Author's Note: The following are two email letters sent by the parents of young racers in response to my Q&A topic on the subject of youth in racing, "Be Careful What You Ask For," in the Nov. '10 issue. I will respond to their comments with my entry signified by text in italics. This might give you a range of opinion on this important subject.
Young Dalton Grindle is typical...
Young Dalton Grindle is typical of the new class of young racers. This "revolution" began right around 2000 and stems from the creation of classes such as the Quarter Midgets and with youth karting. Dalton has also raced Mini-Cups, Bandolaros, Pro Challenge 3/4-scale cars, and Legends before getting into his Late Model car at age 13. Regardless of age, he had a full five years experience and multiple classes of racing under his small belt before going fullsized racing. Is 13 too young for this upper class of race cars?
Bob, in response to your article concerning youth racing dangers, my 8-year-old is currently driving a Mini-Cup race car and was the youngest driver in the Western Scale Racing Association last year in California. Prior to that, we started in Quarter Midgets at age 4 and a half.
I have serious doubts that a 4 1/2-year-old made a conscious decision to begin a racing career. It's this point that drives much of the debate about youth in racing. Is it more the parents' desires to race vicariously through the child that drives the effort? We need to think more about that.
As for safety, you're right; no expense was spared from HANS to helmets. Safety equipment is not an issue. On any given week youths are injured and tragic deaths occur when they play "other" sports, but you're not concerned with negative attention that those incidents may receive. I have a deeper burden to keep my child safe and would be beyond devastated if my child was hurt or injured racing or riding a bicycle. We race, that's what we do.
Let me say, unequivocally, that I'm indeed concerned with the negative attention "those incidents" may receive, but here we are talking about racing. I have yet to see a BMX bike explode in flames. Some have the opinion that sports, such as BMX racing, are ultimately more dangerous due to the lack of protection offered by a race car with a rollcage. But point taken as to the dangers inherent in all kids' sports.
Some of us remember early...
Some of us remember early "starter" classes like this vintage Goodies Dash Car, once called the NASCAR Baby Grand National class, and now referred to as the ISCARS Dash Touring Series sanctioned by ASA. "Young" used to be 16 years old in every class of racing. That is the age when in most states you qualify for a drivers license and start driving a car on the streets. Some would argue this is a reasonable age to begin serious racing on fast tracks with high-horsepower cars.
Motorsports in these times shouldn't, and can't, afford to limit interest and growth based on a magic age number. It's the parents', associations', and tracks' jobs to monitor, train, and evaluate each driver based on ability, not a set age.
My 8-year-old is far more mature and able to handle his on-track emotions than many of the racers I see at our local NASCAR tracks on any Saturday night. Actually, he could teach them a thing or two about sportsmanship and control. An age of "drivers license eligible" before racing is not reasonable, my 8-year-old, as many other racing kids, will show those 16-year-olds how to race if they are just starting out.
My opinion is that motorsports can afford to (and will) limit racing participation based on age. Liability is one consideration that must be addressed by track owners and promoters.
Logan Ruffin is shown here...
Logan Ruffin is shown here in his USAR Pro Cup car at Hickory Motor Speedway. He already had years of experience, starting at age 8, when he began racing Asphalt Late Model cars at age 14. He turned 16 in June 2010 having started racing in Quarter Midgets, like so many others. Is he qualified to race a car that is just a step below Sprint Cup racing? Probably so, especially with his prior experience.
In closing it's simple, if you don't feel your child is safe, don't race. You as the fan, race promoter, or track owner bear no greater responsibility for my child than me. My guess is driving to the store in an SUV is more dangerous.
Hi Bob, I just finished reading the reader comments in the latest issue that came in the mail today. One headline caught my attention regarding an age limit for kids racing. I have a little insight regarding this subject.
I thought you might be interested in hearing a few thoughts and a story from a racing family that was heavily involved on the leading edge of youth racing in our area. In fact, my son, John (not his real name), was one of them. Editors Note: "John" is a former Young Racers' Club winner.
John is now 19 and entering his second season driving tour-style asphalt Modifieds with the Modified Racing Series. We're firm believers in earning the right to move up a division. John has been hands-on since day one, and went from four-cylinder to V-8 strictly stock; after winning 16 races in one season, we moved him into entry-level "crate" Mods. He's also a freshman in college doing a double major in education.