Drivers getting experience while still in school

Posted: Thursday, June 05, 2003

HAMPTON, Ga. Twenty years ago, Richard Childress scouted local short tracks for new talent for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Now those searches have taken him to junior high schools.

As the sport continues to go through a revolutionary youth movement, there are children already in line to continue the trend. Kyle Busch signed a contract with Hendrick Motorsports before he was old enough to vote. Reed Sorenson already is under contract with Chip Ganassi Racing although he won't be old enough to be in a NASCAR-sanctioned race for another year.

Joe Logano has to wait another five years to meet NASCAR's minimum age requirement of 18, but his career is on the fast track to the big leagues.

''You got to start watching the younger guys, the really younger guys,'' Childress said. ''You used to go to the short tracks and watch for guys. Now you go to Legends races and go-karts. It's never too early. You have to watch all ages from now on.''

Dale Earnhardt was 28 when he won his first race. Six of 13 races this year have been won by drivers 28 or younger.

Joe, already a Legends national champion, drives Late Model Chevrolets on weekends to get better adjusted to bigger, heavier stock cars. He needs a booster seat and blocks to reach the pedals, but he's comfortable racing against men two and three times his age.

''I want to be in Winston Cup some day,'' Joe said.

He turned 13 in May. By the time Joe is old enough to drive on either the Winston Cup or Busch series, he already will be a seasoned veteran of racing. He started when he was five, and he's already won a national Legends Bandoleros championship and the national championship race for the Pro Division.

He will continue to race Legends cars at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte each week during the summer, as well as the regular Saturday night Late Model shows at Senoia (Ga.) Speedway.

Sorenson started in Legends. Like Joe, he won the track championship at Atlanta, then the Pro Division national championship race. He won three stock car races on the Southern All Stars series last year. Now 17, he's a rookie on the American Speed Association circuit. He will drive in a handful of NASCAR Busch Series races for Ganassi next year as soon as he's old enough and he will be the focus of the team's development program.

Kyle Busch turned 18 in May. Two weeks after his birthday he finished second in his Busch Series debut with Hendrick.

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