For rac­ing dads, tacks vary when kids want in

As­pir­ing driv­ers in­vari­ably re­ceive family sup­port

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Brant James @bran­t­james

Tim and Me­gan Cin­dric knew Austin was a pre­co­cious child, but his ap­proach was so se­ri­ous and mea­sured that it made them won­der what their 9-year-old wanted.

“He grabbed me in the hall­way and said, ‘I need to have a lifechang­ing dis­cus­sion with you and Mom,’ ” re­called Tim, pres­i­dent of Team Penske. “I said, ‘Austin what’s this all about?’ He said, ‘We needed to go sit down and have a talk.’ So we did, and he says, ‘I’ve been think­ing about it a long time, and I’d re­ally like to try and be­come a pro­fes­sional race car driver.’ ”

Tim and Me­gan stared at each. Both had worked in the in­dus­try, and both, he said, shared the be­lief that their son rac­ing was “the last thing we re­ally wanted.”

The mo­tor sports com­mu­nity is laced with such sto­ries, but each path has been un­der­taken with slightly dif­fer­ent steps and ap­pre­hen­sions. USA TO­DAY Sports spoke with four fa­ther-son duos, in­clud­ing Marty and My­att Snider, Jeff and Har­ri­son Bur­ton, and Steve and Tyler Le­tarte, about their ex­pe­ri­ences.

Me­gan Cin­dric probed Austin’s re­solve quickly, not­ing that be­ing built like his fa­ther — a for­mer col­lege bas­ket­ball player — would likely pre­clude fit­ting in race cars.

“He said, ‘That’s not true, Mom; Michael Wal­trip is big­ger than Dad is,’ ” she re­called.

The Cin­drics hoped it would blow over. Austin per­sisted. He had never known a time when his fa­ther worked any­where else but Penske. Team founder and owner Roger Penske had taught the boy how to shake hands: firmly, with a meet­ing of the eyes.

When it be­came ap­par­ent it wasn’t go­ing away, Tim be­grudg­ingly ex­plored how to in­dulge his son. The process be­gan in 2008 when then-Penske driver Ryan New­man spec­u­lated pub­licly about leav­ing, prompt­ing a se­ries of cold calls from in­ter­ested suit­ors. Among them was Mike Wal­lace, whose kids were rac­ing in in­tro­duc­tory-level Leg­ends cars.

“We had that con­ver­sa­tion, and I said, ‘Hey, I hear race cars in the back­ground. Where are you tonight with your kids?’ ” Tim said. “And he said, ‘Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way, the Sum­mer Shootout.’ I didn’t even know what that was.”

The Cin­drics even­tu­ally vis­ited Wal­lace at the track for an in­tro­duc­tion to de­vel­op­men­tal rac­ing, and the process hasn’t stopped. Austin, 18, has raced in mul­ti­ple sports car and stock car or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing ARCA, and is driv­ing a par­tial NAS­CAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries sched­ule with Brad Ke­selowski’s team, in­clud­ing this week­end at Gate­way Mo­tor­sports Park in Madi­son, Ill.

Hav­ing com­pleted his end of the bar­gain with his par­ents to keep his grades high and find his own fund­ing by the time he grad­u­ated high school — he did so this spring — he’s on his way to pay­ing off the pitch made to his family.

“It wasn’t a whole lot of fore­thought; it was just ac­tion,” Aus- tin said. “I didn’t un­der­stand at that time what went into mak­ing a ca­reer in rac­ing, and ob­vi­ously I knew I was way in over my head af­ter a lit­tle while, but it started as some­thing to be a lit­tle bit fun, and it was al­ways some­thing I wanted to do. But I didn’t un­der­stand the steps it took.” LESSONS LEARNED Steve Le­tarte fol­lowed his dad into the world of mo­tor sports and felt that telling his son, Tyler, that he could be any­thing ex­cept a racer was not only hyp­o­crit­i­cal but not good par­ent­ing. That’s not to say Steve ex­pects his son, 13, a reg­u­lar in a North Carolina mini Out­law karts se­ries, to be­come a pro­fes­sional. There is no next phase plot­ted, he said. This is about fun and life lessons.

“We are do­ing this no dif­fer­ent than kids play­ing foot­ball or soc­cer or base­ball or golf,” Steve said. “It’s to learn about life with no ex­pec­ta­tions. ... We go out, we race, we have fun. I don’t look at this like a spring­board. I look at this like a kid grow­ing up.”

Still, Tyler says he some­times senses ex­tra scru­tiny be­cause of his last name. “The ex­pec­ta­tions are a lit­tle higher, but I don’t let it get to me,” Tyler said.

Tyler has learned that he likes to tap into his fa­ther’s ex­per­tise. Steve has learned that he’s not good at “ca­sual rac­ing. ... I am just not wired that way,” he said. FAMILY BUSI­NESS Jeff Bur­ton won 48 races in NAS­CAR’s top two se­ries be­fore be­com­ing an NBC an­a­lyst. When son Har­ri­son, 16, con­vinced his family that he wanted to fol­low in the rac­ing foot­steps of his fa­ther, Un­cle Ward and cousin Jeb, Jeff had a wealth of rac­ing in­for­ma­tion to be­stow. He of­fered it will­ingly, he said, be­cause not to do so with a kid would be ir­re­spon­si­ble.

“It’s kind of a two-way street,” Har­ri­son said. “It’s hard to learn lessons in rac­ing by just hear­ing it. I’ve heard all kinds of things about aero and stuff about the car, but the first time you ex­pe­ri­ence get­ting aero tight or sucked around an­other car, you don’t know about it.”

As Har­ri­son as­cended through NAS­CAR’s de­vel­op­men­tal ranks to his cur­rent po­si­tion run­ning oc­ca­sional truck races with Kyle Busch Mo­tor­sports (he also won his only ARCA start this sea­son at Toledo Speed­way), his fa­ther de­cided he had to learn on his own.

“It’s a tough bal­ance,” Jeff said. “You want your kid to not to have to learn the lessons you learned, be­cause typ­i­cally you had to learn the lessons the hard way. And typ­i­cally, you want to short-cut that for them. The older he’s got­ten, the less we talk about it. We talk more big-pic­ture than we do the minu­tiae. Now he has per­mis­sion to tell me to shut up when­ever he wants to in re­gards to ad­vice about rac­ing.” THE MO­MENT OF TRUTH Marty Snider knows the day is com­ing and wants noth­ing to do with it. Not pro­fes­sion­ally, at least. As an NBC Sports pit re­porter, Snider plumbs for sto­ries about the per­son­al­i­ties that spice up the sport. The story of his son, My­att, 22, reach­ing NAS­CAR’s top level would qual­ify. But as much as Marty wants to see it af­ter years of help­ing My­att make rac­ing con­nec­tions and se­cure fund­ing, he doesn’t want it played out on TV. Not by him, at least.

“I’ve al­ways told (NBC ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer) Sam Flood, my boss, that I’m never cover­ing one of his races,” Marty said. “And he says, ‘If he’s in it, you need to cover it.’ I don’t know. ... I don’t want to. I like be­ing a dad at his races. Kevin Har­vick al­ways gives me grief, ‘You gotta get away from him, you bring ner­vous en­ergy to him. Stay away, be­cause he’s a tal­ented kid.’ If I had his pit, I would be wor­ried about him. If I didn’t, I’d be wor­ried about him.”

Said My­att, who won in the ARCA se­ries last sea­son, “You al­ways want to make him proud, be­cause we both pour out hearts and souls into this.”


Har­ri­son Bur­ton, cen­ter, has the sup­port of par­ents Kim and Jeff, a for­mer NAS­CAR driver.

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