Ten questions for… Junior Open-Wheel Talent
By LJ Hutchins
Monday, April 25th, 2011
To celebrate the start of a new racing season, and the fact we still seem to be running a motorsport website despite our best attempts to the contrary, we though we’d catch up with a few old friends and see how they are getting on.
The first was Hannah James of YourRacingCar.com and you can read the result here. This time we posed a few questions to sports writer and motorsport blogger Ryan Stringfield, who runs the Junior Open Wheel Talent blog, and who shares our conviction that anyone who doesn’t keep an eye on junior formula racing is missing a treat.
Here’s what he had to say:
1. You’ve been running the blog for three years now – how has it gone? Have you made the journey you were expecting when you set it up?
Yeah, I published my first post on April 24 2008. It’s been an interesting adventure, to say the least. Honestly, things have gone completely differently than what I expected when I first started.
I’ve always enjoyed writing and have held an immense passion for racing, so in the spring of 2008 I sat down at my computer, set up a blog on blogspot.com and just started writing. At the time it just seemed like a good way to help aspiring drivers obtain some much needed media attention and press – not to mention an avenue to help me stay involved with junior formula racing and the karting scene.
I had no idea JOWT would end up as a three-plus year project. It’s been extremely rewarding, however, as I’ve been fortunate enough to gain a loyal readership and help some up-and-coming drivers along the way. The blog has opened a few others doors for me as well, enabling me to make some trips to various racing venues around the United States.
It’s been great. Covering racing and writing is still a true passion of mine and I plan to continue doing so for years to come, at least in some form.
2. Sometimes it can be quite hard to interest motorsport fans in anything outside Formula One. How have you tackled this challenge?
You’re absolutely right, it is a challenge. That said, there is a certain “cult following” surrounding junior formula racing and that interest is growing and reaching the general racing fans. Slowly, but it’s growing. I think it’s natural for fans of Formula One, IndyCar or even NASCAR (or whatever series they are following) to pick a favorite driver. When they do, most will try to find out more information about that particular driver. My hope is that as fans research they will come across my site and others like it that focus on junior formula racing and/or karting.
It’s unfortunate, but the lower levels of racing will never draw the attention of the larger series, but every driver has to start somewhere. With the development of the ‘Road to Indy’ here in the US – more and more racing fans are becoming familiar with junior formula racing. There is certainly a long road ahead, but things are progressing in the right direction.
As I’ve said in the past, some of the best racing I’ve witnessed occurred at the kart track. People who ignore that are truly missing out.
3. We’re noticing that racing has become an incredibly tough financial environment for young drivers over the 2010 season and we’re expecting it to get worse in 2011. Has this been your experience too?
No question. Entry numbers are down across the globe and it’s going to take some time – a lot of time for it to rebound. Aspiring to become a racing driver is tough in the best economy. With the current state of things, it’s even more difficult. I believe we will see things turn around, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
4. Which of the junior formulas do you find most entertaining? Which would you recommend to anyone wanting to broaden their experience of motorsport?
Karting. If you consider that a junior formula! There is nothing quite like attending a top-level karting event. I’ve been to Formula One and IndyCar races and neither hold a candle to the atmosphere at a world-class karting event. The talent level is so high at an international event and the competition is absolutely fierce. The entry numbers are high and karting traditionally draws a much larger talent pool simply because it’s relatively affordable.
In terms of actual junior formula racing – here in the US. – I’d have to pick Star Mazda as a favourite. The Series typically boasts fairly large entry numbers and drivers usually have at least a year or two of junior formula car racing under their belts. As far as passing and overtaking is concerned it’s hard to beat the Skip Barber National championship. The drafting and number of lead changes during a SBN race are simply astounding, plus it’s fun to watch kids get their feet wet in car racing.
5. Is there anything you’ve achieved with the blog that makes you particularly pleased or proud?
Just the ability to try and make a difference in the careers of today’s up-and-coming drivers is rewarding. I’ve also met a lot of great people and made some outstanding contacts over the last three years.
6. What do you think the future holds for motorsport bloggers? Sometimes the relationship between the more conventional media and ‘fan journalists’ can get a bit strained – as someone who, like us, has experience of both, what’s your perspective?
Great question. To be honest, I think there is room for both. Many of the top bloggers out there – most of whom hold regular non-writing day jobs – are every bit as good as more traditional journalists. Bloggers have the ability to write what they want and interact with their audience however they choose. One of the biggest benefits to being a blogger is that you have unlimited space to devote to a topic of your choosing, whereas a newspaper reporter, for example, might be limited to say 1,000 words. That’s a big difference. Truthfully, I find myself reading more blogs than traditional sites simply because the writer is allowed more room and has added freedom. I hope that doesn’t come across wrong. Both are great in their own way.
7. Which young drivers in particular do you think fans should keep an eye on this season?
That’s a tough question to answer as there are so many talented drivers. Just off the top of my head, (thinking of lower level rookies) I’ve been very impressed with Finland’s Petri Suvanto (USF2000) and American Trent Hindman (Skip Barber). Martin Scuncio is highly underrated and has done well in Star Mazda. His teammate Gustavo Menezes made a huge jump this season (advancing from karts to Star Mazda), but I expect we will see a large amount of growth from him this season. Spencer Pigot is obviously a very talented kid and will go far. Like I said, there are far too many to name but I think all of those guys have a pretty bright future in junior formula racing (and hopefully beyond). Just as a quick disclaimer… If you weren’t named, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been impressed by your driving ability.
8. How do you rate the plans to bring Formula One back to the US with a race to be held in Austin, Texas? Will that have any implications for young American drivers?
Time is running short. It might be a stretch to have the cars on track in Texas next year, but by all reports the idea has solid backing and, hey, they even named the future track ‘Circuit of Americas.’
I was at the 2005 USGP – yeah the race where only six of 20 cars started – so I’m ready to see F1 make a return to the States. On a positive note, I was able to catch some pretty solid junior formula racing (including the now defunct Formula BMW-Americas) during the 2005 USGP in Indianapolis.
If promoters are able to bring in some junior formula series for 2012 that would be great. Just the exposure of having Formula One back in the United States would be extremely positive for the future growth of motorsport.
9. You’ve got a wide-ranging interest in sports outside motor racing. What other sports do you particularly enjoy, and why?
Absolutely, I love all sports. Racing is my No 1 passion but I’m also a huge NCAA hockey fan. I play hockey in my spare time and also spend a ton of time on the golf course. There is just something about sports – I enjoy the fact that no one knows what’s going to happen next and it’s great to experience the thrill of victory when things work out the way you hope. I’ve been fortunate enough to to cover a wide variety of sports as both a writer and photographer and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
10. What do you think motorsport (especially the junior formulas) could do to broaden its appeal to general sports fans? Is this even a good idea?
Give drivers paint-ball guns. Joking. Actually, that’s another great question. I’m not sure what the answer is. A lot of people are close-minded toward racing and that’s unfortunate. I’m not sure that will ever change. Mainstream media exposure is the key to involving more sports fans, but several levels of motorsport already have that.
Sports Illustrated – the magazine – recently featured a few junior formula drivers in their “Faces in the Crowd” section and also in the SI for Kids magazine. Personally, I thought that was great to see and certainly a step in the right direction.
If you come up with a good answer, make sure to let me know.