A lot of kids grow up wanting to be like Tony Stewart or Dale Jr. or, for that matter, Greg Zipadelli or Tony Eury, Sr., their respective crewchiefs. The racing bug is often instilled in kids at an early age. To continue this love of the sport, there are existing high school racing programs. We have discovered two high school racing programs that teach students how to build, maintain, and race stock cars. Curiously, neither knew about the other until now, and the schools are at opposite ends of the country.

We have heard many top drivers say they decided to become a race car driver or be involved in stock car racing at an early age. It is a distinct advantage to begin any career as early in life as possible. Numerous Karting and Quarter Midget programs across the country cater to kids. But these programs can be quite costly, so many young people will never realize their dream of racing. Sometimes, Mom and Dad just cannot afford a $7,000 Quarter Midget or the $2,000-$3,000 it costs to kart race.

The costs of these high school programs are underwritten by the school systems (similar to what's been done for years in industrial education classes that teach automotive repair, etc.) and commercial sponsors who benefit from the exposure of the racing events. An enthusiast at heart can earn a spot in the school program and, in some cases, earn a sports letter and be a part of a live race team.

Begun in 1997, located in and around Bakersfield, California, this is a series of weekly competition. Eleven teams within a 100-mile radius are involved. The series is not limited to a particular district or county border. All racing takes place at Mesa Marin Raceway outside Bakersfield.

The students build entry-level Street Stock-type cars. The programs at each school are run by advisors, who are members of the faculty. Teams race for points in 10 races per season. There is a minimum age limit of 16 for all participants who wish to enter the hot pits at the track. The drivers must be at least 18 and graduated from the high school. Using a non-student to drive the car helps reduce the liability.

There are usually 3-8 students working at the track on race night, depending on the team. Each school team may have a roster of up to 20 members. Schools could use as much as $6,000-$7,000 to put together a program and build the car, but Liberty High did it on just $2,000.

Bobby Alley, president, and Brian Frost, advisor, who oversee the new Liberty High School racing program, say putting together their program was only possible with the donation of parts and equipment from the other schools in the series. Each of the schools helps each other. North High school advisor Keith Sackewitz says, "You can't beat another school if they're not on the track."

Donations included a carburetor, a fuel cell, a racing seat, a transmission, and other necessary items. When repairs at the track were needed, Liberty was able to keep racing with the help of the other teams that changed axles or replaced bent trailing arms. The teamwork extended beyond the individual teams. The only intense competition seemed to be on the race track, where it should be. Upper-level racers could learn a thing or two about sportsmanship from these young people.

Other schools in the program include: Bakersfield High, Bakersfield; Delano High, Delano; Mojave High, Mojave; Monache High, Porterville; Paso Robles High, Paso Robles; Porterville High, Porterville; Shafter High, Shafter; Tehachapi High, Tehachapi; and Visalia Youth Motorsports, Visalia.

As the season came to a close, North High was the points leader and Tehachapi High was running a close second. (Final results were not available at press time.) No matter who won the championship, every team was a success story. Their program is a model for other communities to start area racing programs. In the future of circle track racing, we may see a high school national racing championship.

The Roanoke County Public School System has established a technical center for the education of high school students who wish to pursue careers in the trade and technical fields. The center, an extension campus of the Roanoke County school system, is located in Salem, Virginia, and is open to all county high schools.