A NEW GENERATION: WES BUCK AND DRAG ILLUSTRATED HELPING SHINE A SPOTLIGHT ON THE FUTURE OF DRAG RACING
Kids these days…
They don’t work hard. They are entitled. They don’t know anything.
But is it true? It all depends on who you ask.
With every generation there exists a lack of understanding, a void of compassion on either side of the generational divide. “It’s not how it used to be,” you will often hear. “Ah, the good old days.”
But some want to bridge that gap, bringing likeminded individuals from across the aisle together all in the name of their mutual passion. In this case, the sport of drag racing.
Three years ago, Drag Illustrated Editor-In-Chief Wes Buck and a few of his colleagues came up with an idea to try and bring the accomplishments of this new generation to light and highlight the successes of young people in the sport of drag racing through the 30 Under 30 list that is detailed each December.
The list, unveiled the past two years at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) show in Indianapolis, recognizes 30 of the top young drag racing drivers, crew members, fabricators and industry insiders who are all less than 30 years old. The distinguished list has become a coveted honor within the sport in its short lifespan, highlighting the upcoming stars in all areas and aspects of drag racing.
“There are multitudes of lists that identify people within a certain age group. What we felt was the most rewarding thing we could do, the most beneficial thing we could do for the sport of drag racing, was to identify up-and-comers,” said Wes Buck, who helped launch the drag racing-centered publication Drag Illustrated back in October of 2005. “Those of us who have been around the sport a long time have all had the conversations of who is going to be the next Alan Johnson? Who’s going to be the next Jason Scruggs? Who’s going to be the next Warren Johnson? I mean, if you look at it, history repeats itself. Lady Gaga is definitely Madonna 20 years later.
“And I think that, for us, we want to make sure people know that they are out there. That there are young, sharp, up-and-coming tuning minds, fabricators, drivers, industry members. There are some real stars that are on their way up.
“Would it have been easier to do a 40 Under 40 list or a 50 Under 50? Of course. But we just felt like the people that really needed celebrated right now are the young people.”
Debuting in 2015, the 30 Under 30 list has already highlighted some 60 individuals from across the racing industry who have had an impact in the sport. From inaugural honorees such as Brittany Force – this year’s Top Fuel world champion – to vaunted tuners, drivers and industry leaders from all walks of the drag racing world, not just the NHRA, the 30 Under 30 list has shined a spotlight on the future generation of the sport – a much needed beacon in an arena with an aging demographic.
“There’s just so much talk about an aging demographic and a lot of, what I believe, to largely be negative storylines and a negative narrative that there is really no need for in drag racing,” Buck said. “I’m just trying to take the necessary efforts to tell that there is a bright side. And the bright side is that drag racing is packed full of incredible young people. And I’ve never been more aware of it than I have been in the last three years.
“By opening up our Drag Illustrated 30 Under 30 list, we’ve been made aware of countless young people that are passionate about the sport of drag racing.”
And that, Buck says, is especially important in a day and age where there are so many options competing for the attention of younger people. While an overwhelming interest in car culture 30, 40, even 50 years ago lead to the current generation of drag racing stars and fans, a waning interest in motorsports and an abundance of distractions have played a part in a declining interest in the sport.
“I think, with all of the options that exist for kids today, from traditional stick and ball sports to virtual reality and video games and so much more, the fact that we have so many incredible young people dedicating their time and energy to drag racing speaks volumes,” Buck said. “I want to make sure we are shouting from the rooftops about it. I want these kids to be rewarded. I want their efforts to be validated.
“And I think the one thing that we have learned over the course of 12 years of publishing Drag Illustrated is that validating the effort of the people who do this, who go drag racing, is very important. This is a financially cumbersome hobby. It’s a lot of hard work where success can be few and far between. It often times requires great travel, lots of long nights and early mornings, and I think that the young people that choose to do this and excel at it need to be rewarded for their efforts.”
Because of the attention the list receives, Buck takes the role of selecting each class of young people very seriously.
Each year the team at Drag Illustrated receive nominations via an online portal and those nominations are carefully scrutinized over by a panel of judges that ultimately narrow the expansive list down from hundreds – even thousands – to 30 deserving individuals.
“This is not an online popularity contest,” Buck said. “While we do lean on the collective wisdom of our online community to identify some people that, maybe we are not aware of or haven’t yet been discovered, we reserve the final judgement. Our editorial team and a small panel of judges make the decision and identify the 30 people. We want this list to showcase the best of the best, not just on the drag strip, but people who are good ambassadors for the sport of drag racing.”
The third annual 30 Under 30 list will be revealed during an official press conference and recipient reveal at 2 p.m. on Friday, December 8 at the PRI show at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The event will mark the first time the full list will be revealed during the press conference at PRI, with at least 20 of the slated honorees scheduled to be in attendance.
And who knows? From this year’s list might be the next NHRA Top Fuel world champion, world class tuner or, maybe, even more.
“John Force has constantly talked about the next generation, and he’s right,” Buck said. “There’s nothing more important than that next generation. And that’s really where our focus is too, is that we want to make sure that we identify the next generation of drag racers that are going to carry this sport into the future.”