Bridging the generation gap
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Meremere Dragway is looking to grow its Teen Championship Racing initiative during the upcoming season, aiming to keep junior dragster racers active in the sport and attract newcomers into the quarter-mile fold.
The championship racing allows 13- to 17-year-olds to drag race in full-size cars. It requires a road-registered and warrant of fitness-approved vehicle and a guardian who is happy to go along for the ride.
Other branches of motorsport with successful junior programmes often struggle to keep older teenagers in the sport. Moving from Youth Mini Stocks into an adult category is a big step for many involved in speedway and drag racing has had challenges finding an accessible progression for competitors graduating from the eighth-mile junior dragster category.
“It’s an American idea we’ve borrowed from the International Hot Rod Association and adapted a little for the Kiwi situation,” said Meremere Dragway manager Gary Bogaart.
“The idea is to bridge the gap between junior dragsters and competition cars. The teenagers can start racing at 13. There’s a graduated scale so 13-year-olds can run a minimum of 17 seconds, then 16 seconds when they turn 14 and 15 seconds then they turn 15.”
The youngsters compete within the Super Street category (for cars running no quicker than 11 seconds) with a DYO (dial your own) handicap format where success is based on reaction times and racing consistently to a self-selected target time.
“The youngsters stage the car and race it but their guardian (who must hold a full civil drivers’ licence) has to drive the car back along the return road and at all times around the pit area,” said Bogaart. “We’ve been running it for a couple of years and it’s started slowly with sometimes two competitors and sometimes four. But we’re keen to see it grow.
“The idea is to keep costs down and make it as easy as possible for teenagers to get a taste of racing. There doesn’t have to be much cost involved in a car that runs 17 seconds or slower and IHRA members can race for free while it’s a $20 entry fee for non-members to race.”
Bogaart’s 14-year-old son Nick is a good example of the competitors in the teen category.
“He started in juniors but he grew too tall to fit in the car. He had to have a year off and then started racing my Falcon coupe but without the race motor.” Meremere’s summer season begins this weekend with Test and Tune sessions on Saturday and the opening competition meet on Sunday.
The IHRA Spring Nationals are scheduled for November 19-20 and Bogaart said track bookings were all but full with only a couple of days available through till Easter.
“The Grudge Kings on November 27 and the 4 & Rotor Nationals (January 29) are shaping up as big events.” The Nitro Shootout race day is still being finalised. If it happens it will be in February next year and hopefully we’ll have the details nailed down in the next few weeks.”
Several new cars are expected on the strip this summer. Waiuku’s Gubb Racing will bring the first twin turbo big-block dragster to New Zealand tracks running in the Competition category, while Hamilton’s Nigel Dixon will debut a Ford Falcon Top Doorslammer imported from Australia.