Craig Murto: Everybody can win
The best situations in life are those in which everybody wins.
People always point out the problems faced by short track racing, and racing in general. It’s time for some ideas that solve those problems.
For instance, many observe that tracks suffer because of a lack of tech inspectors; not that the ones we have don’t do a great job, but there simply aren’t enough of them. Others point out that tracks have an aging fan base; there are fewer young people in the stands, and in the pits as well.
Proactive programs to involve young people in racing are not new. South Boston Speedway comes to mind; they have programs to get kids in Go-Karts and get them on race teams. With funding provided by the Mattioli Foundation and cooperation of the Halifax County School System, students can even earn a varsity letter in the motorsports program. And South Boston offers internships to local students that can involve them in everything from tech to operations at the speedway.
“These kids are our future,” said Cathy Rice, South Boston’s general manager.
Indeed they are the future, and they could be the future tech officials at your local racetrack. Most high schools have an auto mechanics class, right? Many districts have vocational schools. Your local track should make use of that local talent.
Work out deals with the teachers and school districts to get kids to work as volunteer help in the tech shed, to aid tech officials at the track. Set criteria and allow students who meet the criteria a chance to work at the track for school credit. You’ll have to work out the age limits, liability, etc.
And obviously you don’t want a 16- or 17-year-old student to have to argue with a grizzled racer or crew chief over a car’s legality. Set these helpers out to perform certain tasks, to tech specific things depending upon their abilities and the amount of trust they’ve earned. Instruct them that if they find a problem to discreetly get one of the track’s true tech officials to check their work and make the call.
Put a program in place in which students on a winning Go-Kart team get to help an actual race team at the track as a reward. Or, if your track doesn’t have the facility on which to race Go-Karts or doesn’t have the ability to provide them, you can work with your track’s race teams and local schools to put high school interns on the teams. Require that the intern works voluntarily on the racecar a minimum number of hours each week, just like any other member of the team, and allow them to get into the pits free of charge on race nights.
The race team gets extra help in free on race nights, as well as extra help during the week. The student gets experience and extra class credit.
And what of students with no technical knowledge or ability? There are plenty of areas in which young people can assist in the operations of a racetrack. Registration, concessions, general office work all are duties at a racetrack from which a young person can learn. If local tracks got creative and approach local school systems, they could put their heads together and create a variety of unique programs. Students can gain valuable life experience and school credit.
Local racing organizations can put similar programs together; this idea is not restricted simply to tracks. If your track or racing organization doesn’t have a way to reach out to students, find out why and make it happen.
Using students in this way does a number of things, more than just giving tracks and race teams a little help. Besides providing unique life experiences, you might just spark a young person’s interest in racing. Perhaps that person tells his or her friends and suddenly you’ve got more young people in your stands; the track could become the “cool” place to hang out. Invite the local media to garner positive public relations with the community by publicizing the character- and career-building opportunities the students are provided.
Like Cathy Rice noted, these young people are our future. If we can get them involved, everybody wins.
Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.