Grand Prix puts kids in the driver’s seat
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Many of us remember when we first laid eyes on a gleaming race car and felt the roar of the engines vibrate through us. For a budding young car aficionado, that combination of sensory impact can set the course for a lifelong love of racing.
Witnessing the spectacle of race day can make anyone’s blood pump a little faster, regardless of age. But with an event like the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix in our own backyard, it can be just as fun to see kids experience the sights and sounds firsthand of some of the most sophisticated cars on the planet.
Josef Newgarden, a two-time Verizon IndyCar Series winner, raced go-karts as a kid and remembers getting into the engineering aspect of the sport. He credits Detroit specifically for advancing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in schools and getting kids excited to learn.
Teaching math and science lessons in the context of motorsports can get kids a lot more excited to learn, so local sponsors, volunteers and the Grand Prix itself are all working together to boost education in Michigan.
“Detroit has been helpful with that, getting kids more involved with the educational side – not just the entertainment side – and what goes into the actual engineering of it,” Newgarden said. At a recent Detroit Tigers home game where Newgarden threw out the first pitch to celebrate Grand Prix Day at Comerica Park, he had the opportunity to interact with young fans and show his support for their educational future.
Skills derived from years of solid education are integral in getting an edge on the track for IndyCars competing in this year’s annual Grand Prix, June 3-5. Comerica Bank Free Prix Day kicks it off on Friday, June 3 and provides even more attractions for young fans. Through local programs that introduce kids to the science behind racing, the hope is that early education will give students a similar edge in life.
Several fast risers like Charlie Kimball, who have their sights set on moving up the IndyCar standings while on Belle Isle, have made recent stops around metro Detroit promoting STEM initiatives.
These opportunities give racers like Kimball a chance to inspire as well as answer kids’ questions about how he got to be where he is today in the world of racing. He spoke about “encouraging them to work in math, work in science, work in engineering, work in technology.”
“They are interested in engineering, they’re interested in the sciences, the technology piece of it, and racing has that all the way through,” Kimball said of students from Ben Carson High School that were guests of the Detroit Medical Center (DMC) at a recent Grand Prix lunch event at Comerica Park.
On the right track
Also revving up excitement for students in Detroit Public Schools is Grand Prix partner PNC Bank. Since 2012, the PNC Foundation has helped two programs learn around racing at the Grand Prix: Grow Up Great and Fifth Gear. Each program incorporates science and math curriculums into classrooms with a focus on motorsports in real applications.
Grow Up Great is a $350 million initiative seeking to improve early-stage education, primarily in underserved areas. Since the program began in 2004, more than $105 million in grants has been distributed to help young children prepare for school, and has helped approximately 2.3 million children.
Pre-kindergarten children who took part in Grow Up Great were treated to the PNC Racing Fair on May 4 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The event gave kids a chance to show off their knowledge and see the science of motion in action.
Activity stations included a gravity track, human-powered engine, jet-power toys and more. Grand Prix general manager Michael Montri, speaking on a panel before the activities got rolling, shared how the Grow Up Great and Fifth Gear programs have shifted to maximize the enjoyment for kids.
“In past years, we had the Racing Fair on the island,” he said. “This year, the Racing Fair focuses on the Grow Up Great kids – almost 500 of them. The attractions are better tailored towards what interests them. The thing I personally want everyone to take away from today is how fun it is.”
Curiosity can be the first step toward learning about any passion. As Montri pointed out, once children see how things work in a fascinating field like motorsports, it can lead to any number of careers or pursuits down the road.
“Let’s create a spark for the kids – that interest and that passion – and have that apply to whatever field they end up in in their lives,” he said.
As impactful as these trips and hands-on activities can be for kids, teachers also appreciate seeing the lessons they share in school brought to life outside of it.
“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the teachers,” PNC regional president Ric DeVore said. “They crave professional development time. They’re so thankful to get some experiences [for the kids] to add to what happens in the classroom.
The Fifth Gear program aims to put kids a little further along on the fast track. On June 2, during Education Day on Belle Isle, about 35 teamGM Cares volunteers will guide approximately 300 Detroit Public Schools students through some STEM interactive modules. Here, kids will get to see demonstrations of aero dynamics, gravity, friction and more.
Drivers staying healthy and fit for racing is just as important as the engineering of race cars. Kimball, overcoming the challenges of Type 1 diabetes, scored a victory at Mid-Ohio in 2013 and finished third in the Indy 500 in 2015. He has had to become especially conscientious about nutrition, physical training and health, and in the process, has become a spokesperson for the sport to show children that racing rewards the time and energy put into staying fit.
Kimball met with young patients at DMC’s Children’s Hospital of Michigan in late April, and while sharing his personal health story to help inspire them, found that their stories inspired him.
“These kids – the stories they tell, their smiles, their sweet personalities, their ability to overcome the challenges but still be normal is spectacular,” he said. “These kids are incredibly brave.”
Getting close to the action
All kids will have the opportunity to get near the track to see the excitement firsthand and have some fun at Comerica Bank Free Prix Day on June 3. As promised, all who make their way to the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix will have free access to the Paddock area, also referred to as “the locker room of motorsports.”
Comerica Bank will also host its own group of students on Free Prix, including students from Martin Luther King High School and University Prep Middle School in Detroit, enriching their experience with visits to race team garages and talks with some of the competitors.
A wide range of thrilling activities and attractions are in store over the weekend. Kids and students can interact with the heroes of racing and get driver autographs in the Meijer Fan Zone, where they can also test their football, baseball and basketball skills at sporting stations and meet some of Detroit professional sports legends.
Breathtaking demonstrations by the Monster Energy Drink BMX team will happen each day, and fans can enjoy interactive racing-related experiences in the fan village areas hosted by the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the IMSA Series and TRAXXAS. Arctic Cat will also host demonstrations of some of their vehicles to delight the fans.
On tap on the track will be action from four racing series: The Verizon IndyCar Series, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the Trans Am Series and the SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks presented by Traxxas trucks will all be in action.
Live entertainment will be in full swing on the MotorCity Casino Hotel Entertainment Stage, and over the weekend, live acts such as The Romantics and Morris Day will provide a soundtrack for the racetrack.
As the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix has evolved and become an annual kickoff for summer in Detroit, it truly has become a family event with a collective effort put forth to involve children and students alike.
Schools, sponsors, volunteers and those in charge of the race itself have all dedicated themselves to teaching children important skills and making it fun for everyone involved. Detroit has been building momentum in many ways, and the annual event on Belle Isle has played a key role in downtown’s growing prosperity.
The educational side and the entertainment side of racing are on full display leading up to and during the 2016 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, happening June 3-5. Tickets are on sale at www.detroitgp.com.
This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.