Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : January 2006

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Pole Position
By Patrick Tandy

As a 24-year veteran of the Baltimore County Fire Department, Assistant Chief Mark Hubbard has spent the better part of his life emphasizing the importance of safety. So it was with no small degree of caution that Hubbard and his wife considered their then-six-year-old son Ryan's auto-racing ambitions a few years ago.

"We were cautious at first because the first things you think of are the stereotypes – the injuries and things like that," admits Hubbard, who began pursuing a law degree in the late '90s (he was admitted to the Maryland Bar in December 2003) as a means to augment his largely administrative duties in handling the Department's support services. But as Ryan's interest took greater hold with each trip to the go-kart track, Hubbard realized the need for a stable – and safe – environment to regularly foster his young son's growing obsession.

The Hubbards found what they were looking for in Quarter Midget racing, a sport that focuses on budding racers ages 5 to 15. Racers compete on tracks (approximately one-twentieth of a mile in length, both paved and unpaved) in the vehicles (which are approximately one-quarter the size of regular midget racers) that give the sport its name.

"I'll tell you – some of the hits I saw [Ryan] take in lacrosse, and watching football in that age group," says Hubbard. "Statistically, this sport is no more dangerous – and probably safer – because they are just emphatic about safety regulations and rules."

To be sure, safety features such as seatbelts, roll cages, helmets and harnesses are required, and good sportsmanship is heavily emphasized. (There are no monetary awards given; instead, winners receive trophies.)

Moreover, family members maintain active roles. "[P]arents are called ‘handlers' – we're like the pit crew, and it's our job to buy the car, fix the car, adjust the car for the track conditions," explains Hubbard, who admits his role as mechanic was a little daunting at first. "When I first got the car, I didn't know how to start the thing; there's no Quarter Midgets for Dummies book out there. I am not mechanically inclined, but, you know – maybe you lean towards hobbies that you have very little experience in, because that's what makes it a hobby. It's fascinating to learn and watch; that's what makes it fun for me."

Hubbard admits that other parents' readiness and willingness to help out impressed him from the start. "When we were driving around [to different tracks], just getting a feel for it, seeing if I could fit in, not knowing anything about mechanics, talking to the people – they would drop whatever they were doing to talk to you, really bend over backwards to help you. I mean, if you break a part and you don't have it, someone else is there by your side with it. And the most amazing thing is [that] when something happens during a race – you would think that the other competitors and their parents would say, you know, ‘Bad luck.' But no – they swarm out [and] they try to fix the car as best they can and get them back on the track."

This supportive environment keeps Hubbard trailering his son's car to Quarter Midgets of America (QMA)-sanctioned racetracks all over Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey for most weekends between April and October.

"They run the sport, essentially: safety rules, insurance rules, competitive rules," Hubbard explains of QMA. "Ryan has a driver's card; he can show up at any QMA track in the country and drive. He's a member, he shows up, pays his entrance fee.

"The tracks are good at staggering their schedules. For example, the ones within a hundred miles of each other – one will race Friday night, one Saturday, one Sunday, so sometimes if I have a free weekend we'll mix it up."

Ryan, of course, leaves the nuts and bolts to his father; after all, he is busy learning his craft (and crafting his image).

"It's so funny to watch him," Hubbard remarks. "You might as well turn on NASCAR on Sunday; he's got the same persona as those drivers. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't do something in the industry, and especially the way the industry has taken off."

In fact, Hubbard's tangential involvement in "the industry" has carried over into his own professional life. "I teach part-time for Loyola College and the University of Maryland," he says. "One of the classes is a business strategy class, so we look for marketing examples of companies that have really done something spectacular; we used the sports industry and what publicity and marketing have done for NASCAR.

"I read something in the paper about a year ago, where some of those NASCAR-type teams are already scouting kids as young as eight-years-old. So it's like baseball: they're digging down deep, looking for that talent. I've got that in the corner of my eye, looking at the big picture – and here we are at the grassroots level."

♦♦♦

More than two years after taking up Quarter Midget racing, both father and son – who turns nine next month – are still on course. "[Some racers] actually move up and stay in racing in some way, shape or form, and others just do this while [they] are of the age and move on," says Hubbard.

"This is an expensive sport," he admits. "I would say, conservatively, just to get into the sport you're going to pay five– to ten-thousand dollars [for] the car, the trailer, the parts, the entrance fees. But once you get into it, it gets a little better."

For Hubbard, however, the investment is worth far more than an assortment of tools and spare parts. "The discipline, the focus, the social skills that I see him building through participating in this – I'm very pleased with that," he explains.

"I stop and think: I can see in myself my father 30 years ago, when we were doing sports like that, and the time that he was around Boy Scouts, Little League," Hubbard adds. "You don't think about it at the time, but you reflect – 30 years later, those memories that come back. And I'm hoping that we're building memories, because we spend an awful lot of time together, and I just think that this will have a lasting impression on [Ryan] that I hope he will give to his children."

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January 2006

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