|Travis Pastrana, driver of the #99 Boost Mobile Toyota, prepares to drive before the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on January 29, 2011 in Irwindale, California. (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR/AFP)
TORONTO - There is a lot of talk these days in NASCAR circles about what the sport must do to lure more young people to race tracks or get them watching the Sunday afternoon races on television.
When the sport took off in a big way in the late 1990s and through the first decade of the new millennium, it was on the backs of a whole crop of young, energetic faces like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart.
The last I checked those “young guns” as they were called back then are all now in their mid-to-late 30s.
While all still have huge followings and remain competitive they are not on the radar of teenagers looking for sporting heroes.
NASCAR needs a transfusion of young blood in the sport. The problem is how to get that done.
The teams that can afford to bring in youngsters — the Hendricks, the Childresses, the Roushes and the Gibbs — simply have little or no room at the top.
Even Richard Childress with a pair of talented grandsons in Austin and Ty Dillon being groomed in the minors would have to get rid of a solid veteran to make room for a new kid.
But maybe it is time to do just that.
PASTRANA GOES NASCAR RACING
In the 500 channel world of pro sports, NASCAR is going to the king of extreme sports in an attempt to woo the computer game generation to the race track.
Travis Pastrana will begin his journey from X-Games deity to NASCAR star this week at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis when he’ll start his first Nationwide Series race in the No. 99 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota on Saturday.
In the process everybody in NASCAR will be cheering on the 27-year-old from Annapolis, Md., to at least show promise in his NNS debut.
At stake are the tens of millions of sport’s most valued demographic — males between the ages of 18 and 25.
NASCAR wants those fans — who have made Pastrana a supersonic star — to be stock car racing fans.
MARYEVE GETS NATIONWIDE RIDE
Quebec’s Maryeve Dufault will make NASCAR history at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal when she becomes the first Canadian woman to compete in the Nationwide Series at the NAPA 200 on Aug. 20.
Dufault has signed a contract to race the No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge Challenger with sponsorship from the Quebec Dodge Dealers.
The team is owned by Canadian Randy MacDonald, of Oshawa. He is a longtime NASCAR team owner who has run in both the NNS and the NASCAR Camping World Series.
Dufault has been running a full season schedule in the ARCA series.
“This is just an awesome opportunity for me and I can’t thank the Quebec Dodge Dealers enough for making it happen,” Dufault said. “I feel like I have learned a lot this season in the ARCA car and I’m hoping that knowledge will translate to my Quebec Dodge Dealers Nationwide car at Montreal.”
MacDonald, too, is happy to have a fellow Canadian in the No. 81 Dodge.
“After all these years living State side, it’s still important to me to be involved in helping my fellow countrymen, so I am super excited to have Maryeve join MacDonald Motorsports,” he said. “I’ve been able to watch Maryeve compete in the ARCA races this year and it is clear to me, she wants to win.
“We intend to give her a fast car and a great finish at our only race in Canada. This is an important race for both of us. This is big league racing, the Nationwide Series is ultra competitive. Hopefully we can open the opportunity for her to move into NASCAR with more races to come.”