Growing up, nearly every kid who walked out on their little league ball diamond had dreams of one day playing major league baseball. The same kid would through the ball high up in the air, pretending they made the World Series winning fly ball catch. The kid would sit at the ball park with his eyes glued on his baseball heroes, studying their every move and technique, all the while dreaming of the day he too would do the same. I too, had these dreams.
At 10-years-old with four years of youth baseball under my belt, I discovered my interests and strong points. At this point in life, I had already been racing in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League for two years. I wasn’t a horribly awful ball player but I was easily a much better drag racer. I tolerated playing baseball but I loved drag racing. Success on the drag strip is much like success on the ball diamond. My dedication to racing resembled the kid previously mentioned who loved baseball. I would sit in my basement, taking hits on my practice tree, pretending that Warren Johnson was in the opposite lane. I would go to every NHRA U.S. Nationals and NHRA National event at Route 66 Raceway, following drivers like Mark “The Cowboy” Pawuk around their pit area and into the staging lanes, dreaming that one day I would be a part of that racing scene.
Taking a junior dragster driver to the drag strip to watch a “big car” bracket race or see NHRA pros and pro sportsman drivers in action is like stepping into a classroom. Although a wheel standing super stock Camaro has little in common with a 150″ wheel-base junior dragster, the on-track race procedures are nearly identical.
Starting out in the junior dragster class, it is important not to take losses too hard early in a driver’s career. The truth is most eight or nine year-old drivers just entering the ranks are going to be paired against drivers with more experience than them. While I have witnessed a junior driver win in their first outing, it is rare and likely a case of serious beginners luck. So I advise, don’t take the losses against older drivers too hard in the beginning. Of course, race to win, but don’t get frustrated. Racing against more experienced drivers will only make you or your driver a better racer. In time, the younger driver will develop their skills behind the wheel and that first big win against an older driver will be all the more enjoyable.
With that said, losing early in a race gives that young driver and their parent or car owner an opportunity to learn from the grandstands. Walk the young driver near the starting line to pay close attention to what the more experienced drivers are doing. Teach the importance of consistency in all burnout and staging procedures. The last 6-inches when rolling into the stage beam is possibly the most crucial piece of real estate on the drag strip, so teach your driver to take their time, courtesy stage, and concentrate.
After you have spent time at the starting line, give the young driver a lesson in the basics of finish line driving. With each pair of car that passes, point out when a driver did well or how they could have done better. Seeing first hand is a strong tool in learning the fundamentals.
As always at any point in a driver’s career, safety is of utmost importance. Before the day’s race even begins, take a walk to the turn off of the drag strip. Every track is a little different, so coach the driver to remind him/her where the finish line is, how long the shut down area is, and how they should properly exit the drag strip: obey track officials if they are present, turn slowly, and always be aware of the other car to avoid a collision.