Weekly Roundup: Fully Qualified Edition

Forty-seven months ago I put my son in a kart for the first time. He had a good season in the 50cc “kid kart” then a horrifying half year where I tried to make an old 80cc “junior sportsman” Birel work using a bicycle mechanic’s set of skills. By then he’d expressed a desire to race bikes anyway so we went on two wheels and with the occasional indoor-rental exception we didn’t look back.

Having made plans to race a kart myself a few times this year, I figured I would give John another chance, this time in the Margay Ignite K2 spec series. We did a short test in Florida this winter that went very well but didn’t give us a chance to see how he would do in an actual race. The next step was a race in May but that was canceled. Or, I should say, it was moved to this past weekend. So we packed up and headed to St. Louis for the second time in three weeks. After watching a few videos, John was less than sanguine about his chances. “I’d like to not finish last,” he said, “but I probably will.”

The idea was to have a family race weekend of sorts. I’d race Ignite Masters, for drivers over 35, because I’m 35. And I’d race Ignite Heavy, which is for fat people, because I’m a fat person. My wife would run Masters, having recently entered middle age to her immense chagrin. John would race Ignite Rookie, for 9-12-year-olds.

In the end, Mrs. B was the winner in our family group. She qualified 17th of 26, and I qualified 21st. At the start I worked her and a bunch of other people to get to 10th place. Ten laps into the 15-lap race she finally caught me on the back straight, dropping me to 11th. I spun on a curb almost immediately afterwards and dropped down to Not Quite Last; she continued on to finish top half. This was much commented-upon, because she was

a) an absolute novice in real karts;
b) the only girl over the age of 15 on the entry lists.

Getting back into my kart for the fat-guy event, I worked a couple people on the start but spun in pretty much the same place with two laps to go, finishing Not Quite Last. Interestingly, the pace in Ignite Heavy was, on the average, faster than the pace in Ignite Masters. I guess the moral of the story here is that there is no such thing as a 200-pound kart racer who isn’t dead serious about his hobby. Truthfully, every one of the hundred or so competitors at the event was dead serious. You never saw someone dramatically adrift of the pace or utterly hopeless at driving the way you often do in club racing. The lap times were usually within 2 seconds from front to back, not the eight, ten, or fifteen seconds observed at, say, a NASA Spec Miata race.

To John’s immense surprise, he managed to run within about a second and a half of the best drivers in his class, practicing and qualifying 11th or 12th out of 15 kids. Naturally, he immediately moved his personal goalposts: “My driving is trash.”

“I thought you’d said you’d be really happy if you weren’t last, and you’re not even close to last, surrounded by experienced racers in their own karts.”

“So what?” When it was time for his feature race, the officials repeatedly stopped the kids during the pace lap and re-gridded them due to various mistakes or malfeasance. This happened again and again over the course of four complete pace laps until the fellow running the thing lost his temper, had them all stop, and then physically moved them around and into position for a short run for the front straight before a green flag. Somehow John got put all the way in back during this process — most likely because he didn’t feel confident raising his voice to the officials — but at the start he moved up to maybe 8th place and held it with no trouble until he got punted into the barriers about halfway through the race. He lost a full lap and although he passed a few drivers afterwards, he wasn’t able to unlap himself against the leaders. He, like his dad, finished Not Quite Last.

He wasn’t happy afterwards but he also wasn’t furious, so I took that as a good sign. Asked to rate 4-cycle spec karting as an activity, he said it was better than indoor BMX racing but worse than downhill mountain biking or riding at skateparks. My wife, on the other hand, was absolutely enthralled by the whole thing. I predict there is plenty of karting in her future. As for your humble author, I am looking forward to getting behind the wheel of an actual race car next week. The eight-hundred-pound-per-inch springs and non-power-assisted steering of my old Neon will feel like a TempurPedic mattress after an hour running a kart at 50mph through bumpy turns. Is karting purer, more honest, than sports-car racing? Some people say yes, and some say no — and I’m not qualified to say, myself.

* * *

For Hagerty, I reviewed a truck and remembered an inspiration.

25 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: Fully Qualified Edition”

  1. AvatarJohn C.

    Interesting the review of the 4.0 liter Frontier. You mentioned a certain fondness for the way the truck harkened back to the older simpler Japanese compact truck of the hard working common man. The hard working common man probably bought it used from a surfer dude or dudess spending daddies money, but the point it still valid.

    Then you mentioned that the still available big block four and five speed would be probably dangerously slow. You are perhaps correct about that, It does say a lot though of the important if uncelebrated decision of the 80s S-10s and Rangers adding stronger V6s to the compact truck menu. Remember Nissan rushing to shoe horn in their V6 and Toyota band adding a turbo in theirs because their V6 was still a long while off. Would that have ever happened without pressure from Detroit?

    It makes you wonder though, if the trucks had not got serious, would they have been better placed to still serve the surfer dude market? The aimless young folks with indulgent parents never completely went away, and workmen would have been ready to absorb more second hand.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      You’re absolutely correct that it takes pressure from domestic manufacturers to get a serious engine in a truck. I happened to see some Mexicans in a brand-new HiAce van on my way to St. Louis. It had a four-cylinder diesel but it was as large as a Ford Transit. There’s absolutely a difference in the way the Japanese and Europeans look at a truck — it’s the way we look at tractors. Functionality is key and it doesn’t matter how fast they are. Obviously things are different here.

      • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

        There’s absolutely a difference in the way the Japanese and Europeans look at a truck — it’s the way we look at tractors.

        Not always. Back in the 1960s, influenced by what was going on with automobiles U.S. tractor manufacturers introduced what are now called “muscle tractors”, with more power and an attempt to give them style. Apparently, they’re highly desireable, both by tractor collectors and working farmers looking for a powerful tractor that can actually be repaired without having to pay an authorized dealer to digitally activate replacement parts.

    • Avatarstingray65

      The luxury truck with powerful engine is a recent phenomenon that really took off with CAFE. Look at the “classic” trucks from the 1930s to mid-1960s and they all had a low performance 4 or 6 cylinder motor with a manual gearbox, manual steering and brakes, solid front axle, and painted metal and vinyl interior – in other words a bare-bones work trucks purchased by farmers and tradespeople for their work. The 1950s and 60s saw some experiments with “fancy” trucks but they were not popular because why spend money on something that was always going to be dirty, greasy, muddy, and scratched doing real work, and city folks just weren’t interested in rough riding trucks as commuter vehicles. Listen to the lyrics of “Hey Little Cobra” where the Cobra is “hitched to the back of my Cadillac” and not a pickup as it is towed to the race track.

      Slowly as post-war increases in wealth allowed more people to have hobbies such as camping, snowmobiling, dirt bike riding, etc. where a pickup made some sense did there start to be more interest shown in civilized trucks with big V-8s, A/C and lots of power accessories as 2nd or 3rd family vehicles. As CAFE killed of large cars and big engine options, even more people started to look at increasingly civilized trucks as their primary vehicles until we are where we are today where trucks have taken over. Europe, Japan, or the rest of the world have not had the wealth and/or space to afford luxurious powerful trucks so there they remain a vehicle for tradespeople with relatively bare-bones specifications just like old US pickups.

      • AvatarJohn C.

        It is my belief that the 80s S10 and Ranger were so beefed up from Japanese compacts not because they were trying to put them away, but rather they were intended to replace the full size completely in the next gas crisis. There were remember CAFE standards on trucks that Reagan froze in 1985 after the American compacts were out.

        The Japanese trucks, remember all the period tape stripe packages, were definitely aimed more at the youthful adventurer, to put a kind face on him or her. That they abandoned that market to copy the Americans seems baffling unless you think that they perhaps also thought that was where the mass truck market was going and wanted out of their niche ghetto.

  2. AvatarHarry

    Master’s racing, regardless of the type of race, has to be one of the most difficult things for an organizer to pull off. I was a good ski racer, in my region and class, throughout college. That being said by 14 the best are already on an Olympic track, the next step down are at boarding academies, and obviously quality varies by region. Medaling USCSA races in the upper midwest made me feel awesome but I was always aware of my true spot on the pecking order.

    A decade after college I entered my first masters race for fun. The best I can say is that I finished at the back of the pack of people who kinda knew what they were doing, about 4 seconds off the winner on a one minute ish course. The next person (no one recognized male vs. female, it didn’t matter.) was about 9 seconds behind me and the back of the pack that completed the course without incident finished around 1:45. About 30 people or so were strung out in that group.

    So the 4 guys at the top were former US ski teamrs from various eras and a dude about my age who probably could have gotten a development spot but knew his limits so he went to med school. Over 11 races in two years they finished in the same order baring absence or a major mistake. The next group, including myself, could at best swap a place or two with those infront or behind.

    The revolving cast of entry fee payers behind mostly got in the way, never improved (how could they? no coaching, no instruction, no practice) and never lasted long enough to have their names learned.

    The sum total is that even though was a sport I have always loved enjoyed and was passionate about, Masters races were boring as fuck. I have no idea how it would be improved. Even if everyone is deadly serious there are not opportunities for improvement. You can’t train harder. You are as good as you were when you stopped being coached as a youth and that’s it.

    I wish I could find a way to enjoy competitive skiing again, but I get the same feedback from friends, colleagues in the ski industry, and former teammates who live all over the country. The only place I have seen something that looks like fun is the Greater Cleveland Ski Council events held in western NY of all places. I assumed when I moved to ski town that fun atmosphere would be replicated but so far no luck.

    • Avatarstingray65

      Masters competitions in all sports are competitions among those who are extremely talented, and/or extremely privileged to have excellent coaching/equipment, and/or who just love participating in the sport, which basically means the most fit and athletic top 5 to 10% of the entire population because virtually everyone else with less talent, resources, and interest drop out of competitive sport by high school. If you want to feel better about yourself, don’t compare yourself to former Olympians, but to the fat/unfit people who take 1 hour to get down the slope and then spend the rest of the day at the cafe/bar, or the people to unfit and unathletic to even attempt a run at all.

  3. Avatar-Nate

    All three articles are nice .

    Makes me miss those older writers .

    It almost makes me want to go rent a go kart .

    It certainly makes me think the Japanese and Europeans are way ahead of us in making actual work trucks .

    My little 2.5 liter Ranger is close to dangerously slow, I pay sharp tttention to those others who need to race every where and so far so good including hauling things .

    I love hearing John’s thoughts .


    • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

      My mom gave me her Ranger. Even though she generally drove pretty slow I don’t know how she never got in trouble with it. I was driving down the highway once in a very light, like 1/10 of an inch snow, when it hit an expansion joint and decided to go completely sideways. Luckily there was no one near me when it happened because I took up all four lanes with alternating views out the driver’s side window and the passenger side window before I got it under control and off the road.

      • Avatar-Nate

        Of this I have no doubt ! .

        I’m in dry as a bone country yet the rear end skitters all oever the damned place any speed above 45 MPH empty .

        I bought some Bilstein HD gas shocks fir it and will hopefully soon have them installed before I wreck it .

        NOTE : all four of the factory radios / DC players are complete crap .

        I dasen’t dare put the nice aftermarket CD players I see in most junkers (under $20OOHOO) because then a crackhead/tweaker will do $2,000 worth of damage to get a $10 radio……

        Dammit .

  4. AvatarNoID

    I was given a 2019 Frontier about a year ago during a business trip and had the same general feeling, that this was one of the few remaining trucks on the market that hadn’t succumbed to the “lifestyle” truck trend. I wasn’t certain if this was by design or just a result of Nissan ignoring their truck for too long, but it sure seemed more the former than the latter. If for some reason I needed a truck, but also needed to maintain my regular commute for work, the Frontier would be a hard bargain to pass up.

  5. Avatargtem

    I had this same SV/crew/RWD/4.0L as a rental in Vegas two summer ago, a free upgrade from a Sentra-class economy car that I leaped at. Quite frankly, I loved it. that 4.0L feels as strong as a lot of (older) V8s: Nissan tunes a snappy throttle and it feels strong from the bottom on up. Didn’t mind the interior at all. Compared to my short wheelbase+stiffly sprung old ’96 4Runner the Frontier rode like a Cadillac. It’ s all relative. Biggest downside was the horrible turning radius. I miscalculated parking in parking garages again and again.

    I very briefly considered the midsize crew cabs as our replacement utility vehicle but decided that the rear seat space was way too small for kids in car seats+dogs. But if I were in need of a truck for weekend truck things, I’d give a used extended cab Frontier 4WD, with a 6spd bolted to that wodnerful VQ40 a long hard look. Back in 2015 I test drove one of the last new Xterra Pro-4Xs with a stick, man what a riot. Accidentally barking 2nd gear leaving a light. An absolutely delightful beast, way more interesting than a neww 4Runner IMO, although notably cruder to drive and less roomy.

  6. Avatarbluebarchetta

    Loved the Baxter piece, particularly the following paragraph. I had to read it twice. It’s the literary equivalent of Buster Douglas’ series of punches that felled Tyson. Bam…bam…bam…and victory.

    “The strength of Gordon’s love and desire was formidable at the time of his writing, but to a young reader raised on our modern “automotive journalism” I imagine it would come across with the force of an F5 tornado. Today’s autowriters can at times appear to be nothing but a group of bloodless, emotionless, sexless illiterates who can conceive of no automotive fantasy other than one in which they are installed as transportation commissar in a future totalitarian state, then given the power to destroy all the things their souls are too small to encompass or comprehend. The only thing they can bring themselves to love is an insipid vision of a deliberately equalized future drawn from Harrison Bergeron as inspiration rather than as cautionary tale. Presented with an extraordinary automobile, their first reaction is to cavil at the cost or clutch their pearls at the environmental implications. Their feckless editorializing can conceive of no higher calling than to limit the freedoms of others: the highest allowable price for a car, the maximum permitted fuel consumption, the fetishistic veneration of speed limits.”

    • Avatarstingray65

      Baxter was a product of an era when schools taught reading, righting, and rithmatic (3 Rs), and that technological progress and limited government were good things. Today’s “journalists” whether in politics, sports, fashion, business, or automobiles are products of schools that focus on woke lessons rather than actual skills such as the 3 Rs, and thus they learn that America is racist and sexist, Capitalism exploits the environment and workers, and only big government can solve problems, which is why we need to ban cars, fossil fuels, nuclear power, guns, police, religion, Constitutional Rights, Republicans, and all the deplorable citizens who support these racist, sexist and exploitive concepts and institutions.

  7. AvatarDoug

    Enjoyed the article on Baxter, particularly the paragraph on the current slate of automotive “journalists”. At the end of my current now feminized Car and Driver subscription I plan on not renewing. I just cannot take the writing as by and large the current crop of writers (other than Dyer) can barely put a coherent sentence together. I also feel like I am reading something more akin to Better Homes and Gardens rather than a car mag when I flip through the pages. Stick a fork in it…hopefully Road and Track will not follow them, otherwise what will I read in the can?

  8. AvatarKen

    Speaking of TempurPedic the bed came in, you weren’t kidding. There’s something about not waking up sore that does wonders for your mood.

    On the Frontier, I have a 2010 Xterra. Looks like the 2019, especially the V6 Frontier is basically the same thing. These trucks have a way of worming their way into you. I bought the X because (back in 2010, near $5 gas) I was able to get a 4×4 new for ~20k.

    Everything you mentioned is true. No frills, durable, easy to work on, walks sideways on bumps, etc. With an AAL (add a leaf) from Nisstec and a tune from UpRev it does a bit to improve. My X is now 10 years old and w/160k it still has plenty of life in it, but my hobbies, the family, and house activities are necessitating a change in the nearer term.

    Your article has me seriously considering a 2019 Frontier crew cab. Better rear seating (the Xterra stadium seats leave a bit to be desired for rear passengers, even kids and car seats), and I think with a truck cap, it’ll be handy to store the MTBs securely in the back. The funk of all that gear out in the bed as well!

    Plus I’ll have the option of remove the cap and have an open bed on the occasional home maintenance need, and it’s a known platform. I was considering the 2020 Explorer (XLT ~ $30ishk…) but a 10 speed strapped to a 2.0T just frightens me.)

    • Avatargtem

      IMO Jack overstated the comfort of the rear row of the Frontier somewhat. It’s tight back there, and that bolt-upright seatback sucks. The Xterra’s rear row is far from limo-like, but it’s a good bit more comfortable than the Frontier.

  9. Avatarhank chinaski

    Great stuff.
    I’d also suggest binging on ‘Smithology’ and the last 2 at upinthevalley.

    Back of the pack weekend warrior >> armchair Walter Mitty.

  10. AvatarMarkXJR

    Racing spec four stroke karts as an adult is frustrating. Your weight and physical size make such a huge difference that it is nearly impossible to overcome with skill alone. Two strokes offer a bit opportunity to be competitive, IMO. They have more torque and longer braking distances to allow one to offset straightline deficit by applying different driving techniques around the rest of the track to still pull time.

  11. AvatarBaconator

    Earlier this year, I test-drive every compact pickup on the way to buying a Ranger for our business. Your impressions of the Frontier jibe with mine, but the pricing gets very different once you start negotiating. I got my 2WD extended (not crew) cab Ranger for only about $500 more than the equivalent Frontier. Once you factor in the Ford’s better lease residuals, the Ranger ended up being about $30/month *cheaper* than the V-6 Frontier.

    I’m skeptical of the long-term durability of the 2.3L EcoBoost, but Consumer Reports says the Ranger is tied with the Toyota Tacoma for most trouble-free in the segment. We went with a 36-month lease; we’ll see if that engine is acting costly by the end of that period and we’ll act accordingly.

    The Chevy Colorado was the best- driving pickup in the segment, by far, but reliability stats are iffy and the dealers weren’t budging that much off of list. It was actually cheaper to buy a rubber-floor-spec full-size from Chevy than a base Colorado.

    But the Frontier did have the best stereo of all the pickups.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      This is highly relevant — I’d assumed that Ford dealers couldn’t come close to what the Nissan guys could shave off their trucks.


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