RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip


Tomorrow's Mechanics Start Here


Nate JonesSignal Hill, California—

"What does every 16-year-old kid want to do?" asks Nate Jones, founder of Kids Motorsports Education, a non-profit organization based in Signal Hill, California. "They all want to drive. The trouble is that kids these days don't get the mechanical training that kids in the fifties and sixties got by watching their dads work on the family car in the driveway."

Cars and trucks are more sophisticated now, and come with computer chips that are incompatible with weekend tinkering. This fundamental change in vehicle design has eroded the supply of young people who have basic mechanical knowledge. The impact of the shortage is felt especially keenly by motorsports enthusiasts, who need a steady supply of competent technicians to design, repair and maintain race cars.

Nate's answer to the growing dilemma pleases kids and motorsports professionals equally. He has founded an innovative program to let students between the ages of ten and sixteen develop mechanical knowledge by working hands-on with real cars.

Starting in 1989, Nate, who is also one of the founders of the Long Beach Grand Prix, put together teams of professionals who taught young people how to design and build small model cars as a part of the Pinewood Derby program. Inspired by the possibilities, he designed his own program in which the adults built cars to the exact specifications in the children's plans. Later, he introduced a metal chassis large enough for a child to drive in a gravity race.

In programs currently offered at the Long Beach Boys' and Girls' Club and Santa Ana High School, students are assigned to a chassis. Each participant rotates through the jobs of Front Axle, Rear Axle, Driver, Team Manager and Marketing Chief. The kids learn the skills required to sell advertising in addition to designing, building and maintaining the vehicle. At the end of the program, the teams compete in events requiring the complete dissassembly and reassembly of the car as well as racing.

Donna Griggs, Public Education Director for the Long Beach Fire Department, and Gary Peebles, a teacher in Whittier, California, serve on the board of Kids Motorsports Education along with Nate. We salute their proactive efforts to teach students real-world applications for math, science, design, art, and business.

If you are interested in knowing more about this program, call Nate Jones at (310) 597-3369.

May, 1996