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Race revs up children to steer clear of drugs

by Danny Forinash

STAFF WRITER

Racing may be a common weekend event, but it's usually not in a parking lot. And the racers are usually older than 12. But things were a little different Saturday afternoon as area children got behind the wheel to help raise drug awareness.

The Kmart Kids Race Against Drugs, a nationwide program that teaches children ages 7-12 about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, came to Clarksburg and Morgantown this weekend.

At the Kmart in Eastpointe Plaza Saturday, kids registered at a booth in the parking lot and waited for their turn to take a trip around a track complete with a bridge, turns and a finish line.

Each child -- with an adult supervisor -- could make one circuit in an electric-powered car that resembles a hot rod.

"It seems like everyone's having fun," said Tim O'Dell of Lumberport, one of the driving supervisors. "It's been a great success.

"I'm having just as much, if not more, fun as the drivers. It's enjoyable to ride along with inexperienced drivers."

The drivers were timed electronically. The racers with the fastest times in their age categories will be entered in regional drawings for trips to the 2000 National Championships in Orlando, Fla., in January 2001. There they will compete for $10,000 college scholarships.

Unfortunately, 7-year-old Scott Sorge of Lumberport couldn't come up with a good time Saturday, after crashing through one of the foam walls that line the track.

But Scott seemed to enjoy the crash just as much as the racing.

"I wasn't steering right and I just crashed through the wall," said Sorge. "I want to go again!"

Scott's stepfather, Cecil Stafford, said the event is a good way to begin educating children about drugs at a young age.

The Kids Race Against Drugs is a partnership between Kmart and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) America.

To race, children must make a pledge to remain drug-free. Also, representatives from D.A.R.E. talk with the kids and answer questions. For every child who participates, Kmart donates $5 to the local D.A.R.E. program.

Children also receive free T-shirts and baseballs caps after their drive.

"Everybody is having a good time while we are raising awareness about the drug problem," said Tommy Thomas, the Clarksburg Police Department's D.A.R.E officer. "And I think the kids are getting the message."

Last year, the Clarksburg race ranked second in the country with its large turnout -- 850 -- and its large community involvement, according to Thomas.

This year, Thomas hopes to have 1,000 kids participate during the weekend, which would be a record.

"The large turnout says a lot for the community and their want to address the drug problem," said Thomas, who has been part of the Clarksburg D.A.R.E program for five years. "It shows you that people care and react."

Ron Clark of Clarksburg, whose daughter Meaghan was a racer Saturday, said, "Programs like this and Hooked on Fishing are definitely important. It gives kids other avenues to have fun and gives them something to think about. It's good family fun, and it helps open communication between parents and their kids."

Haydee Roman is manager of the Clarksburg Big Kmart store.

"This allows us to form good relations with the community," Roman said of the Kids Race Against Drugs. "It lets people know Kmart is involved. Drug awareness is very important for the young coming into our store. Their parents are our customers, so they care. And so do we."

This weekend's event also features bobbing for apples, face-painting sponsored by the Clarksburg Citizens Police Academy, snacks provided by the Clarksburg Central Little League and a dunking booth provided by D.A.R.E.

"That water was cold," said Thomas, who was brave enough to sit in the dunking booth. "When I went in, it took my breath away."

The Kids Race Against Drugs will continue today from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Staff writer Danny Forinash can be reached at 626-1446.

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