Charging Forward: Starting Them Young

We Need to Get the Next Generation Involved

Industry guys have been saying it for years; be it old school auto journalists or the members of the SEMA board — and it’s still true today. Recently, while testing one of our ProCharged project vehicles at the dragstrip, I had something of an epiphany; there were barely any kids there. I say that because not only does the hobby need the support, but our industry does as a whole. Once we grow old and can’t wield a shifter or mash a loud pedal there will be nobody to take our place. At least, that’s the way it’s looking.

As of this writing, I have a 4-year old son and a daughter currently on the way. My son has already taken to cars much like I had as a kid, and he’s already trying to climb behind the wheel of everything in the shop. During our last test-and-tune visit at the local drag strip where I was testing The Mule (more on that at a later date), he was actually pretty angry that he couldn’t climb behind the wheel and race down the ‘strip himself — seriously.

Being something of an anomaly, considering he was born in 2014 and has had his own iPad for two years, he’s not interested in video games, movies or cartoons, really, and is more comfortable playing outside and getting dirty. Whenever I’m in the shop, he not only wants to watch what I’m doing, but he wants to dig into it himself, with zero fear of doing something wrong. The kid has aptitude and confidence for days, and an eagerness to learn. I’m certainly a proud father, but I sometimes question what his peers will be like as the years roll on and he gets enrolled into public schools.

Some kids, like my son, take to cars almost instantly but others not so much. Many enthusiasts, even those from my generation that I know personally, admit to not having been interested in cars on any level until they earned their driver’s license. That’s fine, but recent statistics show that car ownership among those in the 18-25 category are at an all time low in almost a century. Many of whom claim that not only can’t they afford a car (really, not even a beater?), but they admit to having zero interest in even purchasing a vehicle at all.

This is a great way for kids to get busy, too. My son has one of these, and there’s no shortage on plastic, buildable engines, toy cars, etc. currently on the market through department stores, and brick and mortar outlets. You can even buy these at Summit racing, currently.

I suppose having a mobile app that calls a car on demand and takes you wherever you want to go, via Lyft and Uber, has some appeal. It makes sense in a major city like New York, certainly, but where’s the freedom or piece of mind in that?

You can’t compare the convenience of hipster Steve and his Prius picking you up to take you to your favorite sushi bar, to having your own personal chunk of rolling steel, rubber, plastic and glass that you could potentially drive coat to coast, or anywhere else you want to go, personally. You could argue that high insurance rates for young people, as well as a lack of understanding of mechanics and unwanted repair costs could be key components. The average, younger Gen-Xer or Millennial can barely change a tire, let alone, pull an engine and rebuild it.

Then you have to consider the “academic war” on any kind of blue collar skilled career. Even when I was in high school in the mid-’90s, it was seen as uncool to learn how to work on an engine, how to weld, perform bodywork or take any interest in learning a so-called “dirty job” — and it’s only became worse in recent years. Even 30 years ago, school kids were essentially brought up to believe that the best, and only course of action post-high school graduation, was pursuing a college degree. It didn’t matter what the major was, just so long as you went and earned a degree in something. The longer you went, the better. Since then, we’ve witnessed an entire generation of people riddled with college debt that they can’t pay for, for a degree that they can’t even use — eventually ending up in a job that they hate, anyway. But, I digress.

Stepping back into 2018, we are seeing something of a resurgence in car culture, thanks to modern reality TV shows like Fast N’ Loud, Street Outlaws and even the Fast and Furious films on the big screen. It’s mostly people in their late-20s to early-40s getting into the game, though, while we’re still lacking with interest from the 16-25 crowd. It’s an all-too-common story where someone with a classic car passes away, and the immediate family simply dumps it off on Craigslist due to a lack of interest from anyone. It’s an awesome way for an enthusiast to score a great car for cheap, but it’s alarmingly depressing considering the situation.

All is not lost, however, as there have been many programs kicked off by HagertySEMA and many others, who are doing everything that they can to ensure that not only is the hobby safe for generations to come, but so is the industry as a whole. To folks like yours truly, this is more than a passion and a hobby, but it’s our actual livelihood.

SEMA’s own Take a Kid to a Car Show is a very cheap and easy way to get things started; point out the different cars to them, teach them the various makes and models, and what makes each one special. If nothing else, it’s a great way to bond with your kids or grandkids. Children under the age of 12 usually get in free and in most cases, adults are typically charged at most, $10 to spectate the show.

Even when our parent company, AutoCentric Media, makes an appearance at an event we make it a point to pass out free Hot Wheels cars to the kids that stop by our booth. It’s a small thing, but if even a tiny 99-cent Camaro, Mustang or Charger (or hot rod, tuner or truck) could spark a flame in a 5-year old kid to take an interest in cars, it’s money well-spent.

Whether or not you’re a “hardcore gear head,” you can at least teach them the basics; how to change oil, gap spark plugs, change a flat and so on. They’ll need to know that, anyway, just so long as we have petrol-powered vehicles and people still earn driver’s licenses. Tune into automotive-themed TV shows, take them to the drag strip, spectate an autocross event and maybe even help them buy their first project car when they get closer to driving age. It doesn’t have to be the latest or greatest, and it doesn’t have to anything particularly expensive.

Currently, people are basically giving LT1 and LS1-powered F-bodies away for a song, and you can score a V8-powered SN95 Mustang for all of the spare change in your pocket, change drawer and cup holder. Or, you can simply pick up the dilated truck down the street and make something out of that. Point is, it’s not that difficult or expensive to get into the hobby, and the bond you could form with your son, grandson or neighbor kid could last for years to come, all because of the car.

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