Brandon Brundidge, age 9, thought everyone with a "Let's Go Brandon" sign was cheering just for him.
This weekend in Wisconsin, they will be.
NASCAR driver Brandon Brown, who spent the past year watching his name twist into a political slur, plans to repaint his race car with an image from the cover of "Brandon Spots His Sign" — a book about a boy who was encouraged by a slogan meant to discourage.
Brandon and Brandon will race together this weekend at the NASCAR Cup Series at Elkhart Lake's Road America.
Let's Go Brandon. For almost a year, the chant has echoed around the track as Brown raced. It was his name on the signs, on the flags, stamped across the back of a congresswoman's dress.
But the crowds weren't cheering for him. They weren't even cheering.
But they cheered up Brandon Brundidge.
Brandon has autism, which sometimes leaves him feeling shy and anxious. But on a family vacation to Texas this spring, the signs were everywhere. Let's Go Brandon.
"Mama, the people here love me," Brandon told his mother, Sheletta Brundidge, founder of Sheletta Makes Me Laugh, a multimedia podcasting and production company that amplifies Black voices — and the mother of three children with autism.
Encouraged by signs, Brandon let go of his fears. He took the training wheels off his bike. He played with other kids without worrying that they'd laugh if he stuttered. He became the hero of a new children's storybook.
Brandon's story shot up the Amazon bestseller lists and onto the radar of Brandon Brown.
The entire Brundidge family will be guests of Brandonbilt Motorsports at the NASCAR Cup Series at Road America this weekend.
The more "Let's Go Brandon" signs they see there, the happier young Brandon will be.
The more people go back to using "Let's Go Brandon" as a cheer, the happier Brown will be.
When he first heard about the book, "I was so happy, it brought a tear to my eye," he said. "This could be what we need. We want to make the narrative one of positivity and encouragement for anyone."
Now Brown plans to paint some positivity onto his race car this weekend.
Brandon Brundidge is ready for this weekend's adventure. He has some brand-new NASCAR racing gear, some noise-canceling headphones to avoid sensory overload, and stacks of his books that the family will give away to their fellow race fans.
"I'm really excited," said Brandon, giving media interviews like a pro.
He can't wait to see the cover of his book on a car — "like a book on wheels!" — but there are other things at the racetrack that interest him just as much.
"I'm going to get in the front row" at Road America, he said. "And I'm going to eat the most popular and yummy snacks."
If Brandon Brundidge can find encouragement in signs meant to discourage, so can Brandon Brown.
Last October, Brown was celebrating his first win at the Talladega Superspeedway when the crowd in the stands started chanting a vulgar remark about Joe Biden. Possibly mishearing, a television reporter suggested that the crowd was chanting "Let's Go Brandon," and a cottage industry in coded political sloganeering was born.
"How do you navigate something like that?" said Brown, who has tried to spin the slogan into something more positive over the past year, with little success. "It felt like I was getting shut away from the world. It really hurt."
The kind of people who stockpile "Let's Go Brandon" merchandise may not like the idea of Brown flying around a track with Brandon Brundidge — a Black child with autism — painted on his car.
But those people were never really cheering for him anyway.
"If that's all they were in it for, to be confrontational or discouraging, I don't know why they rooted for me," Brown said. "I've always been a lighthearted person. … I like to feel good when I walk around, and I like to make everyone else feel good.
"If they're just in it for confrontation, then there's no reason to pull for me."