I was talking with a colleague about Zach Veach, the 15-year-old Ohio karter who’s going straight to the Formula Atlantic series in 2010 with Canadian team Jensen Motorsport and he was not impressed.
“Okay,” he said. “Say you have a 15-year-old hockey player. He’s six-feet and 200 pounds of muscle and has the skills of Sidney Crosby. Do you put him in the American Hockey League? I don’t think so.”
Of course, he’s right. As Indy cars are the NHL, Atlantics and Indy Lights are the American League.l
And how a 15-year-old who’s never driven in an open-wheel car race of any kind (he’s apparently tested in Formula BMW and Atlantics but he’s never raced them) is being allowed to go directly into such a high-speed series as Formula Atlantic is boggling the minds of many.
It's a recipe for disaster.
When I first broached this subject the other day, I said I would return to it and discuss what the Indy Racing League has done to create a “ladder” system where a young driver could go from karts to U.S. Formula Ford 2000, then the Star Mazda Series, Indy Lights and maybe – just maybe – Indy cars.
Called the Road to Indy, it makes perfect sense. You “graduate,” if you will, from one series to the next that’s a little bit faster and where you have to be a little more mature. Hopefully, by the time you get to Indy Lights (or Atlantics), where you’re going to be travelling wheel-to-wheel and in excess of 175 miles an hour at times, you’re going to be old enough physically and emotionally to handle it.
The key thing, of course, is that a driver will have to have turned 18 before being allowed into an Indy Lights race. NASCAR has a similar rule and there are several reasons, chief among them being the danger factor and the negative publicity that would result if a minor was seriously injured – or worse – while racing under their sanction.
I also like to think they’re protecting young drivers, because nobody else seems to be.
In any event, the IRL and NASCAR have said no to the Zach Veaches of the world. What about Sebring, where the Atlantic Series will start its season next March? And the American Le Mans Series will be the headliner. And IMSA will sanction. How comfortable are they going to be?