Problem Solving | Performance Racing Industry
Problem Solving
By Dan Schechner on August 12, 2019

They say the first step in solving a problem is recognizing you have one. So let’s start here: We need to do more to engage the next generation of racing enthusiasts.

Oh, you’ve heard this before? Me too. Repeatedly. For as long as I’ve been at PRI.

Okay then, problem acknowledged. Which means we’re able to move past step one.

Now come the harder questions: As an industry, what are we doing about it? Or, to put a finer point on it, how are we working to get young people excited and passionate about motorsports—either as a pastime, a hobby, or, ideally, as a career?

And that, in a nutshell, was what we sought to uncover in our report on the Youth Racing Market, which begins on page 66 of this month’s PRI Magazine.

We wanted to know how sanctioning bodies and track officials, for example, are getting kids to the races, and how they’re keeping them engaged once they leave.

We wanted to know how race teams are connecting with youngsters who may be involved in stick-and-ball sports, or no sports at all, and planting a seed of fascination.

And we wanted to shine a light on the various programs and services offered by stakeholders like the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and others, initiatives that are intended to “cover the spectrum and trajectory of education from kindergarten through post-secondary, and into a career or lifestyle as automotive enthusiasts,” according to SEMA’s Senior Director of Education (and all-around good guy) Zane Clark.

One of those efforts is the YES Program, which is run by the NHRA and sponsored by Ford, Universal Technical Institute (UTI), Mopar and SEMA/PRI. Briefly, the program stresses the importance of goals and continued education while showing junior high and high school students how science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) play a role in real-world situations and careers. It makes stops at 15 of 24 events during the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and reaches an impressive 30,000-plus kids.  

As part of the gig, sponsors set up tents with activities and information for students and educators to learn more about what each one offers. For Ford and Mopar, that includes the opportunities available to auto technicians and networking with dealer reps; for UTI, it’s introducing kids to the education and technical training offered through its campuses.

At SEMA/PRI, our goals include exposing students who may or may not have an interest in autos or the aftermarket to the unique environment of race tracks. The experience helps inspire them to embrace automotive culture and reinforces the appeal of a career in motorsports. And yes, we hand out plenty of earplugs in the process.

“We are looking to create a spark that turns into a passion,” Clark added of SEMA/PRI’s involvement in YES. “Are the students excited? Are they engaged? Are they more interested in the automotive lifestyle after our program? Are they finding jobs? These are the outcomes we are looking to achieve.”

Having participated in one of these events I can tell you firsthand that what NHRA and its partners are doing is inspiring. Not just for the students, but for the professionals who get to meet and interact with these next-generation performance enthusiasts. Because they are getting excited, and they are getting engaged. And several more are exploring the opportunities that exist along the path to a career in automotive.

The foundation is there—it’s just up to us now to develop it.

About the Author
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Dan Schechner is the Editor of Performance Racing Industry Magazine.
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