Like many of us, my parents got me into racing at a young age. I remember driving a go kart around our yard, tearing up the grass and gravel. When I was about 4 or 5, my parents decided to let me compete against other kids my age and bought a used 1/4 midget. Turns out, I inherited some of my father’s competitive spirit and I thoroughly enjoyed racing that car. I remember begging my parents to take me to races every available weekend and some week nights.
While the 1/4 midget racing was fun, it wasn’t what my dad did, I wanted to drag race. I can’t remember how many times my friends and I were yelled at by NHRA officials for racing our bikes at divisional and national events. We were usually bracket racing with a third person using a stop watch and dropping arms. Our dreams finally got answered with the formation of the junior drag racing league.
I was one of the first lucky kids to get into a junior dragster in 1993 and I have been hooked on drag racing ever since. I still remember going to Vinny Napp’s shop at Raceway Park to pick up my car with my dad. While primitive compared to today’s version, it was state of the art back then. All mild steel tubing, one piece fiberglass body and a stock Briggs 5hp motor that was actually 5 hp. This rocket ship propelled me down the 1/8th mile in about 15 seconds. Laughably slow now, but man was it cool. I ran that car for a few years before we upgraded to a lighter, faster, new car that fit me a little better, but the memories of that first car will never be forgotten. I even remember tearing up a little when we sold it to the next lucky kid.
As a kid, racing was the big carrot to keep me in line. My parent’s always held it over my head to make sure I stayed out of trouble and kept my grades up. I knew they were joking as they had to make good on their threat one time (and only one time) by making me sit out a race. While I didn’t understand at the time, those lessons prepared me to be able to reach for long term goals and focusing on the high priority of schooling. When I talk to other people who raced at a young age, we all knew that racing was a privilege. It was the best tool for keeping us out of major trouble at home.
Junior drag racing also brought new blood into the sport. Many of the early adopters were in a drag racing family already, but there was plenty of additional people who either used to race or had neighbors who raced and this gave them a perfect entry to the sport. Complete operations were initially in the $3k range and one could throw the car in the back of a truck and go racing. Like everything though, it is quite a bit more expensive now and therefore fewer new people are joining. NHRA has tried to counter using the ¼ midget approach and allowing kids as young as 5 to race. I am not sure if it has helped, but they are making an effort.
It was also a tool to bring families together on the weekends. While most of the time at the track was spent hanging out with friends, there was so much extra time spent with my family. While I couldn’t stand the hours of driving to the various events, I realize now how much I miss those conversations with my dad. I never understood how big of a deal that must have been for him until I had a kid of my own. A lot of kids don’t want to hang out with their parents in the early and mid-teens, but not the ones who race!
After reading through many of our guest bloggers’ stories, family and friends are our biggest takeaway from the sport. So, getting our kids into the sport at a young age make sense and this is one of the things I am most looking forward to with my own son. But if he wants to play soccer instead, I guess I’ll be visiting a lot more soccer fields. Anything for the kids, right? -Franklin DiBartolomeo