Turn One: The Next Generation

While I don’t think I’ve ever watched a full episode of the original “Star Trek,” somehow I became a fan of the show’s Prime Directive concept. I recently looked it up online and found the exact passage that has appealed to me: “As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture.”

How does that relate to anything involving cars? It’s something I have followed for years: I don’t believe that we should affect the outside motorsports world, meaning we can’t promise anyone editorial so they can get a ride, sponsorship or free parts.

However, I am willing to bend that rule if it helps foster the next generation’s love of cars. Think back for an instant: All of us had that aha moment that got us into cars. It may have been that first ride in something neater than the average family sedan, a really cool Tonka given as a gift, or the sight of something low and sleek cruising by the house.

I admit that I was kinda forced into it, but I’m not complaining. My dad is a huge car guy, and I was brought home from the hospital in my parents’ 1967 Pontiac GTO—no, it wasn’t a Tempest—complete with four-speed gearbox, Posi rear and dog dish hubcaps.

For my brother and I, cars were definitely part of our formative years. My dad built an awesome AFX set for us in the basement. I got to visit The Glen while in grade school. Up until the age of 12, I thought that every movie featured a car chase. My grandparents always came bearing Hot Wheels. I wouldn’t say that I was spoiled, though. I never had a go-kart or minibike. I didn’t buy my first car until I finished my freshman year of college. The GTO left soon after I arrived, its place in the driveway occupied by a series of garden-variety Oldsmobuicks.

I don’t have kids and neither does my brother, but I still figure I have to do my civic duty and help pass along the love of cars. Someone has to carry on the love of autocrossing, slot cars and Miatas, right? A friend recently mentioned that her 6-year-old has taken an interest in cars. He received a care package soon after. It contained a Playmobil race car set that I had received a while ago as some kind of promotional item.

Apparently young Jack has already given the set a full workout, and his little sister thinks it’s pretty neat, too. Given the opportunity, I’d love to play the part of the long-distance uncle and push them a little further down the path that so many of us have followed. Do I hook up the kids with a ride in something loud and impressionable? Organize a group outing to an autocross, car show or club race?

It’s funny how things we take for granted can have a big impact on the general public. Sit in a race car? Talk to a race car driver? Those are normal activities for many of us, but for a kid they can be a magical, life-changing experiences.

I recently had a mild epiphany along these thoughts, yet its origins don’t involve cars. My friend Craig professionally raced BMX for several years, and for a while he owned his own bike company. He recently sent out a message asking if anyone would like some of his old frames.

I already have some of his signature frames from stints with other companies, but I figured I should round out the collection. I didn’t yet have any frames bearing his name on the downtube. Yeah, I like to collect stuff. When I opened the box, something came to me—and it wasn’t the joy of owning a bike frame actually ridden in professional competition. No, I realized that I have too much stuff. Way too much stuff.

In order to make room for this new find, it was time to thin out my personal holdings. And, I figured, maybe I could do some good in the process.

I had recently come across a box of unopened Hot Wheels cars circa 1999 and 2000. I must have gone on a little buying spree and put these away for safekeeping. They’re going away and, no, I’m not putting them on eBay.

The first group of cars went to my cousins’ kids. Each one received a care package featuring those iconic blue cardboard backing cards. Upon noting the age of the cars, one cousin asked if they were to be collected or played with. “Let the boys enjoy them,” I said.

Those cars spent too many years cooped up. The boys should do as we did so many years earlier: beat the holly hell out out of them.

Back in the day, our own Hot Wheels were punished on a near-daily basis. Ramps were constructed, speed tests conducted, races sanctioned. No surface or element was deemed too extreme: linoleum, hardwood, concrete, pavement, dirt and even snow. Someone should run a metal detector through my family’s old backyard, as I’m sure there are a few fallen comrades back there.

Those orange tracks? Oh yeah, we had them. And when we got bored, we’d break out the Testors paint. Did those cars help fuel later passions? Signs point to yes. They didn’t teach us about suspension setups and gear ratios, but as a kid I don’t think I ever left the house without a Hot Wheels tucked in my pocket. That has to explain something.

Hopefully a few simple gestures can get the next generation dreaming about cars. Here’s how I see it: I may not be able to send all of my friends’ and cousins’ kids to racing school, but I still have a lot of Hot Wheels to hand out.

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