A race that runs outside the box

Just like in the NASCAR 500, the car race that took place Friday at Tobinworld school featured pit stops, souped-up vehicles and drivers running on adrenaline.

But in the Tobinworld 500 — an annual event held at the Glendale school for students with special needs like autism, learning disabilities and emotional disturbances — the drivers run the race, carrying homemade race car replicas around their waists as they sprint.

Educators have put the high-energy variation of the NASCAR 500 together for students since 2001, Assistant Principal Chris Lougheed said.

The event is just one of the activities held Fridays at the school to encourage students to behave well during the week, said Jeff Dye, the admissions director at the school. The school uses positive reinforcement to teach students to act appropriately, he said.

“It’s all a positive reward system,” Dye said.

Each class constructs a one-size-fits-all race car out of a cardboard box and decorates it to suit their style.

Students choose whether they want to run laps with the car, serve in the pit crew or just cheer on their teammates. The diversity of the tasks means that every student in the 300-pupil school can participate, teachers said.

Students in Sara Forghani’s class discussed their car for weeks and designed it on paper before building it out of a cardboard box. They decided to paint their ride gold, with black and gold tires made of paper plates, and name it the “Golden Nugget.”

“The kids wanted something that would stand out,” Forghani said.

Race day is a memorable experience for students and something they look forward to all year, she said.

The school’s parking lot was transformed into a race track, with black-and-white checkered flags posted at the finish line, seats set up for the audience and a path cleared for the runners around the perimeter of the lot. Students run separate races depending on their age, with children in elementary grades doing seven laps; students in the middle school grades running 10; and high school students doing 20.

The races are a flurry of motion as cars circle at different speeds, pull to the side to get their tires changed in required pit stops, or stop to change drivers.

The best part of the race is “running and getting more air,” 11-year-old Destiny Gutierrez said.

A class of high school students called The Original Ghostrider Team built a boxy, minimalist car.

“It’s faster, lighter, and it makes you run better,” said Ghostrider team member Donte Brown, 16.

The team declared victory in the race for high school students but lost the title when teachers called a three-lap race-off between the two high school finalists.

Ghostrider team member Nirandon Boonyindee, 16, ran a lap for his team, but his talents were most critical when he cheered on the sidelines, he said.

“I’m about sportsmanship. There’s no ‘I’ in team,” he said.

 ANGELA HOKANSON covers education. She may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at angela.hokanson@latimes.com.

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