Young Dalton Grindle is typical of the new class of young racers. This "revolution" began
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.
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.
Some of us remember early "starter" classes like this vintage Goodies Dash Car, once calle
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.
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 in his USAR Pro Cup car at Hickory Motor Speedway. He already h
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.
Veteran racers, such as Greg Marlowe, owner of Marlowe Chassis, choose to have their kids
My husband and I were the first locals to put a 12-year-old into a race car. At that time there was no such thing as a Youth division around here, so John was finally allowed to race four-cylinders-stock with a full driver's rollcage and racing seat-with the adults. After being wrecked by a 17-year-old who admitted to looking at his gauges instead of where he was going, we were down one car. I think that was the scariest moment of my life.
Note here, that this child began his racing career at age 12. There is a documented case a couple of years ago of a 12-year-old racing a Super Late Model dirt car. In this case, the class was indeed a lower one and probably the bottom class at the racetrack.
My husband has raced since he was 16, but it's different when it's your kid's butt in that car. Anyhow, John felt terrible about the time his father had put into the car, but we convinced him to get back on the horse and in a week's time had another racer together for him.
Four weeks into the season, John was holding his own-fifth in points against the adults. That's when the youth division was finally born and that season I can honestly say was one of the best ever. Those kids went into that track every week with attitudes way better than most of the adults who raced-but that's another story of its own.
One of the classes that served as a catalyst that accelerated the growth of youth racing w
That winter, we got together with a few of the local die-hard racers and put together a comprehensive rules package (for young racers) with safety as the first priority. We found ways to restrict the cars if they were dominating, so that sportsmanship-give and take-could be taught and competition would be tight.
We even had the idea that we would invite local racing "heroes" each week to work as flagman, tech, or race director to give the kids people that understood and whom they could look up to as role models.
I took all of this information, put it together, and presented it to the owner of our local racetrack who, at first, blew me off. But before the race season began, he gave us the green light and bought an insurance rider to cover the kids. This is a key point: insurance.
Up until now, the issue of insurance and liability hasn't come up. I'm so glad this reader raised this question so early on in her experience. We can learn something about this important aspect of youth in racing.
It's only recently that insurance companies have allowed coverage for young racers. I'm sure there aren't many that have even questioned it; however, before the rules were changed, it would have been the promoter who was held personally liable should anything bad happen.
This Mini-Cup car, when geared correctly and raced on a high-banked half-mile asphalt trac
Inevitably, the track took over the division. Things have gone a long way since then; we haven't been involved with the kids division for several years now and, quite frankly, I'm more than disappointed with what it's become.
One of our main goals was to keep it honest and not have "hockey dads"-and unfortunately it turned into just what we didn't want within two years after we moved on. That's the track's fault, however, for not keeping a tight lid on it in my opinion.
The important point made here is that it's the responsibility of the track personnel to ensure fairness in the racing program and not allow undue interference from the parents of the racer. Also, kids should race with kids and not be mixed with older drivers.
I'll get to my point. John was dominant as a youth racer. He truthfully had less of a car than the others, but does have raw talent. Youth divisions are a great way to introduce the kids to racing if it's done the right way.
Buying them wins and cheating their cars accomplishes nothing; but making them get their own hands dirty instills a sense of pride and care in most of them. John was ready to move up after two years in a youth car-and two championships-however, at that point he was 14 years old and we were faced with an issue: he wasn't old enough to race in the regular divisions.
There are plenty of lower stock class cars on dirt and asphalt where younger drivers can g
More good points are presented here. Racing should be, first of all, the child's choice and then the child should work for the privilege of racing. On the CT Tour, we met one father who insisted that his child attain a straight A report card in school in order to be allowed to race.
We went back to the track that he started at, and put him in a Strictly Stock for a season. He learned really quickly that it's not always a bowl of cherries. He blew up several engines and ended up sitting out many races. Alternately, when he was having a good night, it was a very good night!
We sold that car at the end of the season when the Crate Mods were introduced and had the track owner's permission to put John into one. Now, this is the part where it gets interesting.
I guess it was about February; we had a Modified in the works for him, putting it together as the checkbook allowed. One day we got a phone call from the track owner, who told us that he couldn't allow John to race in that division. Mind you, this was after he had already given his permission. As it turned out, it wasn't so much the promoter as it was the insurance company that wouldn't allow it.
At Carolina Speedway there was this four-cylinder class that resembled a Late Model car an
I even went to them myself, because I wanted to know how the 14- to 15-year-olds who were racing in PASS Pro Stocks were allowed to race, but in this class they weren't? The Pro-Stocks have more hp and so on and were a touring division.
Come to find out, the insurance company told me that this indeed was an issue that was (at the time) on the table between all the motorsports insurers. I was told that the kids under 16 years old racing on these touring divisions were either sneaking in, or the promoters were not aware that they had no coverage and that if anything were to happen, the promoter would be held liable for all expenses.
Indeed, this does get interesting. With the emotions that come with an injury to a child in any sport also come the inevitable lawsuits. A jury of 12 would certainly sympathize with the parents of a child injured, or worse, in a stock car crash. Can our insurance companies afford this level of exposure? Only they can tell you that.
The person I was speaking with at K&K Insurance asked me the million-dollar question: "Are you that confident that the promoter could cover damages in the event of a serious accident? Would you trust him to do the right thing?" That's all it took. I don't trust anyone except my husband when it comes to my son's safety. It's just the Mom in me I guess.
It would be hypocritical of us to say that youngsters should not race when we recognize th
We shelved the Modified, and built another Strictly Stock from the ground up and documented the whole thing on our website. It was sort of fun, we had loads of followers and John kicked some major butt that season, winning 16 out of 19 races.
Fortunately, the insurance "rules" also changed to allow him to race the higher division. Unfortunately, we were already hip deep in the Strictly when we got word. John was disappointed a little, however he also pointed out that it was a fun division, and to quote him:, "That's where I learned to drive."
I agree whole-heartedly that 12-year-olds do not belong in 350hp (or more) race cars. I also believe that they should not be handed the whole package, they need to do their share of the work. That's where they learn to respect it; and that will carry over onto the track. At least it did with my kid.
But remember, youth in racing isn't a bad thing; it's all in what you allow. With all the video games and computer time these days, we need to get these kids off their butts and back to the racetrack. This allows them a way to find out if racing does for them what it does for us.
What I disagree with is putting them in karts when they are 5 years old. By the time they are old enough to get into a car, they're burned out and a car certainly isn't a kart. I've heard that line too, "I've driven karts since I was 5!" And that was from the kid who didn't know enough to take his foot out of the throttle when he dumped John in his Crate Mod on championship night during a tight point's race.
Safety is an important issue when discussing youth in racing. Safety companies have alread
An important thing to consider is this: We, as parents, are the ones responsible for deciding if our child is mature enough to race. We, as parents, are the ones responsible for being certain there is the proper insurance in place for our kids to race at any particular track; and that all the proper safety equipment-right down to the rescue team-is in place. And, ultimately, making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons not only puts our own children at risk, but also other people's children. This isn't hockey.
Point well taken, but I will inject this. It's not only you and your child at risk, it is, in reality, everyone associated with his/her racing that will ultimately be putting it on the line. I can say too that encouraging irresponsible behavior in children is in itself a liability risk.
There are some parents who before the "event" speak of taking full responsibility for their actions, but when faced with the loss of their child suddenly change their opinion and begin to blame others with lawsuits to follow. That's the hard reality of the world we live in.
Really, there's so much more to the story that I didn't touch on, good things-for instance, how close your family becomes when you all race together. It truly does create a different atmosphere than most families share. It's not all fun and games, either; there are a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into a Saturday night racer, particularly when you live with your team (and Dad races too).
But if you do it right, it's well worth the trouble. And we need to ask these questions: What does this kid have to give up to race? Is it worth it to him/her? Is he/she willing to work for this? What I failed to tell you is that John has been around race cars his entire life, and has worked on them since he was old enough to use a wrench. Maybe that makes a difference.
Name withheld by request
Is this tyke a future race car driver? The growth and survival of our sport depends largel
Probably the best thing about youth in racing is what you have said here, it's the family being able to share time together and becoming closer. I believe racing accomplishes this more than most other kids' sports because of the time spent away from the track working on the car. Yes, it does get the kids away from the Playstation and the TV. And for that, I applaud the parents.
Let's face it, we have said before that racing needs a youth infusion and it would be hypocritical to speak out against that movement. What needs to be done is to implement reasonable rules and age limits for kids who chose to race.
We, as a society, have shown in other areas that we're sometimes not responsible enough to regulate ourselves as evidenced by our drug laws, speed limits, helmet laws, and so on. This is no different than those. An important argument in court cases involves the question of is an action universally accepted as "reasonable and responsible?" In other words, would a reasonable and sane person undertake this action?
Courts have further ruled that an adult parent can't make legal decisions for a minor such as waiving of liability. If the parent can't execute a contract for a minor and the minor can't execute a contract, then there is no waiver of liability and the track owners assume all liability.
Then there is the arena of public opinion, and believe me it counts. If the majority feels that allowing an 8-year-old to drive a Mini-Cup car on a half-mile asphalt track at an average speed close to 100 mph isn't acceptable, those who wish for their kids to race in that way will need to respect that opinion, just as we accept our seatbelt and motorcycle helmet laws that are designed to protect us from ourselves.
We encourage debate on this subject and one reader suggested that we only print those opinions that agree with us. That's not true, and we encourage track owners, promoters, sanctions, and insurance companies to chime in on this so we can put together a set of reasonable rules and move forward. The future of circle track racing is at stake.