In keeping track of various forms of auto racing around the country, I see a trend becoming more and more commonplace — very young drivers.
There have always been young drivers. A new hot shoe to challenge the established veterans. Many great rivalries have been brewed from this recipe. I refer to really young drivers, the kind that are too young to acquire a legal learner’s permit, but for some reason are old enough to scorch the track in a late model.
And there isn’t a token young talent mixed among the experienced racers. There are fields full of these kids. Boys in the 14 to 16 year old ranges can comprise a local bullring’s Saturday night field.
And I don’t care.
Jeff Gordon changed the way motorsports operated. Not intentionally, but he was the guy that made every fan and team owner say “Hmmm.”
Gordon made his first Busch Series start in the fall of 1990 at the tender age of 19.
Cup racing began at the wet-behind-the-ears age of 21 in November of 1992. He competed fulltime in 1993. Signing with the top-notch team of Hendrick Motorsports formed an untested combination that seemed destined to fail by popular opinion. It did just the opposite.
Gordon ran up front and led lap after lap while he was given time to learn at the Cup level. His age boasted nearly 15 years of racing experience. A whole new generation of "Little League Dads" was born.
Thousands and even millions of dollars were spent by fathers to see someone’s son become the “next Jeff Gordon.” Go carts at age 5, quarter midgets soon after, heavier stock cars in their teens and on a superspeedway before a high school graduation stage. Because that was the age Jeff Gordon did it.
Noted racing writer Bones Bourcier and I enjoyed some great bench racing earlier this year. He recalled multiple times how some father, and unsolicited mind you, would regale Bourcier about tales of the son who has tremendous driving talent. The inevitable line comes forth “…and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boy.” Umm… yes, you are. It is a tale that has been told many times over.
Short track pit areas are being filled with drivers who were not even born yet when Gordon made his Cup debut. This fact does not make me feel any younger. It also fails to capture my interest.
When I attend any race I am interested in the driving talent competing even if it is a new raceway for me. The local veterans have history, reputations, and stories to back up their names. If a young gun is among them he makes for an interesting story.
A feature race filled with kids all sporting tremendous potential based on their dad’s testimony has lost the personality appeal.
I can watch the sprint car feature at Kokomo Speedway in Indiana or the late model feature at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine and not personally know the drivers. But I know of many of them. I am psyched.
If I sit down to watch a Legends race and the oldest competitor is on summer recess, I think I will find something else to do.
They might all be nice guys and have some talent. But a Tracy Hines or a Patrick Laperle peaks my interest. Drivers that need mom or dad to drive them to the speedway, do not.
Many parents believe in their hearts that their kid is the next great… whomever. But there are only 43 Cup grid positions every week. Veterans who have been around for years will continue to fill many seats. Very few of these young guns will ever get a sniff of that landscape.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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