As the story goes, a couple of months ago a 14-year “person” won a $50-grand bracket race, a pretty impressive feat but one which blew up on the Internet when people found out his age. That started a firestorm of sorts with debates on should the promoter/track operator have allowed an underage driver. Far be it from me to get in the middle of that one, but suffice it to say though, it’s my belief it shouldn’t have been allowed but it brings up a couple of things in my mind. (Yeah, that’s dangerous, I know.)
According to the NHRA Rulebook, Each driver of a vehicle entered in any event conducted at an NHRA-sanctioned track must be at least 16-years of age (except Jr. Dragster or Jr. Street) and have either a valid state or government issued driver’s license beyond a learner’s permit level or NHRA Competition License subject to inspection by officials at any time.
Which to me means that as long as a person is 16-years old, he or she can potentially race a car even if that person doesn’t yet possess a valid state driver’s license or permit as long as that person has an NHRA Competition License. So be it. I might get flamed for this but here goes.
With the understanding that a lot of kids these days (I would like to think) have probably driven a street car much earlier than they were allowed (I did at 12-years old). But what’s to stop a person from jumping in a six- or seven-second dragster without actually having driven a street car? Nothing, but there are a lot of other “rules” which are broken which should be addressed also. A 14-year old driving a dragster is at the bottom of my list. Let ‘em race. It wouldn’t have been an issue had he not won.
But no neck collars, no gloves, no fire pants, loose seat belts and heads hanging out of the roll cage, to me should be looked at before someone checks a birth certificate.
So, I get it. There is usually no or little tech inspection of cars and drivers done at some events. I doubt too may track operators/promoters want to eliminate a paying customer because he or she doesn’t have or wear an approved neck collar. However, at some point a driver should realize the dangers and take whatever precautions he or she can to eliminate an injury in the unlikely event of a catastrophe.
In our story with Clay Millican in this issue, he related how Mike Kloeber taught him so much about driving and even wearing safety equipment. “Mike introduced me to Shelly Anderson and he asked her to show me her ankles,” said Millican. “I wasn’t sure what to think but she showed me the burns from a fire she had while wearing low top driving shoes. I’ve never wore low tops again. And I was wearing Nomex gloves under my driving gloves way before they were mandatory.”
While rules might be the rules, I still believe one must weigh out the dangers we face and dress accordingly. Standing on the starting line shooting photos I see it all the time, guys pulling to the line without the proper safety equipment. I’ve suggested to some track tech people to post a guy on the starting line taking names and car numbers of offending racers. I am not in favor of anyone being tossed out but at least have a conversation to hopefully allow them to see the errors of their ways.
It’s about learning from mistakes. And of course, we don’t learn. I’ve said this for a long time, but it’s my belief that kids need to be hurt before they learn, and I don’t necessarily mean hurt in the physical sense. But sometimes adults need to be hurt too.
It’s like standing behind a car in the burnout box. The first time a rock is kicked up and hits you in the leg or body, you learn really quick not to stand there anymore. If you notice a friend getting hurt in a crash because he wore loose seat belts, chances are you’ll tighten your belts the next time in the car, or at least hopefully so.
So what of the “person” who won the $50K? There’s probably little doubt that KC Pesnell could handle his racer. And if the track operator or promoter was okay with it, then so be it. I still believe there were far more rules violations there and at other events which should be addressed. -JOHN DiBARTOLOMEO