How an author, a NASCAR star and a young boy turned a hurtful sentence on its head

So an innocent misunderstanding by her son turned into a viral children’s book that led to a meaningful friendship with one of NASCAR’s top drivers. Together they turn a hurtful sentence into something positive.

Brundidge, a broadcaster and media personality in Minnesota, writes children’s books in honor of her family. Three of her four children were born with autism, and her books aim to educate families about the condition and show their own children how much they are loved.

Cameron Goes to School was for her daughter. Next came Daniel Finds His Voice, in honor of their youngest son. In the future she will write about her eldest, Andrew, who does not have autism.

This year it was nine-year-old Brandon’s turn. Brundidge wasn’t sure if she’d be able to write one in time for Autism Awareness Month in April, like she usually does. There was too much going on in the world. Dunno felt right.

Then, in March, a trip to Texas revealed the miracle she needed. As Brundidge walked around the RV lot where the family was staying, she noticed that Brandon was suddenly full of confidence. Normally shy and quiet, the little boy swaggered and smiled, conversed with strangers and, frankly, worried his mother with his newfound bravery.

“I thought, why is my son so brave all of a sudden?” Brundidge told CNN.

“Those are my fans,” Brandon replied. “You know me. You love me.”

Brundige was stunned until her son stopped her abruptly and pointed.

“See? It’s my mark!” he said.

Looking up, she was shocked to see a sign with the same slogan as dozens of bumper stickers, banners and other paraphernalia scattered around the area: “Let’s Go Brandon.”

“It’s not a sign,” Brundidge recalls saying to her son. “This is your book.”

The book led to an enchanting meeting

The origin and meaning of “Let’s Go Brandon” are not so positive.

The phrase is a hacked oath for “F*** Joe Biden” that was created during a broadcast of the October 2021 NASCAR Sparks 300 race. The crowd at Talladega Superspeedway sang the chorus as NBC sportscaster Kelli Stavast apparently misread the phrase, claiming they said “Let’s go Brandon” in honor of race winner Brandon Brown.

Conservative personalities immediately subscribed to the misinterpretation and anchored it deeply in political vernacular. Now, “Let’s Go Brandon” declarations are a common sight online and on every type of conservative merchandise.

Brandon Brundidge knew nothing about this. For him it was an encouragement.

Within a month of her son’s revelation, and with much hustle and bustle from her illustrator and publisher, Sheletta Brundidge released her new book, Brandon Spots His Sign, in April.

In the story, Brandon is nervous about participating in activities like swimming and dancing because he fears his autism might get in the way. He then discovers “Let’s Go Brandon” messages encouraging him to take more risks. There are also tips on the back of the book to encourage people with autism.

The book caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who sent Brandon a letter of admiration. It also reached Brown, the NASCAR driver who unknowingly helped create the Let’s Go Brandon craze. Brown had publicly expressed ambivalence about the phrase, but struggled to keep sponsors given its polarizing nature.

Brown’s team reached out to the Brundidges and invited them to an upcoming Xfinity Series race. Within a week, the family was at the Road America racetrack in Wisconsin, attending the event as VIPs. Brown even splashed the cover of Brundidge’s book on the hood of his Camaro.

The cover of the book features the hood of Brown's racing car.

“I know, how it works. People invite you to places where you can get some recognition. But Brandon [Brown] really was the cutest guy,” Brundidge said. “He could have waited. He could have just looked at the book and said, ‘That’s cool.’ But he understood the urgency of raising awareness.”

The younger Brandon even got to help push Brown’s car out, which he told CNN was one of his favorite parts of the day. That and of course meeting another Brandon.

The boy also gave the driver an autism awareness pendant on a chain to match one of his own.

“He hasn’t taken it off since,” Brundidge said.

The two Brandons show off their autism awareness tags.

For Brown, the adorable encounter was an opportunity to reclaim a sentence that he feels has become too nasty.

“Achieving this was like a breakthrough for us,” Brown said after racing the Xfinity Series. “That can be positive. That can be good. It doesn’t have to be hateful or divisive.”

CNN has reached out to NASCAR for comment.

And from that meeting a friendship grew

The new friendship between the Brandons didn’t end after the race. Sheletta Brundidge says Brown calls or texts her son all the time to talk about Minecraft or just to check on him.

The whole ordeal was a huge boost for the younger Brandon.

Brandon Brundidge was allowed to sign Brown's car with his name.

“I saw his confidence go through the roof,” says Brundidge. “Children with autism are so often picked last or left out. It’s often because other kids just don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

“You just have to pray for a good support system and for love,” she continues. “And Brandon Brown loved my child. He put children with autism in the spotlight for the whole world to see.”

Now Brandon Brundidge has a new boyfriend, new fans, and tons of new books to sign. (Which is hard work, he told CNN.) His mother hopes this experience shows just how much children with autism can thrive on with love and encouragement.

And even when there is a bitter split, there are always small miracles.

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