During this past Labor Day holiday weekend (Friday Aug. 31st – Sunday Sept. 2nd), while all the little punks on your block were laying out their freshest back-to-school gear, a group of self-disciplined youth from around the globe checked the stitching of their fire-suits and buffed the shine of their helmets. They gathered around Baltimore’s Camden Yards and the city’s Inner Harbor, the racers of Mazda’s Road to Indy program which prepared to rack up points in the second annual Baltimore Grand Prix.
Then there was Mass Appeal – a fly on the wall of the track, who also had the chance to sit in on Saturday’s pre-race meeting. Thanks to Mazda Motorsports Communications Officer and program mentor Dean Case, we found out how little we really knew of the sport, which to most, sounds as simple as driving around a track as fast as you can. Hearing racers inquire about the penalties of dodging a new chicane down the front straightaway, we realized this wasn’t like Mario Kart. The aforementioned scene should make you think of Andretti, rather than a fat plumber on mushrooms.
Put simply, the Mazda Road to Indy program is to the IZOD IndyCar series as farm teams are to Major League Baseball. Instead of Double and Triple A, young drivers – who typically get their start racing go karts – work through the ranks of U.S. F2000, Star Mazda, Indy Lights and then finally go wheel-to-wheel with the big boys of IndyCar. To keep the emphasis on driver skill, many aspects of the cars – especially the engines – are uniform and regulated to strict standards of adherence. Keeping the analogy in play, nobody’s going Melky Cabrera on this field of players. But in addition the countless hours behind the wheel and rigorous fitness regimen necessary to maintain a winning advantage, Mazda Road to Indy racers are subject to something even more challenging for most teens and young adults; intense public relations training. Followed through the race series by a dedicated crew of professional mentors and trainers, the group – many of whom rely on tutors and online courses in the absence on classrooms – still get schooled daily on how to act; on track, upon the podium and even in the scrutiny of tough press conferences. And having the chance to watch the fruits of the program’s labor perform, it’s safe to say that the charisma and manners of even Tim Tebow wouldn’t do much to outshine these young guns.
All y’all refined motorsports followers (and that’s not a NASCAR dig) already know the outcomes of ALMS and IndyCar’s Baltimore installments, but as a distinguished guest of these rising stars of the race world, we’d like to shout out this past weekend’s other commandeers of the checkered flag:
USF2000 – Spencer Pigot and Matthew Brabham
Star Mazda – Jack Hawksworth and Sage Karam
Indy Lights – 2011 Star Mazda Champion Tristan Vautier
Take note, all you trend-setters. This is the mixtape world – the freshman class, if you will – of professional motorsports. Long ago, your physique probably kissed goodbye to all hopes of a victory lap – as did mine – but it ain’t too late to say you rocked with these dudes from their humble beginnings. And for any parents out there looking to get bank off their shorties – not to mention raise an exemplary member of modern society, get ‘em in Skip Barber Racing School, relax, and take notes!