Indomitable: Cerebral Palsy Doesn’t Keep Bryan Narducci From Familiar Family Success

Bryan Narducci

Bryan Narducci

STAFFORD – Handicap.

Mention the word to 15-year old Stafford Motor Speedway Limited Late Model division rookie Bryan Narducci and he’s most likely to talk about the system used by most short tracks to arrange the starting fields for racing events.

Using the word “handicap” defined as a physical impediment standing in the way of progress or success? Most definitely not a definition Narducci subscribes to.

Narducci it seems was predetermined by genetics to be a racer, one could say even destined by bloodlines to be a winner someday at Stafford Motor Speedway.

And the 15-year old from Colchester has never allowed his cerebral palsy to stand in the way of living up to that destiny. On Friday nights at Stafford Speedway Narducci wrestles a 3,100 pound car around the half-mile oval, in essence laughing in the face of doctors who once told his parents he might never even walk.

“I don’t even think about it,” Narducci said of his disability. “ It’s not even in my head. Its just part of life.”

Said his mother, Missy Pearl: “The doctors they said ‘We don’t know if he’ll ever walk.’ So when he started racing that was like the miracle kind of thing. It’s in the blood though. How can he not race?”

Talk to those close to Narducci and most often brought up by many when it comes to his nature and personality is a burning competitive drive to win. A battling nature that has literally been part of him since the second he was born, fighting back from near death twice within weeks of his birth.

BORN TO RACE

Narducci’s maternal grandfather is legendary Southern New England driver Jerry Pearl, a former championship winning Modified driver at Stafford Speedway and the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.

His paternal grandfather, Ron Narducci Sr., is a New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer who was a standout at Stafford in the 1960’s when the track was still dirt.

His father, Ron Narducci Jr. competed in upper level kart racing for decades and also raced Legends cars.

His uncle Jeff Pearl is a former Modified champion at the Speedbowl and his uncle Greg Narducci is a longtime crew chief and crew member with NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams.

“Racing is just in my blood,” Bryan Narducci said. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s all I know.”

Said Ron Narducci Jr.: “He’s overcome all kinds of adversity. He’s so resilient. He doesn’t let anything bother him. That’s all he’s ever wanted to do is race. He’s a great kid. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s determined. He just doesn’t let anything bother him.”

As fate would have it for a child born of horsepower bloodlines, Bryan Narducci nearly began life at a racetrack, albeit dangerously early.

Missy Pearl was just over six months pregnant ready to attend the Turkey Derby in November of 2000 with her then husband Ron Narducci Jr., who was slated to compete in a Legends car race at the event.

“We practiced on Friday [November 24, 2000] and then we went to dinner and I woke up at 2 or 3 in the morning and I was like ‘Oh I don’t feel good.’ and I was in labor,” Missy Pearl said. “Basically they threw me in the backseat of the car and off we went.”

Bryan Narducci was born 11 weeks premature. He weighed 3.13 pounds at birth. He spent the first five weeks of his life at the Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune City, N.J.

“So Christmas Eve we were going to bring him home and I went to feed him and all of the sudden he just stopped breathing,” Missy Pearl said. “You know when they clear the room? That happened. And they brought him back. He died and they brought him back.”

On New Years Day 2001 he was released from the hospital and the family returned to Connecticut. Then in mid-February he had to fight for his life once again.

“I hadn’t left his side,” Missy Pearl said. “My mom was like ‘I’m taking you to dinner.’ So I left him with his father and I was out and I got a phone call from his father and he said: ‘He stopped breathing again, you’ve got to come home, he’s in the ambulance.’ So they had to do CPR again to bring him back. We lost him twice. So, he’s a miracle baby.”

And in those first few months of life, Missy Pearl had immediate concerns.

“I kept saying, ‘Something is wrong, something is wrong, he’s not sitting up.’” Missy Pearl said. “And the doctors were like ‘Well he was 11 weeks premature.’ There was always something they’d say. ‘I was like, he’s six months old and he’s not sitting up.’ They were always like ‘Give it time.’ Nine months old, still not sitting up. ‘I’m like, something is wrong.’ Fifteen months, we went to the Children’s Hospital and they diagnosed him with cerebral palsy.”

Cerebral palsy is defined as: “A group of permanent disorders of the development of movement and posture, causing activity limitation, that are attributed to non-progressive disturbances that occurred in the developing fetal or infant brain.” For Bryan Narducci the effect visually is an exaggerated walking gait and some loss of movement or flexibility in joints of his lower extremities.

“He was almost two and half years old when he started to even walk with braces,” Missy Pearl said. “Then he had braces on his legs until he had surgery when he was in fourth grade. They reconstructed both legs. They took the muscle from the back and put them in the front. It was crazy. He was nine years old then.”

After the surgery doctors told Bryan Narducci that they thought he was physically able to race. And at nine years old he began racing in the Tiger B class as part of the Ceric Fabrication Karting Series run on Monday nights at Stafford Speedway.

“My first race I was going for the lead on the last lap and … ended up spinning out,” Bryan Narducci said. “I was pretty mad. I think it was like the third or fourth race that I got my first win and that was pretty awesome.”

After six years competing in the go-kart Bryan Narducci was itching to make a move into a higher level division of racing.

“I’m just thinking since the beginning of last year: ‘I’ve got to get him into something.’ Missy Pearl said. “He’s been bugging me since day one for Legend car and I refused to do that. So I was like ‘I’ve got to work something out, I’ve got to find a way to put him in a big car.’”

Last year former Stafford Speedway Limited Late Model driver David Arute was readying to make the jump from that to division to the SK Light Modified division and was looking for a young driver in the karting ranks to take over his Limited Late Model seat under the guidance of crew chief and longtime SK Modified division regular Todd Owen.

“I talked to David and Todd and they said if we could get a sponsor they would work it out,” Missy Pearl said. “[Mike Meyhoefer of Tick Free Organic Tick Control] was sponsoring Bryan with the go-kart and he just said ‘What do we need?’ and he came through.”

Said Bryan Narducci: “At first I was like, ‘A fendered car? I always wanted an open wheel car.’ But then I thought about it and realized it was such an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t pass it up. I was a little nervous the first time I went out on the track but after a couple laps I was like ‘This isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.’”

For mom though, there was trepidation when it came to stepping up from a kart to a full-sized racing vehicle.

“I was scared, petrified,” Missy Pearl said. “Only because he is the type of kid that – I don’t know if I want to say forgets he has a disability – but if you tell him that he can’t run over there, he’ll make a liar out of you. That was one of the things, like I have to say ‘Bryan, you have limits and you have to remember that.’

“For the longest time I made him practice getting in and out of the car. … He can’t bend like you and I. So I told him right from the start. I told him, ‘Before you race anything you have to show me you can get in and out.’ With the go-kart we practiced getting in and out, in and out. And then with the Limited [Late Model] it was the same thing. In and out, in and out, in and out, for hours. He’s like ‘Mom, I can do it.’

“It makes me nervous. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it, but he’s a kid and most kids have no fear. So that’s what I was worried, that he was going to drive it not realizing what could happen.”

HITTING THE TRACK

Bryan Narducci was ninth in his first start in the Limited Late Model division on April 23 at Stafford Speedway. Then it was up to seventh in his third race on May 27.

Owen could see the progress happening.

“He’s got the most awesome car control,” Owen said. “Even watching him in go-karts. The kid knows where’s he’s at. You watch him, he like is methodical, always planning things out. He makes kids look silly. So his ability-wise, that was never a question for me.

“He’s definitely, as far as a kid, he’s matured so much. From that first time me and his mom sat him down and told him there was an opportunity to [race the Limited Late Model], to where he is now, he’s not even the same kid. He just needed more help than the driving part. That’s the easy part in this sport. … Once we got [the car] figured out and made a couple changes, things just got rolling pretty good. I knew once the car was good he’d be good. We just had to calm him down a little bit.”

On June 27 it was a second place in his sixth start.

“I wasn’t quite sure before I went out with the car how things would go for me in it, but after I went out the first day of practice I thought we were doing pretty good,” Bryan Narducci said. “The first race, I didn’t do that bad and stayed with the pack. And every week I progressed through the pack. I was thinking, if we can keep it up and keep getting the car and I can keep adjusting to it I think we can get it done by the end of the year.”

Said Owen: “People have no idea that he can’t move his ankles. That’s amazing to me. I don’t know how he can drive as smooth as he does. Go-karts, we always thought, boom, you pedal down. But race cars, you’re not doing that? But he’s so smooth. That’s what we were all kind of worried about, how the shifting was going to go and things like that? Those throttles on those cars are long compared to what he was used to. But it wasn’t even an issue.”

And while the Friday night driving was the fun part, Bryan Narducci also quickly grasped that the driving part came with the additional responsibility of getting the car ready each week in the shop. That typically means two nights a week at Owen’s race shop working on the car.

“That’s fun to me now too,” said Bryan Narducci, who also still races a go-kart on Monday nights at Stafford in the Senior Outlaw division. “When I was little I never liked to get dirty. I never liked to do any of that stuff, working on the cars. But when I get out from under the car now at the shop, my face is black, my arms are black, there’s grease all over me, I like it. I like to be hands-on, it’s pretty cool, especially because my grandpa [Jerry Pearl] is teaching me different things working on the car. There’s nights when he can’t make it to the shop and there’s things that I never thought he’d let me do that he actually lets me work on without him there.”

Said Owen: “In this sport either you want to wrench or you want to reach. Do you want to wrench on the car or do you want to reach in your pocket and pay someone to do it? Those are the options. It’s not like soccer or baseball where you pick up a ball or glove and go play. For me it was very cool because to take a kid … its pretty cool to take him from where he was to what he has become and see the kind of person he’s becoming. You’re seeing him nurture as a person all around in the sport.

“… To see Jerry and Bryan come up twice a week to my garage, it’s just awesome. Twenty years from now Bryan is going to be fortunate enough to say that’s something he got to do with his grandfather and Jerry is just an awesome guy.”

On July 15 Bryan Narducci was on his way to Stafford Motor Speedway riding with his grandfather Jerry Pearl.

“I asked him: ‘Do you think I can win a race this year?’” Bryan Narducci said. “He said ‘I think so by the end of the year if you just keep your head in it.’

Said Jerry Pearl: “He’s very aggressive, even in the go-karts he was that way. I knew as soon as he got in a good car, which this is, I didn’t think he’d have much trouble winning.”

The wait after that conversation for that expected first victory would prove short. Literally, only hours.

On July 15, in his ninth start in the Limited Late Model division at Stafford Speedway, Bryan Narducci won his first feature at Stafford, joining both of his grandfather’s on the track’s all-time winners list.

“On the way home I said to my grandfather: ‘Hey, we actually did it.’” Bryan Narducci said. “That was just an awesome feeling.”

Said Jerry Pearl: “I’m very proud of him. When he was born, you could hold him in your hand. We didn’t even think he was going to be able to walk, never mind drive a racecar. He’s learned and advanced very well and he’s doing awesome and it’s so great to see.”

And beyond his own racing efforts, Bryan Narducci is spending every moment he can helping many of his close friends in the sport at all three Connecticut short tracks.

“I’m racing Mondays with the go-karts, then Thursdays I’m [at Waterford for open practices], Fridays at Stafford, Saturday’s [at Waterford] and them I’m usually at the shop every Wednesday and most of the time on Tuesdays also,” Bryan Narducci said. “I just love racing in every way.”

Said Missy Pearl: “He eats, sleeps, you name it, it’s all about racing. He’d be on iRacing 24/7 if I let him. If there’s a race around here, he’s there.”

Comments

  1. The Flying 70 says:

    Ron Narducci, Jr was driving for me at the Turkey Derby that weekend, and I must say that was the craziest weekend I’ve ever had at any track (I expect Missy and Ronnie feel the same way). I’m very happy things turned out the way they did, because it didn’t look really good for awhile. Go Brian!

  2. Evelyn taggart says:

    He’s a young man to be proud of. He certainly has good teachers! Love his story. Keep up the good work.

  3. Tony Leckey says:

    Awesome story about a great kid from a wonderful family. I think that there are so many others both young and old that could learn an awful lot from the example that this young man has set.

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