Thanks to a new docu-series produced by Will Smith, Philadelphia’s Urban Youth Racing School will get its moment in the sun.
By Chris Murray
For The Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
When they first formed the Urban Youth Racing School in 1998, Anthony and Michelle Martin had the goal of not only ntroducing young people of color to auto racing, but also being able to count one of the school’s graduates among the elite drivers on one of the major professional racing circuits.
Over the years, the Urban Youth Racing School has succeeded even beyond even its own expectations, leveraging corporate partnerships with General Motors and Nike to build a unique educational component that focuses on both the science, math and the history of racing. More than 6,000 kids from ages eight to 18 have come through the UYRS and have achieved success in field like engineering and science..
The Martin’s latest venture involving the UYRS seeks to not only put the program not only on a national stage but a global stage thanks to a partnership with Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment. The school will be featured in a 13-episode docu-series —- The Urban Youth Racing School —- that focuses on the day-to-day activities.of the school. Smith will serve as executive producer for the series.
Anthony Martin believes that the series will give viewers a unique perspective on UYRS and its impact on the young people who come there.
“I’m hoping that the school will receive a lot more exposure,” Martin said. “I think that once people see us around the world it would help us to expand the program not just national but internationally. We’re going to be expanding world wide. It’s about people being able to see what we’re all about and to see what we’ve been doing for the past 21 years and to see the success of the kids that have gone through the program and have continued to go through the program.”
The first season of the series will focus on the school in Philadelphia, Anthony Martin said. The second and third seasons will focus on UYRS’s programs n Johannesburg, South Africa and Brazil.
“What they’re going to do is take storylines from a couple of kids at the Urban Youth Racing School and those kids will be what the show is all about,” he said.
The series will begin shooting in Spring 2020 and Overbrook Entertainment hopes to place it on Netflix or a similar platform.
For all the accolades that UYRS has received for its educational programs that expose young people to the science of the automobile as well as general science of math, Anthony Martin would love to see one of his students make it to NASCAR or even Formula 1. In the 21-year history of the school, none of the school’s graduates have raced at the professional level.
But Martin is also realistic about the financial obstacles of breaking into the sport. The costs of competing in NASCAR, Formula 1 or the Indy Car circuits are in the millions of dollars. According to a 2014 story from Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, it cost one NASCAR team $1.4 million for just one race. Now multiply 1.4 million over a 36-race NASCAR season.
The odds for achieving mega success in auto racing are even slimmer than trying to break into pro football, basketball or baseball, which is why UYRS emphasizes educating young people to use what they’ve learned from the school in professions such as engineering and computer science.
“Our ultimate goal would be to have a kid come out of the program and be successful,” Martin said. “Not just be in the series, but be successful in the series,” Martin said. “Ninety-nine percent won’t make it to the pros and that’s true in any sport. You don’t want to take away anybody’s dream. You want these kids to be able to dream. If you look at statistics and (the kids) look at it, their chances of making it to the next level is slim and none.”
There are two Black drivers in professional racing today. One is four-time Formula 1 Champion Michael Hamilton of Great Britain and Bubba Wallace, who races in the NASCAR Cup series.
The irony of African-Americas in auto racing is that there is naturally a strong interest among Black youth in motor sports. Like White kids in some rural area in the South or the Midwest, you can go into any African-American or Latino neighborhood along the I-95 corridor between Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia and see kids racing motor cycles or fast cars.
In other words, there are a lot of potential race drivers whizzing up and down the streets of urban America in their motor cycles that could be great race car drivers if they had the financial means to do so.
“You see these kids riding dirt bikes and ATVs.These kids are talented,” Martin said. “You see the kids popping wheelies for a block. They definitely have the talent to get there. It’s the dollars and relationships to get there.”
When kids come into the program at the UYRS, they spend the four weeks learning automotive industry and motor sports and they do course work focused on history, economics and marketing, science, math, English language arts. They also learn how to drive go-karts at a facility in Cinnaminson, New Jersey.
Ed Butler, UYRS education director, said the most important thing that the school wants to instill in the minds of its participants is that there is a long history of African-American participation of motor sports and other related industries such as aviation.
For example, Butler said that one of things that the kids from the Urban Youth Racing School learn is the history of African-Americans in racing. Most notably, UYRS students learn about the Black-owned Golden Glory Racing Sweepstakes from the 1920s and Wendell Scott, the first Black driver in NASCAR. He said it’s imperative that Black understand their history in motor sports and technology.
“When you passionately teach what we’ve done, how we have our DNA and our roots in all wound up in what we do, this is what we do,” Butler said. “This is what makes this school so crucial. We are the forgotten race in not just motor sports, but in aviation and water sports. We’ve been around since the conception of the motor, since conception of the car, since conception of the fuselage, since the conception of the boat and we helped to build it.”