Where the Young(er) Guns Are

If you’re a true-blue NASCAR fan you’ve probably noticed the frequent references these days to the “young guns” and their march toward replacement of the veterans in the sport. Names like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, the Dillon brothers, Kyle Larson, and most recently William Byron seem to be mounting a front that will give fans a steady place to put their support as names like Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, and Danica Patrick (gasp! Yes, she’s 35 years old now) begin their exit from the sport. Dale Earnhardt Junior will be pretty much gone after this year, Tony Stewart departed last year and Jeff Gordon two years ago, so the natural progression continues.

It’s just something that happens, and those of us who grew up with the sport saw it happen with the likes of King Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby and Donnie Allison, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Awesome Bill Elliott, and so on. We saw the crop of “young guns” elbow their way onto the stage, and the sport was better for the continuity of it. That’s what’s happening right now with the names mentioned above.

But don’t you wonder about the next wave? The next collection of racers who will step into the spotlight, maybe six, seven, or eight years down the road? You know that there are drivers as young as age 5 or 6 competing in go-karts or Quarter Midgets, and you know that there are Legend Car series and Bandolero series around the country that cultivate young talent. These venues are great to get seat time and develop some basic racing instincts, but the leap to a full-body late model is where the herd begins to get thinned out. But hold on…did you know there’s a relatively new series called the “Jr. Late Model Series” designed to nurture drivers ages 10 to 16 as they learn the art (and science) of wielding big cars–Late Model Stock Cars–in competition?

The Jr. Late Model Series launched last year at Madera Speedway in central California’s San Joaquin Valley. It’s an eight-race series that serves as a live training ground for these young competitors. In the words of Kenny Shepherd, Madera Speedway owner and a staunch advocate of the series, “The concept for the Jr. Late Model Series is something I’ve thought about since 2009, as I believe a restricted Late Model is a great place for a youngster to hone their skills in a car they can move up with throughout their teenage years.” Evidently, quite a few people agree with Shepherd, since the series, now in its second year of operation, currently fields 24 drivers and has attracted the attention of Lucas Oil’s MAVTV cable and satellite television channel. The events are televised to MAVTV viewers via satellite or cable, with standard or HDTV programming.

Check your local television schedule listings and try to catch a broadcast of one of these Jr. Late Model Events. You’ll be impressed at the skill levels, poise, and personalities of these young gals and guys. And make note of the names…you’re likely to see them in a few years in the big leagues!



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