It’s Time To Speak Up Again; Children Don’t Belong In Full-Size Race Cars

I am one of those involved in the business of motorsports that Bones Bourcier wrote about in his most recent Speedway Illustrated column. “Death Isn’t Kid Stuff” is the heading on the column.

In that column the final paragraph read, “Shame on us. Shame on every sanctioning body and speedway that allows this nonsense to go on. And shame on those of us who have been too quiet for too long.”

Anyone that has been a reader of this column for a few years or has known me personally for several years knows how I feel about children, and they are children, being allowed to race in full sized race cars.

Often times I hear from fathers who are looking for someone to represent their son or daughter as they seek sponsorship to continue their racing efforts. The conversation usually goes along the lines of the son or daughter being the next Tony Stewart of Danica Patrick. I listen. I can tell the dad, that is who normally calls, is very proud. I wish them well and tell them I have no interest. Quite frankly I could not live with myself if I was able to gain sponsorship for a young kid and then have him or her be killed while racing.

I don’t understand the hurry. Why are parents, usually, it is just dads, so anxious to push their kids into racing full-sized race cars? Have those dads ever considered if their kids are ready at all? I mean, yes, the children might have been enrolled in a driving school to take lessons. And perhaps when they passed the driving test, they might have been handed over a used car (maybe one of the pre-owned cars for sale derby) to practice more. However, can that ensure that they are entirely capable of handling full-sized racing automobiles? If this question has no answer, then perhaps it is time to either stop pushing the kids or see if they have developed the necessary skills.

It is because over the years, so many of the stars of today have come up through the ranks of quarter midgets, go-karts, and drag racing designed just for kids. With the skills and knowledge gained in those forms of racing, they would be so much better prepared to move on to the big cars when they were old enough.

So many vehicles require special certification to be able to drive them. Take trucks, for instance. Everything about trucks could be learned from the internet, and they’re pretty cool and fun (Over The Top, anyone?), but that still doesn’t mean you can simply just jump into one and drive it well. You need a license. I am a firm believer that every person that drives a race car should have a valid driver’s license.

Putting kids in race cars is an obvious risk, not just for what might happen to them on the track, but also for what they might get into off the track. Once you’re addicted to speed, you have a hard time slowing down. Kids tend to get into accidents more often than adults. If they get into an accident, they might suffer permanent injuries, or even die. Although these days there are good personal injury lawyers who could get you compensatory damages for wrongful death if the other party is at fault, the damage that’s done would be irreversible.

To give you an example, Bourcier, who I consider one of the best writers in the business, mentions a 15-year-old girl named Niokoa Johnson. She hit a concrete wall at a Florida track in March and died the next afternoon. She was driving a compact car in an entry-level stock car class.

Niokoa’s car may have had a stuck throttle. Bones tells us about a kid named Tyler Morr.

In 2012 he hit a wall at another Florida track. He died four days later. He was 12 years old. Yes that is correct, he was 12 years old. At that age I was still learning to ride my bicycle. What was the big hurry to get Tyler and Niokoa into racing full size cars? Did the children want to do it or was it parents or a parent pushing. Kids often do things to satisfy their parents.

This comment by Bones really hit home. “There’s nothing honorable, poetic, or heroic about kids dying before they’re old enough to understand honor, poetics, or heroism. It is stupid, and only stupid.” I actually wanted to push the chair back from me desk and give Bones a standing ovation.

Over the years I have been there when racers were killed. Someone pointed out last week that it had been 50 years had passed since Eddie Sachs died at Indy. I was there. It was a horren- dous fiery accident that claimed Sachs and Dave McDonald. I will never forget that. I lived through the years when deaths were a regular occurrence in the sport. Fortunately that is not the case these days though there are still too many.

A recent article by respected writer Lars Anderson in Sports Illustrated talked about dirt track racing and three specific deaths. Fortunately he did not choose to write about the children that were killed while driving race cars. I do have to say that the article brought out some points about dirt track racing that should have all of us that are involved thinking about ways to make it safer.

To tell you the truth I am surprised that some do-gooder politician has not jumped on the band- wagon to have the government put restrictions, age limits, on those wanting to be a racer of the big cars.

Think about this. “Look, people die in racing. That’s a fact. But here’s another: There’s a horrifying difference between seeing a 40-year-old racer killed – as brutal as that is-and seeing an unconscious junior high student pulled from wreckage and flown by helicopter to the nearest trauma center.” That was part of the Speedway Illustrated column written by Bones.

The reason that children do not get driver’s licenses until the age of 16 or older is that adults want to make sure they have had the opportunity to grow emotionally and physically. There are so many DUI cases filed every day because people cannot learn to drive responsibly. Ask any Phoenix DUI attorney and they’ll tell you that teens and young adults are one of the biggest demographics in drunk driving cases. Of course, there are those kinds that never grow emotionally. We see that when something goes wrong on the track they want to climb out of their race car and take on the world. As Bones points out children lack the judgment and stability to drive a car or a full-size race car.

The question is asked, what, exactly, has the sport gained by allowing – even encouraging – kids to race stock cars, midgets and sprint cars before they can legally drive on the street? If, as some suggest, they attract a younger fan base, let me ask, where are these youngsters that are sup- posed to be filling the stands?

I think it is time for all of us to come to our senses, use common sense, and keep the children out of the full size race cars. I don’t want to be around should politicians take an interest in the sport because of the death of a child driving a race car and decide to put some very tough regulations on the sport.

So far we have been fortunate. Let us not continue to push our luck. Just my opinion.

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“IT IS CURIOUS THAT physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” – Mark Twain

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HUMPY WHEELER, a racer promoter that I have great respect for, sent out an article titled “Track Promoters: If You Aren’t Doing These 11 Things, You’re in Trouble”.

I wanted to share them with you because they do make a lot of sense for the most part.

  1. Admission of $10 to $14 for regular shows. I think that is a good idea but the admission price has a lot to do with the type of racing being presented. Later on Wheeler suggests that if a promoter is paying out more than $10,000 in prize money for a regular show, that is too much unless a promoter is running sprints.
  2. There should be at least four to five passes for the lead in the main feature.
  3. There should be 100 or more cars and less than four classes.
  4. As little dust as possible if you are a dirt track. Yeah, I know there are people who wear “dirt masks,” but remember the gals are paying upwards of $30 for a good hairdo. Note to Humpy: My wife wants to know where she can get a good hairdo for that price.
  5. If you start at 7:30 p.m. it should all be over by 10:25 p.m.
  6. Humpy actually writes that there should be at least two to three rollovers. I don’t know how you could guarantee rollovers but I do know that fans love to see them, as long as no one gets hurt.
  7. He suggests a simple menu in the concession stands. Put the candy, ice cream and specialty items in separate areas so they do not clog up the concession stands.
  1. Biggie Idea! You need to have a “villain.” If you don’t have a villain for the kids to cheer or boo, you are not going to get the interest of the children. Find a Villian.
  2. Keep your facility clean.
  3. Have a Big Show at the beginning of the season and the end of the season. Sell reserved seats.

I agree with a lot of what Humpy Wheeler says. If a promoter is not doing all of this or a big part of what he has recommended, a promoter should consider himself in the Old Promoters Graveyard. Marilyn is still looking for a hairdresser to give her one of those $30 hair deals.

THERE HAS BEEN A COUPLE of times that I have tried to help a racer by using a racer’s sponsor. In this case I have called two different lawn care/landscapers to do work on my yard. Both times I was promised that I would hear from someone and I am still waiting. Someone does not understand the reason for being a sponsor.

WHEN RYAN HUNTER-REAY won the Indianapolis 500 he did not do any burnouts, there was no steering wheel being waved, there was nothing crazy being done in victory lane. He had the wreath, he drank the milk and he made some intelligent comments. I loved it.

LAST WEEK during practice sessions at Pocono Raceway, NASCAR Sprint Cup racer Kyle Larson did not endear himself to many as he said, “Pennsylvania definitely has the weirdest race tracks, that’s for sure, and I think there’s a bunch of weird people who come to tracks like this.” He must not have been paying attention when he was at Talladega.

THANKS TO TOM BERRY JR. for sending me the latest information on the ATQMRA Vintage Division. He points out that many veteran racers are seen in action including Drew Fornoro, Hank Rodgers Jr., Mike Osite, Jimmy Maguire, Jack Duffy (over 80 years old), and a number of others. Many of these racers were regulars back when the ATQMRA was so strong, racing weekly at North Jersey’s Pine Brook Speedway.

Events for the Vintage racers include Chemung (N.Y.) Speedrome on June 20, “Jimmy Maguire Night” at N.Y.’s Bethel Motor Speedway on June 21, Mahoning Valley (Pa.) Speedway on June 29 and Wall Stadium (N.J.) on July 26. Mr. Berry tells us that additional dates are being negotiated. He tells me that they were expecting 14-15 cars for their opener this past weekend and perhaps 5- 6 more for the June 20 show. If that is the case they would be drawing more cars than the ATQMRA group.

THERE IS A SPECIAL NIGHT AT GRANDVIEW SPEEDWAY this Saturday, June 7. It is a special night because the good folks of T.P. Trailers of Limerick, Pa., will be sponsoring the night and they are a huge supporter of NASCAR stock car racing at the Bechtelsville racing facility. The NASCAR 358 Modifieds, BRC Late Models and Sportsman will make up the 7:30 p.m. show. T.P. Trailers invests a size- able amount of money at the track with all of it going to the racers and I know that they all appreciate it.

ENTER THIS ONE IN EVENTS THAT HAVE SPONSOR NAMES that are far too long. Father’s Day Weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park Welcomes NASCAR Back to St. Louis with the American Ethanol Drivin’ for Linemen 200 brought to you by Ameren. This will be the 7th NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race of the season.

IT ALL JUST MAKES ME WONDER. The other day I received a news release with information on an event that was being run the same day that the release was received. PR people need to pay attention to deadlines. The deadline for someone like me, writing for a daily newspaper, is not the same day as the event is being run.

I AM WONDERING WHY the recent Thunder on the Hill seven feature show at Grandview did not draw more praise for Bob Miller and Bruce Rogers. They were able to run off a 7 feature show in little more than 3 hours. They offered some very exciting racing though most fans would say the ARDC midget feature, the winner started 21st, was a real fan pleaser. The first 500 fans received a free hot dog, chips and soda. There was a large number of giveaways. They paid out more than $50,000 in prize money. And adult fans paid just $20. I think they hit a home run with that show.

A TIP OF THE FEDORA to Carl LaVo, a retired editor with the Bucks County Courier Times (Pa.) on a wonderful “Gasoline Alley” column that he wrote on May 30th. He still pens a column from time to time even though he is basically retired.

The column brought back some great memories of the Langhorne Speedway. He reminded readers that the track was pretty much a perfect circle, no straightaways. A constant left turn. The dreaded “Puke Hollow” which claimed the life of the great Indy 500 winner Jimmy Bryan was the result of underground springs that kept the track rutted and mushy in spots.

As a result of his column I learned that way back in the 1920s there was a plan to build a speedway at York and Street Roads in Warminster, Pa. It would have been a two mile speedway that enclosed a one-mile horse track. Seating would accommodate 40,000 (stadium seating) and 80,000 more in bleacher seats. A rail road siding would handle 10 train cars at a time near the grandstand. There would have been parking for 50,000 cars. A golf course and swimming pool would have been included. Someone was certainly thinking big. Unfortunately the stock market crash came in 1929 and the plans were never put in place.

And now 40 years or so after the closing of the Langhorne Speedway, the Kmart story that took its place is now closed. Still remaining on the property is a Sam’s Club and a store that sells, well actually I don’t know what it sells.

LaVo’s column brought back some wonderful memories of days spent at Langhorne Speedway. If you should have the opportunity to one day speak with Mario Andretti or A.J. Foyt ask them what they thought of racing at Langhorne. I am sure the responses will be interesting.

IF YOU PLAN TO BE in Daytona Beach for the NASCAR Sprint Cup 400 on July 5 and all the activities leading up to the event you just may want to plan on stock car racing Living Legend Russ Truelove. He will be at the historic North Turn Restaurant in Ponce Inlet on Thursday, July 3, 6-8 p.m. And again on Sunday, July 6, from 2- 4 p.m. He will be signing autographs and will have copies of his book, “I’ll Think of Some- thing” available.

I do plan to be in Florida covering the race for AARN and a few other publications. And if things go well I will be showing up at the Living Legends of Auto Racing general meeting at their museum in South Daytona on July 5.

FOR THOSE WHO KEEP ASKING ABOUT MY GOLF GAME, many know how much I have enjoyed the game, unfortunately I have not played in a while. Back problems have kept my off the golf course and I am hoping to get it all corrected sometime in the future.

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“BEING FORCED TO WORK AND FORCED TO DO YOUR BEST, will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle will never know.” – Charles Kingsley