NASCAR needs to get more young fans interested in racing before it's too late

Jimmie Johnson answers questions from young reporters from the NY Newsday Kids Section in 2010. - John W. Ferguson

Megan Leben is a 14-year-old middle school student from Georgia. The following is a commentary written from her perspective as a young, avid NASCAR fan.

What are Monday morning water cooler discussions like around your office after an exciting race weekend? For me and my friends, they occur sitting in front of our lockers in our school's hallway – but they don't include any talk of NASCAR.

When I bring up a photo finish or the new points leader, all I get are blank stares. I'm an eighth-grader who lives in Georgia, a state which the rest of the country sees as rich in NASCAR history, but many people in my generation know next-to-nothing about the sport.

There just aren't many young fans in NASCAR. Hardly any of my friends know what NASCAR is, let alone watch it – but everyone watches baseball and football whenever a game is on. Baseball, basketball and football are sports that kids across the country play.

When they watch those games, they know what's going on and what needs to happen because they play and understand the sport. Getting kids to race like they play other sports is a hard problem to solve, given that racing is expensive and not every town has a local race track.

All my friends see NASCAR as a bunch of cars going around in circles a few hundred times, when really it's so much more. It's perfect calculations, impeccable timing and sharp senses.

So what are some possible solutions? And how can NASCAR get my friends interested?

First of all, there's so much math and science involved in NASCAR – two classes I take every day at school. How many laps can the car go before it runs out of gas? What's the fastest way around the track? How will different weather conditions affect the car? Those are among many other components of racing are directly related to things I learn everyday in my math and science classes.

If NASCAR held competitions or classes and provided materials for teachers to incorporate NASCAR in their classroom to encourage math and science in young students, it would not only increase the fan base, but it would help students learn and become more interested in those subjects because they could see real-world examples of the things they are learning in class.

More young drivers would help, too. Right now, there aren't many young drivers in NASCAR's top three national touring series. Most drivers are in their 30s and 40s. The young drivers, such as the Dillon brothers (ages 19 and 22), Trevor Bayne (21) and Joey Logano (22), often get overshadowed by the older, "better" drivers.

Of course, it takes time for some young drivers to consistently run well, but some run in the top 10 every week. Austin Dillon won the 2011 Camping World Series championship and is doing very well in the Nationwide Series this year (third in points), but still doesn't get much media attention.

NASCAR needs to find a way to help attract kids to the sport. Lots of young drivers, like Chase Elliott and Josh Berry, race in the ARCA series, the K&N East and West series, the Whelen All-American Tour and the Whelen Modified Tour. If NASCAR found a way to promote these races such as including them in a ticket package for the weekend or showing them on TV every once in a while, kids might become more interested because they see people their own age racing.

Another thing is kids have short attention spans. They need something to be going on or they become uninterested. Some of the kids I see at the track look bored with the race. Some even fall asleep. In most kids' eyes, all the race cars do is go in circles for a certain amount of time and occasionally something happens and they wreck.

I went to Talladega recently, and it was a perfect example of what the races should be like. Fans were excited and on the edge of their seats from the three- and four-wide racing. Good racing like this keeps veteran fans interested and helps new fans understand why NASCAR is such an exciting sport.

It's a hard problem to solve, but there needs to be more kids interested in NASCAR. If NASCAR doesn't get kids in the sport now, in 20 years when the kids of the today are grown-ups, NASCAR won't have as many loyal fans.

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