by Brendan Gaughan
Motorsports caught my attention at a very young age. I have told a lot of people about my "Desert Rat" days, following my father through his off-road racing career. Racing is not something just anyone can do, and I appreciate the opportunities that have come my way – or rather that I raced toward – because I definitely wasn’t waiting for someone to find me.
Most will read this and say, "He never had to worry about money, anyway. He could buy anything he wants, including a ride." But the fact of the matter is, I didn’t buy my rides; I earned them. Yes, my opportunity came because my father had a relationship with Walker Evans, but it didn’t come for free. I had to earn it. From the first off-road race I entered and won, it was a continual journey to succeed.
There are several drivers who could have "bought" their rides, but they earned them by honest, hard work. There are some who didn’t have the money, but they had the grit and kept coming back. Some learned the cars from the inside by working in a friend’s garage, if that meant starting by sweeping the floor and holding a wrench when someone asked. You might be surprised at what someone can learn by hearing the lingo and watching with the intention of learning.
Some guys found their destiny when they climbed into a go-kart, and some started on dirt bikes. But most found what they were looking for when they were younger, and the common denominator was never giving up.
As racers, we are a competitive breed. Racers are not limited to drivers. It includes the men and women who build and work on the cars. Yes, I said women. For those of you who don’t know, there is a pretty little blonde who works over in the NASCAR Busch Series, and I don’t mean in public relations or marketing or anything. Her name is on the short list of great "tire guys." Her team, the No. 5 Hendrick team, took home the NASCAR Busch Series championship trophy last year.
I have been told there is a pretty brunette over at Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the engine department. No, she isn’t cleaning the parts or answering the phones. She is up to her elbows in grease working on the engines.
Both of these women do what they love doing, and they are only two examples. They not only earned the opportunity to fill their positions. They back it up weekly, kind of like Tiger Woods. He learned the game of golf while he was young. He practiced and practiced, ate, and then practiced. He earned his first opportunity to play in the Masters by hard work. He entered and won competitions or tournaments that led to the PGA. He made his way, and now he is an icon.
Imagine that – seeing what you want and going after it.
This past week, I went to the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia. This is a program that I try to support as often as time allows. The school’s founder, Anthony Martin, has one heck of a program in place. He works with young boys and girls, mostly from Philadelphia’s inner city. These kids range in age from 8 to 18. The program gives them an overview of motorsports. He has tests and videos to introduce the students to the fundamentals of racing. They learn it from the ground up. These children are the future of our sport and also represent the growing effort for diversity.
The majority of the kids that go through the school are a minority and from neighborhoods that are extremely dangerous and difficult. Anthony has 1,000 students on a waiting list to participate in his curriculum. There are some great kids going through this program, and they do not give up. With efforts like these, our sport will continue to grow and become more diverse, but these processes are not going to occur overnight. It will be a process that is going to have growing pains, but diversity will come.
And watch out. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first African-American winning driver in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series comes from this program. Ari, Leon, even you, "Apache," keep digging and never give up!