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F1 stars encourage students ahead of big race this weekend

Lando Norris is teaming up with The Hidden Genius Project and Smartsheet in hopes of inspiring high schoolers.

AUSTIN, Texas — Some of the greatest drivers on the planet are in Austin right now. 

Practice begins Friday at COTA for the F1 U.S. Grand Prix. It's a huge experience for race fans, but one that pales in comparison to what's happening off the track.

Guy Parrish is showing Central Texas high school students how technology can be fun. But more importantly, how technology can be a way out.

"Growing up in Oakland," he said, "there's not a lot of opportunities that you see that, you know of." 

But Parrish got an opportunity thanks to a program called The Hidden Genius Project. It's a 15-month-long program that has already taught technology to more than 8,000 young Black men.  

"It showed me," he said, "that web design is a way to make it out of my community and also to give back."

Jason Brown has a similar story. He's a graduate of another group called TEAM, where they taught him how to match his love for sports with technology-related careers. 

"So, even though I'm not on the court anymore," he said, "I still feel like I'm a part of a team, a part of their success, and that I contribute to their performance and development." 

Both young men were passing on lessons and learning some from one of the best drivers in the world. 

Lando Norris is ranked seventh in the F1 standings, but he made a pit stop to encourage kids to find and focus on their passion. Whatever it may be. 

"This is making my year," he said. "I love having success on a racetrack, but more than anything, the thing that makes me smile is making other people smile."

He teamed up with sponsor Smartsheet, which is taking its name off Norris' car this weekend and replacing it with a nonprofit called The Hidden Genius Project, a group dedicated to showing minority students the possibilities they never knew existed.

Brandon Nicholson helped start the project nearly 10 years ago.  

"And so it's important for us," he emphasized, "to call these students geniuses so they understand and think about themselves as having tremendous potential and opportunities well beyond what they can see."

He's excited about the publicity the car will bring and more excited about reaching more kids, many who have no idea how successful they can be.

"If you want to do it," Parrish said, "you can do it. You can find a way."

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