The Garcias have built an impressive facility to nurture the next generation of racers. Pa
How many of us have said, “If I had started racing when I was five, I’d be a NASCAR champion by now?” Unless our parents had the foresight and the wherewithal to get us into a kart or small scale car at a young age, most of us had to wait until our desire and our finances converged. At that point we tend to jump head first into any sort of race car and learn everything the hard (and expensive) way.
There are a number of places where the next generation of racers are being cultivated and taught the responsibilities associated with racing. One such facility is the Ambassador Racing School in Wimauma, Florida.
Debi and Ray Garcia founded the school in 1995 when they built a 1⁄9-mile banked track literally in their front yard. Ray likes to say that he trains “mechathletes”—part mechanic part athlete. Ray and Debi provide year-round training in their fleet of racing karts and USAC .25/Quarter Midget machines for racers ranging from 4½ to 17 years old.
(L to R) Debi Garcia, Bobby Diehl, and Ray Garcia are the force behind the Educational Rac
Some recent success stories sprung from their tutelage are NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regulars Chris Fontaine and Paddy Rodenbeck, as well as Michael Cherry (NASCAR Diversity Program). This place isn’t exactly a well-kept secret from top drivers either, as guys like Tony Stewart, David Reutimann, Danny Lasoski, and David Steele have been known to show up for Ambassador’s arrive and drive weekly “big kids” kart racing.
One aspect of their program that sets them apart from other racing schools is a traditional-style summer camp for kids. This camp is the first exposure to the world of motorsports for many youngsters. It’s promoted locally alongside all the other available outdoor summer camp experiences, and the pricing is comparable to many of those more mundane choices. Dubbed the Educational Racing Summer Camp (ERSC), the week-long sessions employ a curriculum that has been enhanced with something called STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) learning. STEM is the current teaching trend in many school districts around the country. Local race promoter and educator, Bobby Diehl, convinced Garcia to incorporate STEM into the school.
Ambassador maintains a fleet of vehicles. It runs programs year-round and can step a child
ERSC is run during the week, Monday through Friday, on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. The camp runs for a one week period and is filled by grouping students together by age. Of course, the kids can’t wait to get behind the wheel, but there is much more to the course than just driving. The students are grouped into teams and then fitted with, and taught about, safety gear. Next comes instruction on race car operation and race control, including hand signals, flags, track lights, transponders, and more. Then each student gets a “testdrive” for evaluation. That’s all during the first day.
Day two covers a complete engine assembly plus some on-track instruction and directions about proper pit entry and pit lane safety. Day three is all about chassis setup and how to verbalize what they are feeling in the race car. The final driving session of the day teaches proper overtaking and passing. Day four covers the “M” in STEM, with students working out the chassis weight percentages and other mathematical formulas pertaining to motorsports.
Ever seen a Quarter Midget Simulator before? Every effort is made to make sure kids work u
Later that day, they are guided on public speaking and sponsor exposure. Students are videotaped while being interviewed and given tips on how to thank team sponsors and those who have helped them. The last day is known as “Fast Friday” with all teams qualifying and racing—along with photos, interviews, and of course, Victory Lane celebrations. They basically mimic real race day scenarios.
The end result is a fun and thorough week of motorsports initiation. Not every camper will aspire to compete behind the wheel, but the ERSC may just show some kids that there are many potential careers available in the racing world if they have the passion to pursue them.
One Man’s Vision—The Educational Motorsports League
It’s not all about driving, here Ray Garcia explains engine disassembly to a student.
Spend 10 minutes with Bobby Diehl and you’ll see that he’s the whirling dervish of race promoters, so many creative ideas paired with so little time and resources. Like all promoters, Bobby has had his successes and failures. Some of his ventures were the creation of The Fastruck Series, Fastkids Series (for drivers 12-16), and most recently as owner/operator of Charlotte County Motorsports Park in Punta Gorda, Florida.
The difference between guys like Bobby Diehl and most of us is that he will take a far-fetched idea and do the work necessary to make that vision a reality. Bobby’s three passions are motorsports, education, and family. Having been an educator since 1975, much of his motivation comes from his background helping underprivileged students succeed. It’s much like the story of the man walking down the beach seeing thousands of starfish stranded on the sand, when along comes another man who picks one up and throws it back in the water. The first man says, “Why did you bother to do that, it won’t make a difference”? The second man says, “It will make a difference to that one.”
Campers are instructed in the use of state-of-the-art video production equipment to edit t
Bobby’s latest vision is a “little league” motorsports program, he calls it The Educational Motorsports League (EML). He reasons that many local tracks already have a small scale (kart, .25/Quarter Midget, Champ Kart, and so on) program in place, but what they don’t have is a universal set of competition rules that could apply from track to track—forming a league. He is not suggesting a spec chassis or any technical specifications, just a way for kids to participate that emulates other youth athletic leagues and exposes motorsports to those who might have never considered it as an activity.
Of course, we already know that the barrier to entry for anyone considering motorsports participation is the cost. You would need much more than a bat and ball to get on your local EML racetrack. Bobby suggests that in order to make the EML opportunity available to all families, the equipment would be owned and maintained by the track but sponsored by local or national businesses. Each race car would carry the livery of a particular supporting company and each car is shared among drivers in different age groups. The age ranges could be set to include any school age children (6 to 18) and one important criteria would be the necessity for the student to maintain a grade C or above in both academics and conduct. The support and encouragement of the racer’s family would also be an important component.
The added benefit to this program is helping the local racetrack survive by creating the next generation of drivers and fans. Tracks could also consider developing a summer camp program to provide an added revenue stream. Ideally, the EML would be bringing some national sponsors to each track in order to pay for all or part of the program. Bobby is currently working with sponsors and The Ambassador Racing facility to create a pilot program for the EML. It’s heartwarming to think that such a program could exist, where the winners are kids, tracks, corporate sponsors, and the motorsports industry.
It’s easy to see all of the challenges of making the EML a reality. It’s also easy to see that Bobby Diehl will not be deterred from facing them head-on. If you want to help, Bobby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org