Evan J. Smith
February 21, 2014

Despite this being the April issue, I'm penning this column in late December, right in the heart of the holiday season. Like many of you, I'm just a big kid and I get excited about all things cars. I get into the holiday spirit by pulling my old trains out of the closet and setting up our Christmas In The City village. This year, I also set up a makeshift race world using toy race tracks.

As a kid, the bulk of my gifts consisted of either hockey equipment or car stuff. Today, I like giving more than receiving. I'm lucky in that I have some neat toys and collectibles. Still, I really enjoy looking at old pictures, displaying my diecast cars, models, and fishing through my assortment of automobilia.

Many of the items kick start my memories and bring back my youth. And with that, I got to thinking about all the cool ways young people can enjoy our hobby, long before they can drive a car.

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As you can imagine, things are drastically different for kids today. Virtually everything back in the day required human power and a hands-on approach. We connected with our friends on the ball field, on our bicycles, and by inventing games in the street. I used to walk to the 7-11 to check out the magazine rack and I still have most of the old car mags I purchased. The connectivity of the Internet enables kids (and adults) to interact in a virtual world for the purpose of entertainment and education. It provides instant answers to questions and instant gratification for fun, be it with a video game, shopping, or whatever.

It's convenient, but not so personal. I prefer the personal touch. Recently, I checked out our local hobby shop, Hobby Town USA, and found a great assortment of plastic models, plus all the glue and paint needed for assembly. Though the prices may not be what they used to be, I got excited about the variety of cool cars and it reminded me of the models I'd built in the past. And I realized how important building models was to growing my interest in performance cars.

Getting kids started in the car hobby was important then, and it's important now. The first cars I bought with my own saved-up coins were Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, and if you shop at the right places, they are still around a dollar. Larger diecast cars can be found of most popular cars and in a wide quality and price range.

As I got older, I got into plastic models. As a teenager, nothing compared to the satisfaction of putting a plastic model together nicely. Personally, I never mastered the art. I always used too much Testor's No. 2 glue, and lacked the patience to finish a model cleanly. Plus, my painting skills were suspect.

Nevertheless, piecing a model together taught me that headers are harder to install than log manifolds and doing custom work was harder than making one stock. I also learned about critical engine parts, suspension systems, and rudimentary vehicle assembly. While not a perfect technical example, building models shows kids the basics and familiarizes them with the critical car parts. Thankfully, Revell and Monogram are still at it, making awesome models, some stock, some not. As I gained more skill, I combined models and parts to build some custom cars.

Model building teaches procedure and problem solving, and gets kids (or anyone) working with their hands. In the end, the process is satisfying and shows how a little work can result in a job well done. It's one of life's important lessons. Simple as it seems, it can kick-start a young person's interest in the automotive hobby.

Let's not forget today's kids are the future hot rodders, engineers, designers, racers, magazine journalists … well, you get the picture. But they have to be introduced to the hobby and modeling is one way to get them started. EJS