Ask anybody in the sport of oval track racing about the future and most will say that there won’t be a future unless we get more kids involved in motorsports. But how to get kids involved in the sport and at what age to get them involved can become a political hot potato. We have touched on the subject in a variety of articles over the past five or so years. We know of kids as young as 12 climbing behind the wheel of full-blown Dirt Late Models. We’ve witnessed, firsthand, a 13-year-old wreck an Asphalt Late Model and get injured. Ultimately, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about getting a youngster involved in motorsports. We’ve talked in the past about the wrong ways, such as parents forcing the child to pursue “their” dream (Ed note: Who’s dream is it really?). But this time around we thought we’d take a look at the right way to groom a future racing star.

Motivation

Pundits on television might question whether or not a child of 5 years old (or in some cases, younger) could really make a conscious decision that he or she would want to engage in any type of activity with the fervor of an Olympic athlete. After all, these Pre-K tykes are largely only concerned with eating, playing, and watching Barney on TV, right? So isn’t it the parents who define and/or push them into a particular sport?

Obviously, it’s our job as parents to direct our children to try new things and experience a wide variety of activities so that they can form their own opinions about what they would like to do over the course of their lives, be it bird-watching, banking, or motorsports. That’s our stance here at Circle Track, expose them to everything and let them decide. After all, it’s their lives.

A couple of issues ago, Circle Track highlighted the Ambassador Racing School in Florida and its summer camp. The concept behind the Quarter Midget summer camp is an excellent way to introduce your children to motorsports, it gives them a taste of the competition to see if they truly like it. There are other ways as well.

Take the case of 8-year-old Famous Rhodes who started racing at the age of 6. Not surprisingly, he comes from a racing family. His grandfather was Paul Rhodes a “famous” dirt track racer from Western Pennsylvania who notched more than 100 feature wins and had multiple track championships including three titles in 1983 for the same class at three different tracks (Sharon, Lernerville, and Mercer Speedways). Grandpa used to watch videos of Sprint Car racing with Little Famous. That, coupled with the family’s passion for watching NASCAR on Sundays lit a fire in the kid’s belly.

“I like cars,” says Famous. “I told my dad I liked race cars, then he asked me if I wanted to do it and I said yes.”

Simple enough right?

At the time, the Rhodes lived in Texas and as Famous’s father tells the story the only racing option nearby to them was go-karts. “I wasn’t too keen on karts,” says Famous Rhodes (who shares his name with his son). “But when we moved to California for a job relocation we found Quarter Midget racing.”

Ironically, Famous Sr. never raced cars. “I grew up at the racetrack. My fondest memories as a child are at circle tracks all over the country. But my dad didn’t want us to get into racing, he was very adamant about it. He wanted us to go to school. He was a mechanic his whole life; and that’s not an easy life. He really wanted us to get away from racing, even though on the weekends all we did was go to the racetrack.”

That begs the question, other than racing, what else does Little Famous do? Well he does a lot. Famous plays soccer, rugby, and football. Coupled with a 33-race schedule this season, that’s one busy 8-year-old. But there’s a method to Rhodes’s madness, “We feel that the best thing to do for our children is to give them not only the racing but a physical component as well. They need another avenue to compete in like team sports, because racing is very individual. Once you’re in the cockpit, it’s just you.”

You might think that keeping such a packed schedule would be challenging for any parent to maintain sanity, right? Again, Rhodes uses it almost as what we will call a distraction. “It really takes a lot of time, but what I love about it is I can come home from work and spend a couple hours in the garage working on the cars, Little Famous and I get to talk through what we are going to do with the cars that we get, so it’s a real learning experience of not just about cars but setup variances and tracks and it gives us time to spend together.”

That huge time commitment is a good thing. “It’s not drop your kid off for soccer for a 2-hour game and go, its qualifications in the mornings and heats, then it’s features at night. It’s a 12-hour commitment on a given Saturday or Sunday but that’s what I love about it. I mean you get 12 hours to bond with your son at a track with him and his friends and other parents. It’s a real community experience that you don’t get with any other sport because other sports are just so quick, to be started and done with.”

But this isn’t just Dad and son, the Rhodes make racing a family affair.

“I love it,” says mom, Sherri. “I still get a little nervous as any mom would, but I love it. I think especially when he does another sport, you go out on the weekend for an hour and it’s done. The racing is a big family. You get to know everybody, you’re together all day. The kids get a lot of interaction with their elders and they learn respect. I think it’s a great environment.”

Parental involvement reflects very positively on the Rhodes’s little racer. When asked if he has fun when his whole family goes to the track? He responded by saying, “Yeah, it gives me more chances of winning.”

Why QMA?

“Quarter Midgets are by far the safest sports you can have your child be involved with. You know when looking at statistics over the past 20 years there have been less incidents in that sport in those vehicles than like football, basketball, baseball. And to be honest with you, we have had more injuries in football and soccer than we have ever had in Quarter Midgets,” explains Rhodes.

Rhodes says that Little Famous has flipped his Quarter Midget once and has had some good hits, but he wears a HANS device and has the car built to strict standards, all in an effort to keep him as safe as possible.

Add in the fact that a full main field in the Junior Class (under age 9) consists of eight racers—and in fact, eight is the maximum number of cars allowed on the track at any given time. The smaller number of cars means that there is less chance for a major incident. In fact, the maximum number of cars on the track in any class is 10, so QMA provides for an excellent training ground for young racers.