12 and from that, we’re going to do a big drag race and raise money,” Johnson said. “I thought it would be a one-time thing. We did our first event the following April, which is Autism Awareness Month and the beginning of the drag racing season in Missouri. We were very blessed that first year and over the years it’s grown where a lot of people know us from Autos 4 Autism.”

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Through the Car Chix competition, she met and formed a close friendship with IHRA Director of Racer Relations Staci Kettles who has become a huge supporter of the Autos 4 Autism event. Johnson praised Kettles and the staff at Bonne Terre Drag Strip for all they’ve done to help the program.

“I was a spectator at Bonne Terre when it was a sand drags track,” Johnson said. “Jarrod Keen, who is the track owner, made it into the paved 1/8-mile drag strip it is today. Jarrod has been beyond a blessing and his staff have been amazing. They promote it and everybody asks about it. Staci grew up a drag racer and she has always welcomed me with open arms. She’s helped us so much.”

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Johnson was pleasantly surprised how others in the racing community embraced the event. She laughs when looking back at the first flyer that she describes as thrown together on a word document. Now, they’ve got a separate Facebook page devoted to Autos 4 Autism, while the Hope 4 Autism website gives greater detail about the overall program.

Prior to her involvement, Johnson was a corporate trainer for a large insurance company. She became involved in the cause through one of her best friends who co-founded Hope 4 Autism. She was there with her friend whose child was diagnosed with autism and saw how it affected families financially.

She cited a case of a service dog for the child and how fast the expenses added up. The support is greatly needed as it’s quickly revealed those with autism often have a specific talent or ability that can be tapped into. The program, which serves teens and young adults, helps find the ways they learn and the areas they excel at.

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They’re empowered through vocational and social opportunities to help them lead a fuller life. There are different ways you can get involved in supporting this great program.

Click here to check out the Autos 4 Autism Facebook page with plenty of fantastic photos from this great event. Also check out the Hope 4 Autism website for more information about this program. 

Bonne Terre Drag Strip has more great events coming up. Keep up with the latest news here on the track’s Facebook page.

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