Jason Cherry is a personable young man from Annapolis, Maryland. He was born there, raised there, received his education there, and still resides there with his family. This eighteen-year-old appears to be fairly typical for his age upon first meeting. Typical, in the sense that he enjoys hanging out with his girlfriend and spends a majority of his days as a full-time student working on a degree in business and marketing. He likes spending time on the beach, riding his dirt bike, fishing, and hunting with his dad. However, when you dig a little deeper, you find a young man that has aged way beyond his eighteen years, a young man with a purpose, a young man dedicated to a cause.
Cherry’s introduction to the world of motor sports began with watching friends ride dirt bikes. “Growing up, most of my friends were older than me.” Cherry related. “They all had dirt bikes and I grew up watching these guys blasting around in the woods out back of my house.” As a young man wanting to keep up with his peers, Cherry solicited his parents for a dirt bike of his own. This idea, at the time, didn’t sit well with his mom, and in the end, mom had the final word, no.
Cherry’s dad, Michael, a long time motor head, could see the desire in his son’s eyes. That unexplainable need for speed; the craving to test a few boundaries and discover just where one’s limitations actually are.
With this in mind, Michael arrived home one afternoon with an off-road buggy. “I thought Jason and I could spend some good father-son time putting this thing together,” Michael said. “I figured this might be something the whole family might enjoy once we got it together.” This little eleven horsepower, off road buggy provided the family with many hours of enjoyment, “We were pretty hard on that thing,” Michael laughed.
After spending time in the buggy, Cherry again lobbied his folks for a dirt bike. His friends had now graduated to motocross. And, of course, he didn’t want to be excluded from all the fun. After some thoughtful deliberation and reflection, the decision was made to purchase a 250cc trail bike that young master Cherry could use to hone his motocross skills.
Shortly thereafter, at the ripe old age of 13, Cherry entered his first competitive motocross event. He then advanced to running endurance events where the goal was to run as many laps as possible in a given time frame. By all accounts, Cherry did very well considering his experience and time on the bike. “I didn’t get on the bike until I was 13 years old,” Cherry recalls. “Everyone I was running with started much younger. And, of course, they had a bit more experience.”
After a three-year span running the endurance events, Cherry thought briefly about going to Moto GP. Instead, he opted to go with something with four wheels, seat belts, and a roll bar. In 2013, Cherry attended and successfully completed the Bertil Roos two day advanced racing school. Upon the completion of the school, Cherry earned his regional competition license with the SCCA. He ran a number of events in the Formula Continental Division within the northeast region.
He competed at the American Road Race of Champions, sanctioned by the Atlanta region of the SCCA at Road Atlanta, and brought home a very respectable second place finish. To fulfill the requirements of his full competition license, Cherry entered the SCCA double regional at the Motor Sports Ranch near Houston Texas. After some initial struggles, Cherry finished first in both Formula Continental events during the race week end.
Entering the 2014 race season, Cherry joined forces with James Lee Racing out of Miami, Florida for the sole purpose of gaining experience behind the wheel of a race car. This additional seat time proved to be very valuable in Cherry’s racing education. Lee remarked, “Jason did a great job for me. He listened well and provided really good feedback on what the car was doing.” Cherry drove both legs of the SCCA Winter Nationals in Lee’s Formula Ford. “I think the race at Sebring was a real test for Jason [Cherry],” Lee offered. “We had a rash of engine problems but Jason remained positive throughout the weekend.” Even with the ill power plant Cherry managed a very respectful top-five finish. The following weekend at Palm Beach, Cherry showed what he had learned the previous week-end and brought home a solid runner-up finish.
“I was hoping he would stay with the open wheel cars,” Lee remarked. Jason and his family had discussed staying with open wheel cars but after weighing their options, it was decided that Cherry should make the progression to a full-fender race car. Following what could only be considered as a very successful Winter Nationals, Cherry sold his Formula car and purchased a Mazda MX-5 with plans to take on the TCA class with the Pirelli World Challenge Series. This move into a professional touring series would be a revelation for the young man. It would change his entire outlook on the sport and allow him an opportunity to bring awareness to a cause, a cause that Cherry feels deeply obligated and 100-percent committed to. It’s one he considers to be a personal calling and something that he knows all too well: Autism.
Cherry grew up the younger sibling to his adopted elder brother, Matthew. Matthew, as described by his adoptive mother, is a very complex individual and suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In addition, he was also diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Growing up with a severely developmentally disabled sibling, Cherry often found himself on the receiving end of his elder brothers often disruptive, and sometimes violent, behaviors. “I was afraid of Matthew when I was little,” Cherry recalls. “His behaviors, at the time, were very explosive.”
Growing up with a sibling diagnosed with ASD presented certain challenges that Cherry said were often “fearful and beyond overwhelming.” As Cherry aged, he began to have a better understanding of the illness his brother suffered from.
“I developed compassion not just for Matthew, but for all individuals with special needs.” Cherry’s mother once told him when he was still very young that a day would come when he would truly understand and become a great advocate for those with disabilities. “That day is here,” Cherry affirms.
Throughout the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge series race season, Cherry campaigned his MX-5 and used his exposure to bring awareness to this devastating illness that affects more than 3.5 million Americans and nearly one-percent of the entire world’s population. During his first introduction into the world of professional motorsports, Cherry easily recognized the platform this sport provided him to combine his love for racing with the ability to strengthen and bring awareness to the cause for Autism.
Cherry is currently partnered with the Autism Society of America (ASA) as one of their exclusive race drivers. The Autism Society is dedicated to assisting individuals with Autism and to improve and maintain their quality of life. As with any organization of this type, funding is critical to maintain the programs they offer. Cherry has a personal goal to help create and fund new programs through his racing efforts. Such programs will directly benefit the siblings of those living with ASD.
“People don’t realize the impact, living with autism can have on a family, more specifically, the siblings,” Cherry states. “The extensive costs related to providing for a child with ASD can drain the financial assets of the family and often deny the other siblings of needed services or education.”
Cherry will continue his efforts throughout 2015 and all money raised through his ASA/Jason Cherry Racing Fund will go directly to help fund new programs dedicated to three distinct areas of need.
- A scholarship to provide money for education of affected siblings.
- A fund to provide monies for respite service for affected families.
- A fund and establish a board and forum to provide support to siblings impacted by ASD on a national, and global level.
Jason Cherry is a young man that is truly exceptional. With an unmatched drive and dedication, it would be a safe bet to say he will succeed at anything he sets his mind to. Whether it’s on the race track or working tireless hours as an advocate for those with developmental disabilities, Jason Cherry is definitely an example of what a positive role model truly is.
For additional information on Cherry’s 2015 racing efforts and how you can help to bring awareness to autism, visit his website at www.jasoncherryracing.com.