Austin Nemire, then 11, of Sylvania, drives a quarter midget racing car.
In past years, competitive auto racing had a mandate for aspiring drivers.
"Are you 16?" a speedway administrator would ask.
If a driver said no, there was only one answer: "Come back when you have your driver's license."
With the growth of auto racing -- and the interest in it -- that mandate has changed. Austin Nemire can attest to that.
The 12-year-old from Sylvania is part of a new ARCA youth driving initiative that develops drivers through different styles of cars and racing.
Instead of taking the traditional path that most drivers have taken -- waiting until after earning a driver's license to begin training and competing -- Nemire has raced for more than six years and plans to compete in races in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana this season.
"I'm nervous about it, but I'm excited at the same time," Nemire said.
Nemire spoke Tuesday at the Toledo Speedway Bar and Grille, where a luncheon introduced the ARCA youth racing initiative and marked the 60th anniversary of the ARCA. The goal of the program, ARCA President Ron Drager said, is to take local drivers and develop them through a feeder system.
Austin Nemire has won several trophies in quarter midget racing.
"We're recognizing the fact that more kids like Austin have an interest in this," Drager said.
"Now, what we're finding are kids who are racing in youth divisions, and we have younger drivers with more experience, so we're lowering [age] eligibility. Now, the next thought process is, what can we do to help younger kids to develop?"
Nemire will drive under Ron Hemelgarn Enterprises in the Ford Focus Midget Racing Series this season; Nemire will drive a smaller version of an open-wheel race car.
"With a name like Ron Hemelgarn, it helps," said Nemire, a seventh-grader at Arbor Hills Junior High School. "I hope I can get into a bigger car and a good organization, and I hope I can make it to NASCAR someday."
While the season opens April 29 with the ARCA Champion Racing Association Super Series and the ARCA Allegiant Late Model Gold Cup, Tuesday's luncheon announced the full 2012 schedule at Toledo Speedway and featured NASCAR team owner Phil Parsons as the keynote speaker.
Parsons, a Detroit native and the brother of the late NASCAR pioneer Benny Parsons, is a former NASCAR driver who is a commentator for the Speed Channel. He grew up attending auto races in Michigan and Ohio -- including races in Toledo -- but didn't drive in his first race until he was 16, when he rented a Volkswagen Bug for $75 in order to compete.
"That was a big day," Parsons said. "I started second, dropped back to last and I think I passed one car."
Unlike Nemire, who has won 125 races since he 6 years old -- and plans to compete in at least 12 pavement races this season -- Parsons went three years between his first and second races.
"I didn't have the opportunities to do what Austin is doing right now," Parsons told the audience of about 100. "When I was Austin's age, all I could think about and dream about was being in the garage area. I'm happy the youth movement is upon us and that you're embracing it."
NOTES: Toledo Speedway will have upgraded grandstand seating this season, as seats from Michigan International Speedway are being installed for the season opener April 28. … Toledo Speedway will host 20 racing events this season, including the ARCA Menard's 200 on May 20. … Parsons will return to Toledo Speedway to do commentary on the Menard's 200, which will be broadcast on the Speed Channel. ... Drager said ARCA will dedicate its season to co-founder Mildred Marcum and racer Joy Fair. Marcum died Jan. 9, and Fair died Dec. 10.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.
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