How to Share a Passion for Cars with Kids 

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Helping Dad Work on a Car/Image Credit: Hailey Seelig

Contributing Author: Craig Fitzgerald

About 15 years ago, I was the editor of a vintage car magazine. There was no shortage of people interested in old cars, with muscle cars setting regular records at the Barrett-Jackson auction. But there was a noticeable and concerning trend in the age demographic of attendees: At every single event, people 60-plus outnumbered people in their 20s  two-to-one. We had an entire advertiser summit, with some of the biggest names in the vintage car hobby, to try and address the idea that eventually, the vast majority of our subscribers – and the people who paid the bills with advertisers – would be gone, and with them, the enthusiasm for cars. 

A young boy with a Jurassic Park Jeep Wrangler/Image Credit: SEMA Take a Kid to a Car Show

It’s only gotten worse since then. A few weeks ago, I went to the Early Ford V-8 Club’s annual swap meet at the Fitchburg, Massachusetts, airport. At 53, I had to have been younger than the median age by at least a decade. You could count the number of people in their 20s on one hand. 

People in their 20s are not picking up where their parents and grandparents left off. There are a lot of reasons for it, but active participation in the hobby – or at least what most people think of as the hobby – is the biggest. If your kids have any interest in cars – whether they’re new or old – it’s key to get them motivated and foster their interest by any means necessary. Not only is it critical for the hobby, it’s critical for your own relationship with your kids. 

There are endless opportunities to carve the neural pathways to a lifelong interest in machines. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great start for moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and neighbors to engage with the kids that they know and love. 

Be Receptive to Their Interests

Teen Driving/Image Credit: Bestride.com

As hard as my dad tried, I never took an interest in fine art or classical music. It just wasn’t for me. I appreciate the time he took in showing me these things in an attempt to broaden my horizons, but it just never stuck. 

What I appreciated even more was that he met me halfway on all the other things I was interested in. Rock and roll, cars, planes, baseball, whatever it was that interested me, he was there to stoke my passions. 

When people think about enthusiasm for cars, it generally falls to what they were interested in when they were teens. For Baby Boomers and early Gen X, that interest is most likely in American cars of the 1950s and 1960s, which is great. But if you have a 13-year-old kid today, that 1970 Chevelle LS-6 in the garage is as old as a 1910 Model T when you were first interested in cars. 

Teens today have vastly different interests, which are often influenced by game consoles, popular films, and YouTube. A WRX from the 2010s is not only more relevant to their interests, but it’s also vastly more attainable as kids wrestle with the ballooning expense of life. 

Look at it as an opportunity to broaden your own automotive horizons, as well as spending time with your kids. 

Toss Your “Look But Don’t Touch” Signs 

When I was about eight years old in 1976, my parents were interested in buying a new travel trailer. We went to a dealer in Plaistow, New Hampshire, to check out the new models. As my mom and dad were perusing the brochures in the showroom, I was mesmerized by a Ford Model A in the back of the showroom, with its bright enamel paint, its chrome radiator shell and the beautiful etched glass on the opera windows. As I walked up for a closer look, the owner of the dealership barked “Keep him away from that car.” Suffice it to say, we bought a trailer from a dealer down the street, and my interest in Model As took a nosedive. 

Kids will always be fascinated with cars. When I dropped my son off at school in our new-to-us 1966 Jeep CJ-5 last spring, a bunch of kids standing on the sidewalk literally applauded as we pulled up. 

If you have the opportunity to show a special car to a young person with a parent or guardian’s permission, you should take it as an honor and a duty to do so.

Granted, you don’t want a kid to abuse your property, but what’s the worst that’s going to happen? Your dashboard may get a little sticky from an errant Jolly Rancher, or your seat could get a footprint from a size 4 Chuck Taylor. 

What price can you put on seeing a kid’s face ignite with a passion for the same thing you love? 

Visit a Dealership 

A few years back, when my son was eight or nine years old, he developed a passion for Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Like the Model A experience, I’ve always kept exotic cars at arm’s distance, mostly because I don’t see much point in getting enthusiastic for them when I’m never going to be able to afford one. 

But I could see how he and his friend were wild in the eyes at the mention of one of the exotic brands, mostly because they’d been exposed to them in Forza, the popular video game series. 

It was two days before Christmas, and my son and his friend were out of their minds at home, so I called the closest exotic car dealership and asked them if it was ok to bring a couple of future customers over to look at the cars. The general manager invited us without hesitation. 

I made sure the boys knew that we’d be looking at these cars, rather than touching them, but when we got there, the staff opened doors, allowed them to sit inside and couldn’t have been more encouraging, even handing the two a pair of business cards and inviting them back at any time. It was a great experience for all of us and one that we’ll never forget. 

Savor The Opportunity of Driving Instruction 

Image: Teen Driving Instruction/Image Credit: NC Department of Transportation 

My daughter turned 16 during the zenith of the pandemic in April of 2020. Normally, she would’ve gotten her learner’s permit that day, but she had to wait until July, when the Registry of Motor Vehicles was back to some form of business. 

With her summer camp canceled, we literally had nothing better to do that summer than get in the Jeep and drive. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts mandates 40 hours of driving with a parent or guardian, and since the pandemic eliminated the requirement of 10 additional hours of observation with another teen, the state tacked on another 10 hours of practice with a parent. 

For 50 hours that summer and fall, I rode in the passenger seat and got to watch her skills improve, day by day. We talked, we laughed, and she drove me to just about every errand I could think of. She’s headed off to college this fall, so that unexpected time with her in my 2003 Jeep Wrangler will always be special to me. She owns it now, and her enthusiasm for it launched during those months. 

Get Involved in Motorsports

NHRA Jr. Street Competition/Image Credit: NHRA

Somebody once told me that my son’s Cub Scout troop’s success or failure depended upon what we as parents put into it. I saw it firsthand. When parents actively participated, the troop was a blast. When they looked at it as a few hours of free babysitting on a weekend, it was pure misery for all involved. 

It’s the same with interest in cars, and in many ways, it’s harder. Kids don’t have driver’s licenses, they aren’t able to volunteer as track workers, and they don’t have money. It must be impossible to get actively involved in some kind of motorsport, right? 

Karting is a huge opportunity, and it’s a breeding ground for enthusiasm in motorsports. Sabré Cook started racing karts in Colorado when she was just eight years old, and at age 27, she now competes in Formula One W Series, a championship open exclusively to women. But a lot of willing parents are locked out of karting due to the breathtaking expense of participating. 

Drag racing has long been the most accessible form of motorsport available. If you have a reasonably well-maintained car and a free Wednesday night, you can visit one of the country’s 423 drag strips and participate for less than $50. 

To make the NHRA competition even more enticing to kids, the NHRA’s Jr. Street segment allows kids as young as 13 to race against their peers in full-bodied street cars with an adult co-driver. The segment doesn’t require a driver’s license for the kids, but they’re required to go through an orientation and licensing procedure on a 1/8-mile strip. They must be accompanied at all times by a licensed adult, and the car must be street legal, with mufflers and street tires, and complete a quarter-mile slower than nine seconds. Rules, applications, and member tracks are available on the NHRA’s website

If your children are expressing any interest in automotive pursuits, the key thing to do is foster that interest. Let them lead you in the right direction, whether it’s visiting a car show, or even playing a video game. The important thing is to enjoy the time together. 

Craig Fitzgerald began his automotive writing career in 1996, at AutoSite.com, one of the first online resources for car buyers. Over the years, he’s written for the Boston Globe, Forbes, and Hagerty. For seven years, he was the editor at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and today, he’s the automotive editor at Drive magazine. He’s dad to a son and daughter, and plays rude guitar in a garage band in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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