In 2018, we introduced you to Chris Thorburn’s son, Bennett.
Bennett was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, which left the Thorburn family with plenty of challenges as Chris traveled throughout North America for his hockey career. Autistic children often need structure and routine – and having his dad home for a handful of days and then gone for a handful of others certainly posed its difficulties.
“I know my son needs consistency in his life, but I can’t even be a consistent part of it. Not because I don’t want to be, but because the hockey schedule doesn’t allow me to be,” Chris told stlouisblues.com in 2018. “As Bennett gets older, he is having a harder time with me being gone. He battles through it just like our whole family does. It’s hard for me to tell him why I’m leaving home so often, but hopefully when my career is done, it will be all worth it where I can spend every day with him and we can be best buddies.”
Chris retired from hockey in 2020 following an NHL career that spanned 801 regular-season games, including parts of two seasons with the St. Louis Blues.
Since then, Chris and Bennett have indeed been best buddies.
Lately, Bennett has been doing some amazing things. This weekend, he will be at the NASCAR Xfinity Series New Holland 250 at Michigan International Speedway, where he will get to watch driver Ryan Ellis race in a car he designed with his little sister, Mary, and little brother, Oscar.
The Thorburn kids were given a blank car template to design, and using crayons, they each colored the car in blue, teal, pink, yellow and red. They also included the phrase “Be a Friend” and #AutismAwareness to help draw attention to a cause that has been incredibly important to their family.
Their design, which also features each of their names, will be wrapped on Ellis’ CorvetteParts.net / Keen Parts No. 44 Chevy Camaro for this weekend’s race.
“NASCAR has been a big part of our family’s life ever since we realized that Bennett was using diecast cars to recognize, learn and count numbers,” Chris said. “(We met) Ryan Ellis, and not only is he a great driver but he is so caring, loving and giving… (Designing his car) was a fun family project, and the kids will see the car they designed run the race and hopefully it will bring some smiles to the families that can relate to our situation and also raise awareness for the Autism community.”
“The Thorburns couldn’t be nicer people,” Ellis said. “You meet them and immediately feel like you’ve known them for years and we feel so lucky to just be able to do something for Bennett and their family. (We) hope that this brings some awareness to autism. My wife [Allison] works in the mental health space and this does mean a ton to our family as well.”
Bennett and the rest of the Thorburn family will see Ellis’ car up close on Saturday at 8 am during a 30-minute practice session, which precedes the single-lap qualifiers.
Coverage of Saturday’s New Holland 250 will begin at 2:30 pm CT on USA Network.