NASCAR veterans Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski have expressed their concerns over the increasing trend of young drivers entering the sport at an incredibly early age.
Stewart, a renowned championship driver and team owner, and Keselowski, a NASCAR champion and team co-owner, have both voiced their dissatisfaction with the current direction of motorsports, arguing that it makes little sense to place children as young as 12 or 14 in late model cars. Their remarks have ignited a conversation about the potential negative effects on the personal development and long-term prospects of these young talents.
“I don’t like the direction motorsports is going as a whole,” said Stewart. “I’m not just picking on NASCAR. There are series putting kids in late models at 12 and 14 (years old). It makes zero sense to me.”
Keselowski also agrees with Stewarts notion that the age limits for racing should be reevaluated industry-wide. In his view, the current age requirements do not align with the necessary maturity level required to handle the challenges and responsibilities of professional racing. He argues that starting young can hinder personal growth and limit individuals’ abilities to develop as well-rounded individuals, both on and off the track.
“It’s significantly too low for the maturity level that you can expect of someone at those ages to be able to handle these challenges and tasks,” Keselowski stated. “It’s unfair to them. It ends up limiting their ability to grow as a person. I think that hurts them later in their lives.
“That’s one (thing) that’s probably near and dear to my heart is letting 16-year-olds be 16-year-olds and not trying to make them superstar race car drivers because it damages them so much in their lives. That ends up hurting our garage area, too, and our industry.”
Keselowski says the case for lowering the age level exists because of a “number of financial incentives that permeated through the garage areas with specific people.”
“But I think it’s way past time to take a really deep dive and look at that and revert back to models of years past that I think served us well,” he continued. “At some point, the industry has to protect itself from itself and start raising the age limits and fixing the garage areas.”
While it is true that several current Cup stars, such as Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, and Ty Gibbs, found success after starting their careers at a young age, Stewart and Keselowski advocate for a reexamination of the age limits in order to protect the sport’s integrity and the well-being of young drivers. They argue that allowing 16-year-olds to experience their teenage years without the pressure of becoming superstar race car drivers is essential for their long-term personal development.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps has acknowledged the need to review the age requirements for drivers in NASCAR’s top three series, recognizing the concerns raised by industry veterans. This call for a reassessment comes after incidents such as the prohibition of 16-year-old Kyle Busch from participating in a Truck series event due to sponsorship restrictions. The involvement of tobacco companies in racing sponsorship led to an interpretation of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, preventing individuals under 18 from participating in events sponsored by these companies.
While acknowledging the presence of talented young drivers, Stewart emphasized the importance of drivers who grasp the challenges and complexities of the sport, underscoring the value of experience and maturity.
Richard Childress, a respected team owner and former driver, also shared his perspective on the matter. He acknowledged that evaluating drivers on an individual basis is crucial, but cautioned against pushing drivers to compete at excessively young ages. Childress emphasized the importance of drivers acquiring a solid understanding of race cars before stepping into professional racing, citing examples like Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer who gained valuable experience and maturity before entering NASCAR.
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