Veteran racers, such as Greg...
Veteran racers, such as Greg Marlowe, owner of Marlowe Chassis, choose to have their kids start in lower classes to gain experience. His son, Jake, raced in the lower truck class to gain valuable experience before moving up to the Late Model division. This progression is true of how many of our top-level Cup drivers raised their racing kids over the years. They must earn the right to move up and are almost never pushed too early to advance.
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...
One of the classes that served as a catalyst that accelerated the growth of youth racing was the Quarter Midgets. Here, drivers as young as 5 can begin racing. What some question is whether a 5-year-old consciously chooses to go racing or is it the parents who choose for them? Are these kids subject to burnout at some point as they reach the golden age of 10? And the million-dollar question is: Are these kids properly insured against injury or death by participating in such a risky sport?
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...
This Mini-Cup car, when geared correctly and raced on a high-banked half-mile asphalt track, can attain an average speed of more than 100 mph. A head-on collision with a concrete wall at that speed can generate enough g-force to seriously injure anyone, young or old. An underdeveloped human being, such as a 10- or 12-year-old, may not have the strength in his/her neck to withstand those forces and could be subject to basil skull injury without use of the proper safety equipment. Parents must be aware of the risks associated with racing and make sure your kids are well "suited" for the task.
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.