This team of Pennsylvania students, age 11 to 14, is building a race car for a school project. We showed our support by strapping them into a McLaren at NJMP.
Itâ€™s a story that will feel intimately familiar to many of us: You, a gearhead with some mechanical know-how, find a great deal on a basketcase old car and decide to rebuild it as a weekend warrior for autocross or wheel-to-wheel racing. At first you've got plenty of time, and energy, to work on this new project, but as the days wear on, other obligations start to get in the way. Eventually, you abandon the car in the backyard and manage to stop thinking about it.
Steve Tothâ€™s story starts out like that, with the $500 purchase of a busted-up 2003 Ford Focus ZX3 five years ago and a subsequent loss of interest. But it doesnâ€™t finish that way, because Steve happens to be the Tech-Ed teacher at Lower Macungie Middle School in rural eastern Pennsylvania. If you donâ€™t know what Tech-Ed isâ€”I sure didnâ€™tâ€”itâ€™s basically a â€œshop class on steroidsâ€ where young people learn genuine principles of engineering instead of, say, making wooden cutting boards the way I did in shop class.
With some encouragement from his school district, Steve formed a Motorsports Club to turn the Focus from a shell into a functioning race car. Iâ€™ll let him take it from there: â€œThe students are 6th-8th graders, ranging in age from 11 to 15. All of them have had an interest in cars but this is the first exposure any of them have really had to working on it. They have truly gotten their hands dirty and have been doing an amazing job. Unfortunately the school schedule is the biggest hurdle as we only get about two to three hours per week to work on the car.
â€œA lot of repair and body work was done, as well as removing the interior and fitting it with a roll cage, racing seat, harness, and racing wheel. A drum-to-disc brake conversion is also in the works. The best part about the project is that the kids have done just about all of the work. The car definitely is not perfect. But when people find out all of the work was done by kids who aren't even old enough to have their license they are generally pretty impressed. â€œ
Steve brought the Motorsports Club kids to New Jersey Motorsports Park last Friday to check out qualifying for the American Endurance Racing â€œDouble Nineâ€ event. Our Road & Track And Friends team was there to campaign my wifeâ€™s MX-5 Cup car in the weekend races. (Our team won our class on Day 1 and completed exactly four laps on Day 2 before killing the clutch, which fits in pretty well with our overall â€œwin or bustâ€ philosophy.)
The idea was for the members of the Club to take a look around the paddock and see how real race teams prepare and run their cars. But after a quick discussion with American Endurance Racingâ€™s head honcho, John Kolesa, we came up with an extra treat for these kids, in recognition of all the effort theyâ€™ve put in and all the success theyâ€™ve had.
As fate would have it, I happened to be in possession of a brand-new 2017 McLaren 570S that our team was using to do recon laps and become acquainted with the track layout. I know this model very well; it was the winner of our mid-engine supercar shoot-out last year. But this particular 570S was very different from the ones Iâ€™ve driven in the past, because it had an amazing selection of luxury-oriented equipment, from multi-adjustable seats to a power tilt/telescope steering wheel to a Bowers&Wilkins sound system with what looked like some very expensive speaker cones behind equally expensive-looking machined acoustic grills.
The plan was for me to take these young men around the track in the McLaren and let them experience the Thunderbolt course from the passenger seat of a truly exemplary and hugely rapid supercar. But just as I was getting my helmet, I remembered that I was once a 14-year-old boy myself. I can barely remember those days; after all, it was more than three decades ago. But I am reasonably sure that my teenaged self would rather be driven around the racetrack by a pretty girl than a grumpy old man.
So I tossed the key to my wife, the infamous Danger Girl, and she took the boys around for five or six laps each. Two other AER racers brought out their street cars to offer rides as well. Last but not least, Danger Girl took their teacher, Steve, around for a look-see at the track.
I was secretly hoping that some of the kids would complain about having to ride with the young female racer instead of the (not very) famous journalist, but somehow that never happened. Worst of all, while Danger Girl was out there putting miles beneath the McLarenâ€™s Pirelli tires, my crew conscripted me into carrying fuel jugs down to the pitlane. This deal was getting worse by the minute!
Steveâ€™s kids only get to work on the car two to three hours a week. Thatâ€™s the bad news. The good news is that the program has been approved to run next year. â€œPlease,â€ Steve wrote me, â€œmake the kids the focus of the article, not me.â€ I think that both Steve and his students are pretty awesome. If you have any help you want to give them, or if you're a race team hoping to get an early line on a well-trained mechanic for your 2025 season, feel free to contact us here at R&T and we'll send your information along.