On Wednesday the Charlotte Observer reported that sources had confirmed that NASCAR is considering raising the minimum age for drivers in its top tier Sprint Cup Series (formerly Nextel Cup) from 18 to 21 years old.
There’s some irony in the change. A year ago NASCAR lowered the minimum age for its regional developmental series’ from 18 to 16. It seemed at the time that the impetus for the change was not only based in getting younger drivers seat time and experience in NASCAR divisions but also for the selfish reason of getting more cars in divisions that were struggling to attract numbers.
The irony was that the decision opened the doors to a handful of drivers arriving, at least in the Busch East Series, that clearly weren’t prepared for it. Were they not ready because they weren’t old enough? Absolutely not. They weren’t ready because they didn’t have the experience to be there. They were in over their heads.
But yet there were drivers like 2007 Busch East Series champion Joey Logano that showed even at 17 he was more than ready for life in the division.
Not moving drivers along too fast in accelerated development plans is an understandable and noteworthy issue. But really what does it have to do with age?
In a nutshell, the problem with setting a hard and strict age minimum is that at its core it's an unfair practice using age as a benchmark for how well someone is prepared.
If someone starts racing at 22 years old does a number on a birth certificate somehow make them immediately more qualified or ready to participate than a 19-year old driver with 10 years of experience racing? Being ready isn’t about age.
It doesn’t matter if its racing or any other professional sport, if someone is an adult - and 18 years old is an adult in this country – then making a living at the highest level they can personally achieve shouldn’t be restricted. If you’re good enough, prepared enough and ready at 18 years old you should be allowed to do it.
And NASCAR’s desires to set an age minimum for the Sprint Cup Series don’t come without thoughts that selfish gain for the sanctioning body is also coming into play.
Clearly one of the issues that has plagued the second tier Nationwide Series (formerly Busch Series) is that drivers moving through the ranks so quickly has made it next to impossible for the division to create a personality for itself.
The Craftsman Truck Series has avoided that somewhat in that it has become more or less a semi-successful retread series for drivers that have reached the top level and are on the way back down. It seems though in the Nationwide Series, where Sprint Cup drivers have seemingly taken over, developmental drivers spend a year or less there before either being moved up or moved out. It means the face of the division is not drivers exclusively running there but rather it’s turned into Cup-light.
And the reality is, if a driver is ready for the Nationwide Series at 18, how could they not be ready for the Sprint Cup Series at the same time? They’d be competing week in and week out on mostly the same tracks against mostly the same competition they would face in the Sprint Cup.
So why would it be alright to do that in the Nationwide Series and then say because of their age they’re not ready for it at the next level?
Shawn Courchesne, 2:58 p.m.