May 31, 2014, 1:17 PM EST
As an old sports marketer’s saying goes, “Get ‘em while they’re young — and you’ll have ‘em for life.”
That’s the philosophy of the National Hot Rod Association, which announced Saturday that it has reset the minimum age requirement for youngsters to take part in the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League.
Effective June 15, the minimum age for an aspiring John Force, Tony Schumacher or Courtney Force will now be just five years old, sanctioning body officials announced.
Five-year-olds will now be part of a new class called the “Trainee” category, where, according to an NHRA media release, “participants can begin running a Jr. Dragster with a crate engine from Briggs & Stratton with a slide valve limiting the power output of the engine. Trainee participants will make single passes down the dragstrip to get familiar with the car and track surroundings in a non-pressure environment.”
In addition, a separate class for six- and seven-year-olds, the “Youth” category, has also been created and will allow participants “to begin competing head-to-head on the track at the 13.90-second index with a crate engine and slightly increased power output from the Trainee category engine,” the NHRA media release stated.
Those classes will join existing classes for youth participants: novice (8-9), intermediate (10-12) and advanced (13-18).
Also, new licensing procedures have been put into place that will require every new youthful participant to complete a cockpit orientation, basic driving test, track orientation and test passes.
“It is important to provide competition opportunities for children in these age groups so they can become exposed much earlier to the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League and the sport of NHRA Championship Drag Racing,” said Josh Peterson, NHRA vice president of racing administration. “With similar introductory programs available in stick and ball sports for ‘pee-wee’ competitors, we wanted to put an NHRA drag racing option into that mix for families to consider.”
The setting for the announcement, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., was fitting, as it was there that the original NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League was formed and began competition in 1993.
Several of today’s stars in the NHRA pro ranks got their start in the Jr. Drag Racing League, including 2013 Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon and current NHRA Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens.
The Jr. Drag Racing League Western Conference Finals will be held July 10-12 at Utah’s Rocky Mountain Raceways, while the Eastern Finals are July 24-26 at Bristol Dragway in eastern Tennessee.
Nearly 1,000 kids will be competing for individual and team honors, with nearly $50,000 being awarded at each event including $2,500 and an NHRA Wally champion’s trophy to each individual winner.
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