Anthony Martin started the Urban Youth Racing School in 1998 to introduce the world of motorsports to kids in inner cities – one of the sport’s most untapped markets. Just last month, UYRS received a $70,000 donation from the biggest motorsports giant of them all, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. You probably know it better by its acronym, NASCAR.
“It feels good,” said Martin when asked how it felt to receive the donation.
“It puts a little dent towards what we’re doing,” said his wife and COO, Michelle Martin. “Running a motorsports program is so expensive so we’re always constantly fundraising.”
But having high-profile donors is nothing new to this Fishtown-based racing school. Martin is quick to point out that the school’s biggest sponsor, General Motors, has been affiliated with UYRS for more than 20 years. With GM’s help, NASCAR’s help and others, UYRS is an organization that offers four different programs students can enroll in. The Build A Dream program, which is a 10-week course for kids aged 8-18, teaches science, technology, engineering and mathematics through a motorsports lens, and prepares students for a career in professional racing. The course then culminates in the creation of a real student racing team, allowing students a chance at on-track go-kart driving.
The other UYRS programs stray from the racing theme a bit. There’s the eight-week Remote Piloted Vehicles program, which teaches physics, mathematics, aerodynamics and technology through the lens of aviation with the help of remote controlled aircrafts.
The 22-week naval engine program encourages students to get involved in STEM fields by teaching them about naval ship design, engine design and configuration, ship maintenance procedures and more.
The final program, called the What it Takes program, is “a national outreach initiative that connects highly successful minority entrepreneurs, scientists, professional athletes, businessmen, military and medical professionals with hundreds of African-American and Latino males at risk of dropping out of high school,” according to UYRS’s website.
Since 1998, more than 7,600 students have passed through UYRS’s programs.
You might guess that Martin has experience in the STEM fields, but in reality he worked in sports marketing in a past life, where, he said, he came up with the idea for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham’s gold-tipped shoelaces.
“I was pretty successful with that,” said Martin. “But I’ve always been a motorsports and racing fan.”
Martin grew up in “the hood” in Southwest Philly, where he “dreamed and fantasized” about auto racing, despite living in an area where it wasn’t the most popular sport. When asked why NASCAR hasn’t caught on with many minorities in urban areas, Martin said that it was “a matter of exposure.”
“You have to know it exists and you have to be welcomed into it,” said Martin. “The main thing is exposing families to the sport.”
Cost is another factor, Martin warned.
“It’s an expensive sport to even go and watch,” said Martin. “Going to a NASCAR race is more expensive than going to an NBA game.”
As a result, NASCAR has been often pigeonholed as a sport only for white people. It’s a stereotype the league has tried to overcome in many ways, including having more non-white drivers and banning the Confederate flag at its events. It’s also fought that stereotype by working with organizations such as Martin’s.
For instance, all four drivers – Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and William Byron – from NASCAR’s most famous racing team, Hendrick Motorsports, will be participating in the Urban Youth Racing School Kyle Larson & Friends Celebrity Grand Prix. The event, which will be held from noon to 6 p.m. on Aug. 7 in the Rivers Casino parking lot, will also feature Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs and engineers to talk to students about career opportunities.
“We’re excited to have that support from the Hendrick Motorsports Team,” said Michelle. “It’ll be a really great day in Philly for racing.”
The Martins noted that several yet-to-be announced celebrities will be in attendance for the event as well.
The Fishtown Business Improvement District is helping put on the event.
“I fell for [UYRS] immediately because it’s the only one of its kind in the country,” said the BID’s executive director, Marc Collazzo. “We’re going to put on a very special day for the community.”
For more information about the Urban Youth Racing School Kyle Larson & Friends Celebrity Grand Prix, visit UYRS.com.