When someone invites you to go kart racing on a Thursday night, it’s not much of a stretch to say yes. When those kart races are being held to raise money for charity, well, you can go and enjoy yourself and take comfort in the idea that you’ll be doing some good at the same time.
That’s what the Race For Youth is all about. The annual event is co-sponsored by Los Angeles’ Mission Community Police Council, an organization that works with at-risk youth in the northeast region of the San Fernando Valley and Motorgospel Ministries, whose president, Aaron Schwartzbart, also is NASA racer and the SoCal Region’s chaplain on race weekends.
The Race For Youth takes place at MB2, an indoor karting center in Sylmar, Calif. Seventy-seven entrants registered, paid their entry fees, then raced for the quickest lap times in an effort to get into the semifinal and final races.
“When I left my day job in 2012 to go full time with Motorgospel, Race For Youth had already been going for a couple of years, and the police saw what we did and said, ‘Why don’t you guys just take it over,’ and it’s been Motorgospel Minstries’ signature event ever since,” Schwartzbart said. “One hundred percent of the profits go to the charitable causes. There are no professional fundraisers or employees or anything. It’s all grassroots volunteers. Motorgospel puts money and time into the event, but we receive none of the proceeds.”
This year’s event drew celebrities and politicians and even a few pro drivers. For example, Larry Wilcox, who played officer Jon Baker in the television program “CHiPs,” was signing autographs. California state assemblywoman Patty Lopez was on hand as were representatives from L.A. city council and LAPD officers from all over the city. Mazda MX-5 Cup driver Drake Kemper ended up taking second in the final heat that night. First place went to a guy who registered as “The Stig.” For all we know, it was the real Stig. Or not.
Sponsors included NASA, Mazda Motorsports, Galpin Ford and Hamer Toyota, which has been involved with the Race for Youth since its inception six years ago and with the Mission Community Police Council for 10 years. The Race For Youth raises money to fund youth programs and pay for field trips.
“A lot of these kids are from low-income families and don’t have funding for uniforms, or for a lot of the things that kids who are from higher-income households have,” said officer Elizabeth Heinzman, who spearheads the volunteer efforts at LAPD’s Mission Division. “We have officers specifically in charge of the youth program and they provide mentoring, and a lot of other programs that require funding.”
The Mission Community Police Council offers junior cadet programs for kids 13 and younger, a cadet program in which members perform community outreach work, and jeopardy and boot-camp programs for kids who already have had dust-ups with the law.
That’s the heart of the program. It’s not about the kart racing or the sponsors or the participants, although the event couldn’t happen without them. It really is about doing some good in a part of the San Fernando Valley where kids don’t always make the best decisions or even have a decent array of choices available to them. The Race For Youth is a way to help counter that trend.
“All of these kids are at-risk kids, who, if they weren’t in that program, would probably not have a very good future,” said Dave Gilman, general manager of sponsor Hamer Toyota. “When you hear about them moving on and going to college, and a lot of them do become officers, I think that’s the most gratifying part.”
Motorgospel’s Fight Against Street Racing
Aaron Schwartzbart understands the lure of racing and speed, but he also knows the dangers of doing it on the street. That’s why Motorgospel, along with help from NASA, NASCAR, NHRA, police departments and government organizations, is playing a role in trying to get young adults to keep racing off the streets and take it to the track.
With NASA as a backdrop for his message, Schwartzbart showed the street racing crowd that they could take their cars on a racetrack and drive them as fast as they wanted.
“I tell them that on any given race weekend, NASA has $1 million to $2 million worth of cars on several hundred thousand dollars worth of tires making a combined 50,000 horsepower and anybody over age 18 can sample this for free, riding with one of our qualified instructors, or for a very reasonable couple of hundred bucks, you can do it yourself,” he said.
Let’s just say the fast and furious crowd still has a lot to learn.
“They say, ‘Yeah, but that’s not quarter mile,’” Scwhartzbart said. “’We’re not impressed with your John 3:16 car. We don’t care if you can beat the pants off us at Willow Springs. We’re all about the quarter mile.’”
The street racers also have some other, uh, interesting reasons they’d rather race on the street, chief among them that legal races don’t go late enough in the evening and that the racetracks are too far away. There are no tracks in the metropolitan area, but even if there were, they said they also like to gamble on races, something that is frowned upon at sanctioned events.
Though its efforts on the Race For Youth program have been successful and ongoing, Motorgospel Ministries has its work cut out for it in the fight against street racing. That effort will be ongoing, too.