Editor’s Corner: Hot Rodding’s Future Is Up to Us

Oct 29, 2010

It seems that new cars are so inconsequential  these days. At least that’s what I think whenever I see a new car commercial.

In a recent survey conducted by Deloitte, drivers under the age of 30 account for only 14 percent of the total miles driven in this country, down from 21 percent of miles driven in 1995.

Young people are simply less interested in owning and driving cars than they were in years past. The way cars are marketed today doesn’t seem to help, either. Ads seem to be more about how a car can fit your lifestyle and the gadgets it offers than how a car can offer a great driving experience.

Today’s commercials often explain how the car’s entertainment system can interface with an iPod or Bluetooth-capable mobile phone, which is certainly different from years past, where commercials for a 1970 Challenger would promote its 426 Hemi engine.

OK, before I sound like the grumpy fella in the room, for the record, I’m not Mr. Anti-Technology. Actually, I love this stuff because not only has it made my life easier, I know that the major automakers’ marketing efforts do affect how young people view vehicles, and anything that makes them view cars in a positive light is a good thing. We need kids who are interested in cars. Beyond that, we need kids interested in cars as a hobby and as potential careers.

Our computer-driven age certainly isn’t bad, and when it comes to kids and cars, all this new technology might very well be an entry point into the hobby for many of them.

Since young people are often focused on interacting electronically anyway, they’re more likely to be drawn to electronically tuning an engine than messing with carburetors.

An interest in automotive technology at an early age can mean more long-term customers, employees and industry innovators. There are some good programs out there that bring kids into the automotive hobby and, ultimately, a career in the industry. Some schools offer motorsports programs, which is great.

The University of Northwestern Ohio even brings some of their students to the Hotrod & Restoration Trade Show every year to introduce them  to the business side of the hobby and get them involved in the industry.

Another cool program is the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League that targets kids ages eight to 17. This not only gets them involved in the sport of drag racing but also inspires them to understand the mechanics of it all. This isn’t simple stuff, either; it’s  certainly more difficult to understand how an engine works than it is to operate an iPod. I think it’s awesome to see the passion these kids have and how big they dream. What’s cool is these are the same ingredients that made the pioneers of our industry successful. I think the efforts we make to interest people in our industry should start earlier in life. A kid doesn’t have to be a teenager to develop a love for cars and the hobby.

ARMO‘s “Take a Kid to a Car Show” is another great initiative that encourages people to spend time with their children sharing their own appreciation of collector cars. This is a great way to seed the interest early on in life. I know that because I’ve taken my 5-year old daughter to shows and have  gotten her interested in cars. It could just be the new T-shirt she always gets when we go to shows that does it, but whenever she sees a restored car on the street, she always quickly points out with enthusiasm that it’s a hot rod.

In addition to the shows that I’ve taken her to, she has spent countless hours with the “Take a Kid to a Car Show” coloring book. Sharing this time with her and seeing her interest in hot rods grow certainly makes me proud to be part of this industry.

A growing, vibrant future for our industry is something I’m sure we all want, but it’s up to each one of us to do our part. We need to share our passion for the industry with our own kids and with other children through outreach efforts such as those ARMO makes.

We also need to educate kids about cars and how they work to get them interested in the hobby.

One great way to do this is to ask your children to help you work on your car, even if it’s simply bringing you the right tool when you ask for it.

Since our industry segment doesn’t really have a Jr. Hot Rod program similar to what the NHRA has for drag racing, each of us needs to make a personal effort to inspire future builders and restorers, one at a time.

Once you do this, you may just end up watching one of them grow up to become the next  Jack Chisenhall or Pete Chapouris. If you make that effort to share your passion and knowledge of the industry with the next generation and future generations, it will pay dividends for all of us and all of them.