WEST VALLEY CITY — For its final season, Rocky Mountain Raceways will partner with a Utah advocacy group to raise awareness of the dangers of underage drinking.
“It’s such an issue in the community,” Mike Eames, Rocky Mountain Raceways general manager, said. “If we can get one kid that sees all this stuff, and it makes an effect on one kid, that’s 100 percent worth it.”
Various parts of the raceway have been altered to promote the message of Parents Empowered, a statewide campaign to stop underage drinking. The Utah Legislature appropriates the program’s funding through a 0.6 percent cut of alcohol sales revenue.
The raceway’s paths have been painted with a recurring cartoon brain and the words “Underage drinking can damage a kid’s brain.” A yellow race line can also be found on certain paths that urge parents to “Keep your kids on track.”
However, when patrons pass the front gate of the raceway, they will find the most significant image of the campaign: A real Rocky Mountain Raceways racecar “crashed” into the brain of a teenager — a large sculpture installed by Parents Empowered.
“With every partnership we do we try to tweak our message to that partner,” said Sara Quintero, an account director with R&R Partners, the advertising firm for Parents Empowered. “So here you’re seeing crashes and raceway and driving.”
Through striking visuals like this, Parents Empowered has sought to encourage parents to talk with their children about the potentially harmful effect drinking alcohol can have on the brain. Research has shown that minors who drink may irreversibly damage nerve tissue. This is due to the sensitive nature of a minor’s still-developing brain.
In March, Willow Creek Middle School in Lehi partnered with Parents Empowered to help students abstain from drinking by covering a large brain sculpture with student handprints. At that event, Utah first lady Jeanette Herbert said a statewide survey showed underage drinking rates have “steadily decreased” since lawmakers created the program in 2012.
West Valley City and raceway leadership announced the partnership Wednesday in front of the brain sculpture.
“Parents are the ones that can make the most difference because they can get an audience with those teens, all the time, every day,” West Valley City Mayor Ron Bigelow said at the announcement. “But, we need other ways to get their attention. And this great visual that Rocky Mountain Raceways put together is just super.”
Parents Empowered’s signs and sculptures will remain at the raceway through the rest of the season, which officially concludes in September. If it weren’t for this being the raceway’s last season, Eames said this would have been a long-term partnership with Parents Empowered and their message.
“We went after them because we have a whole slew of families that come out here to all of our events,” Eames said.
Zack Christensen, a local high school student and member of the West Valley City Youth Council, said the council wanted to represent teenagers like him at the announcement.
“I think it’s good to see — instead of just older men talking, its good to have someone your age up there saying, ‘Don’t drink and do other things that give you that escape from reality,'” Christensen said.
At the announcement, Christensen urged parents to talk to their kids and set boundaries to avoid alcohol’s “short and long-term troubles.”
For West Valley Police Lt. Robert Hamilton, who also spoke at the announcement, underage drinking is an issue he deals with regularly at work, but it is also one he considers at home.
Hamilton recently gave his 10-year-old the analogy of a plant that grows to be a tree.
“You hit a tree with an axe, you give it one good hit, nothing’s going to happen,” Hamilton said. “You do that same thing to a small plant, it kills it. Everything (alcohol does) to that young, developing brain and body is going to have such huge ramifications the older they get.”
Hamilton said that the conversation about alcohol a parent has with their child depends on their age. However, it all comes down to “open education and communication.”
“If it’s a teenager, treat them as an adult, explain it to them as an adult,” Hamilton said. “Even as a teenager, they might feel like they’re an adult, they might be able to make adult decisions, but they are still developing.”
Parents can visit the Parents Empowered website, parentsempowered.org, for more information.