How to Raise a Gearhead

Pretty much everything that’s good in my life I have as a direct result of my love of all things motoring. Motorcycles, motorcars and motorsport are responsible for 99 percent of my relationships, my career and my happiness.

It was motorsport that led me to my now wife and daughter who just a few years ago were on opposite sides of the world to me. Despite the oceans between us our shared passion built a bridge from sunny Australia to friendly Canada. I left my job, my friends and my family for a new life with the woman I knew was a kindred spirit - all because of the internal combustion engine.

Now we’re passing that torch on to our daughter. Where I’m from we’d be called revheads, here we’re called gearheads. And we’re proud of the vibrant, diverse subculture to which we belong. One that celebrates fun, freedom and imagination. But that’s only a small part of why raising a gearhead is a fantastic idea.

You may have heard of the STEM focus of education. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. STEM is a dominant education policy these days as it helps promote science and industry among schoolchildren. Nothing is more STEM than motoring and motorsport. What could help foster an interest in science, technology and engineering then explaining how an internal combustion engine works? Or letting your child help you cut up a damaged exhaust pipe?

Nothing, that’s what.

Raising a gearhead means exposing your child to the concept of risk vs reward. It means letting them know that fear is real, and serves a purpose, but should not dictate how you lead your life.

Raising a gearhead means teaching your child to embrace challenge, to do things for themselves, to problem solve. It teaches resilience, and it teaches a passion for fun and adventure.

Our family spends long periods on the road. If we’re bored, we’ll just drive for hours on end, embracing the time together, exploring for the sake of exploring. A long road trip is an opportunity to bond with your child, to show them the freedom a car can offer. Our favourites are the ones that take us places, like a road trip from Toronto to Indianapolis for the Indy 500.

Maddie has been to three of the six Indy 500s run since her conception, once while her mum was heavily pregnant, once more after that and then this year. The three years she missed were because of illness, because one was a work trip we couldn’t bring her on, and because last year I was Canada-bound as I waited to be granted Permanent Residency. So this year, being able to take that drive together bore special meaning.

For the second time we camped at a racetrack. This time using Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s standing tent ground – the first was in an RV at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Our daughter can’t help but be exposed to the culture. I tell people with pride of the time she tore herself from my hand to tackle the rattle-gun pit-stop challenge set up in the infield of one race weekend – she was three, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t hit every single lug nut.

When I bring home a motorcycle for review Maddie always climbs up onto it – these days she even almost fits. When I have something to fix, whether it’s a broken exhaust, a loose bolt or even a tire to change, my daughter is right there with me, learning by doing.

When her toys break now she doesn’t cry, she doesn’t think she needs a new toy, she wonders what she can do to fix it – and if she can’t, maybe Mummy or Daddy can? Speaking of toys, we keep the box well stocked of racecars. Model cars, model racecars, model motorbikes.

She once came home from school, frustrated because a boy had told her toy cars were for boys only. “Well I have them, and I’m a girl, so they must be for girls, too,” was the answer she came up with. Not long after, her mum went to the school and gave a presentation on her work with racecars and cars. Maddie was alongside her, telling the kids about the differences between NASCAR and IndyCar.

Motorsport in our house is a family event. Whether it’s MotoGP or F1, Sunday mornings are spent on the couch watching racing together. There is no better race than the one your child is watching with you.

Once Maddie asked what “loose” meant in a racecar (it’s NASCAR-speak for a tendency to oversteer). So we explained the concept, all the way down to physics concepts like momentum and inertia. That’s STEM right there.

In years to come we’ll let Maddie sample things on her own. There are programs like KartStart – where from as young as six kids can learn to drive go karts, and even race. The aim is to teach kids how vehicles work, to teach safe and competent driving habits, and to demystify cars in general.

As soon as she’s old enough, we’ll get Maddie behind the wheel. If she doesn’t like it that’s no drama, but she’ll have learnt that there are more opportunities out there then the standard set. Besides, we’re advocates of early education and that extends to road safety and competent driving.

If she does like it, we might get her into Quarter Midgets. On a visit to Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis a demonstration of the little race cars had my mind racing and my hip pocket screaming “Oh god, no!” But the idea that Maddie could compete with kids her age, of both sexes, and learn a valuable life skill at the same time is extremely appealing.

If two wheels are more your thing, you can enroll your kids in Honda’s Junior Red Riders program, where they can learn to ride small dirt bikes in a safe, controlled environment. Who knows what will be triggered by those early experiences? Curiosity is not spontaneous, it is always lit with a spark from somewhere.

Of course by the time Maddie is a young adult, “gearhead” will be a quaint term. The internal combustion engine will be less common and gears will be unnecessary thanks to the boundless torque of high-output electric motors.

Still, the essence of the culture will remain. Some of it will be grounded in nostalgia for the past, but a lot of it will be rooted in the present. Road trips will always happen. Someone, somewhere will always be racing something. Things will break and be fixed, be invented and reinvented, imagined and reimagined. And the people who were fuelled with that gearhead spark early will be well equipped to respond to those opportunities.

Above all else, the sense of empowerment one finds out on the roads won’t ever die, no matter how the momentum is generated.

As long as there are wheels, they will turn.

Your step-by-step guide to turning your child into a raging car fanatic just like mom and dad. 6/5/2015 6:30:11 AM