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Sensory bags aim to improve Indianapolis Motor Speedway track experience

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) is packed with excitement, but for some race fans, it can be an overwhelming shock to the senses. A local non-profit is making free sensory backpacks available for the first time.

Today’s Champions have delivered over 100 sensory bags to IMS. They say this work has been 30 years in the making. their son, who has autism, inspired this work, and they hope the sensory bags removes the fear and helps others find love in racing.

The sound and reverberation is what you hear and feel first when you step inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That’s what many people wait for, but for others on the spectrum, it may be a lot to take.

“It can be kind of scary. You have fast cars and a lot of big crowds,” said Beth Hodgin, Executive Director of Today’s Champions.

That was Beth and Ben Hodgin’s son’s experience when they first started bringing him to the track 30 years ago. Early on, they realized he had a love for racing and sports, and figured out ways to let him enjoy those activities, while easing the anxiety of it.

“He has autism, and we have been coming out to the race track since he was a teeny tiny baby.”

Their work with him inspires the work they do today with their nonprofit Today’s Champions. They started sharing sensory bags.

“The main thing was definitely the headphones. They’re not fancy with music, but they definitely cancel out a lot of the noises that make people anxious, and a pair of fun sunglasses. They are plastic and can bend about in any which way, and we have two items inside the backpack that are for hands,” she said.

In partnering with IMS, they’re providing them for the first time at the track.

“How do we adapt to something that is bright, loud, and crowded with so many different things going on?” said Ben Hodgin.

Their son doesn’t need the sensory bag today, but others might. All families have to do it. Ask someone in a yellow IMS shirt to show the way.

“It’s an experience and probably a little intimidating. You’re unsure and you don’t know how folks are going to react your children or someone with you. We hope that these bags help bring more folks to the Speedway.”