NASCAR legend embraces special project: 'Doesn’t get any more real than this'

NASCAR legend Richard Petty was among those involved in a year-long high school go-kart project launched by Northern Tool + Equipment.
Richard Petty, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR
Richard Petty, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages

This past weekend, two Minnesota high schools revealed the results of a year-long project aimed at accelerating the growing interest in trade careers among young teenagers.

The project was launched by Northern Tool + Equipment, which is headquartered in Burnsville, Minnesota, last June as a part of their Tools for the Trades™ program. The program is designed to support schools’ career and technical education (CTE) classes by providing students and instructors with equipment and real-world experiences.

The goal of the project was to have the students at Minneapolis Public Schools and Lakeville North High School design, engineer, and build rat rod go-karts from scratch.

In front of thousands of racing and car enthusiasts at the 50th anniversary of Minnesota Street Rod Association’s Back to the 50’s event in St. Paul, Minnesota on Saturday, the finished products were revealed.

Among those assisting in the project was seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and racing legend Richard Petty.

Growing up, students are often taught about the importance of being "prepared for the real world". Some would argue that high school curriculum doesn't always do the best job of that. But this was one of those instances where it truly did accelerate that preparation.

"It doesn’t get any more real than this," Petty told Beyond the Flag. "These kids were given an engine by Northern Tool + Equipment and told to make a rat rod kart. That was it. They had to design, build, and engineer it. They were responsible from beginning to end. They created something with their hands, and people who can work with their hands will never be out of work.”

Petty has been a huge advocate of that last line throughout his whole career, and really his whole life: "people who can work with their hands will never be out of work."

During his own racing career, the 200-time Cup Series race winner worked on his own race cars, and he did so from a very young age. He knew the important of being able to use his hands, and while he is best known for the success he had on the race track, the success he had off of it was arguably just as important.

“I learned to weld early on, and it became a passion for me," he continued. "In those early years, I had to be able to help fix my cars if I wanted to race. Having a trade skill like that served me well throughout my life, and I’m excited for these kids to experience the same thing with the skills they’re learning.”

Thad Moffitt, Petty's grandson and a race car driver himself, also got to play a part in helping the students with this project.

“Getting to be on-site and next to these kids as they were working on the karts was a really great experience," said Moffitt, the 23-year-old who currently competes full-time in the NASCAR Truck Series. "I know what it takes to keep a race car running, so to see these kids show and learn some of those same skills was fun.

"I had a great time connecting with them, and it’s energizing for me to see how excited and passionate they are about the project. I’m glad I got to be involved, do my part to help them out, and motivate them to keep going, because the finished karts are amazing. These are skills that will serve them well as they graduate into the workforce.”

Greg Steadman, Petty's Garage COO, spoke about how the idea of the project came into existence and how it was presented to everybody involved.

“Northern Tool + Equipment brought this idea to us, and we loved it," said Steadman. "We know Richard and Kyle are passionate about Tools for the Trades™ and the importance of getting kids hands-on experience. For me, to be able to get involved in this way with Thad, was really rewarding. We did virtual meetings with kids and met with them in person in their shop classes."

Steadman relished the opportunity to be involved in the planning process and aid the students in the execution of their projects every step of the way.

"Each time, I tried to dig into where they were at, what issues they were facing, and I tried to give them some things to think about that they may not have had on their radar," he continued. "To be involved from the beginning and to then see the finished karts was fun. The kids and teachers did all the hard work. I’m glad we could lend a hand.”

Billy Lane, the founder of Choppers Inc. and the Sons of Speed Vintage motorcycle race, felt that the project was extremely rewarding to watch and take part in, given his own role as an experienced motorcycle builder.

“It’s very encouraging," said Lane. "It inspired me. I’ve done several events with Tools for the Trades™ now, including having groups of students at my Sons of Speed Vintage motorcycle race twice. I was thinking kids these days just want to be social media influencers, but boy, this group proved me wrong. They were really passionate about this project."

Lane found it particularly encouraging that so many young girls were involved.

"As a father of three daughters, it was special to work alongside the young ladies on the team, too," he continued. "I met with both classes virtually and in person, and there were times I didn’t think they were going to get this done and hit the deadline. But they just kept working at it, and that is really encouraging to see."

Like Petty, he echoed the importance of being able to work with one's hands, and he was super proud of all the young individuals whose minds went into making the project a huge success.

"This experience is a great way to give them the experience of what a career in the trades is like, and it shows them that there are a lot of cool things you can do with these kinds of skills.”

Suresh Krishna, Northern Tool + Equipment CEO, also spoke about what went into making this project a reality.

“At Northern Tool + Equipment, we work with men and women in the trades every day in our 140 stores across the country, and we know there is a skilled trades labor shortage," said Krishna. "In 2021, as part of our 40th anniversary, we founded Tools for the Trades™ with a mission to help address the trade labor shortage and to fuel a fresh desire by students to enter trades-related careers.

"Tools for the Trades™ gives instructors the right professional-grade tools and equipment to properly teach the trades as well as introduces students to experiences in these industries."

Krishna specifically discussed the build-off.

"This build-off is a first-of-its-kind project, with the ultimate goal being to give students great experiences with how exciting and fun work in the trades can be," he continued. "We started with the goal of doing something new and different to launch our NorthStar engines to highlight their durability and reliability.

"It turned into this amazing program. The build-off was incorporated into the schools’ career and technical education (CTE) curriculum. We donated a NorthStar engine and thousands of dollars in professional-grade tools and equipment to both schools.”

The instructors and students involved had nothing but positives to share about their own experiences with the build-off. We heard from a number of them:

Quotes from students and instructors

Kevin Bass, Instructor at Lakeville North High School

“It was awesome as a teacher to see how much the students progressed throughout the year with teamwork, troubleshooting, and problem solving.

“This kart was a totally new type of project for us. It required a lot of different machining, welding and fabrication skills we haven't used in other projects. The kids learned new techniques, and it opened up a lot of new doors for them. They see they can make a good living working with their hands, making things like this. The world is ready for them. These skills are needed. They are going to be ahead of the game when it comes to picking a career path and finding something they love, which is what I want for all of them.”

Luis Torres, Minneapolis Public Schools Student

“I learned that working in the trades is a career to be proud of. It takes serious skills to do this kind of thing. Building the kart showed us how to apply what we’ve learned in a hands-on way and how to do it in a tight timeframe, just like we’d need to at a real job.”

Ty Ottum, Minneapolis Public Schools Student

“My biggest takeaway was the importance of teamwork. We all needed to work together to take on the biggest challenges and get to the end.”

Ash Rasche, Minneapolis Public Schools Student

“Looking back at the skills we had to start and where we are today is amazing. Our welding skills are so much stronger. We learned electrical skills and even how to pinstripe.”

NASCAR changes key procedure in the middle of the season. NASCAR changes key procedure in the middle of the season. dark. Next

Given the immense success of this project and the importance of what the students were able to learn and apply throughout the last 12 months, we look forward to seeing what else Petty's Garage and Northern Tool + Equipment might have in store for the future.