So May It Secretly Begin

kidkart

I think it was John Updike who said, “We deliver our genetic mail much earlier in the day than we like to think.” Well, I waited until the afternoon to deliver mine. Another saying, this one by an anonymous forumite: “To race a FWD car is to know that everything you just did with the back tire could, and should, have been done by the front.” Which is a way of saying, hey, don’t focus your attention and effort where it’s superfluous.

At the crossroads of those sayings is this: tonight is the night that the actual relevance of my racing “career” comes to an end.


It’s called a TopKart Spec KidKart and it’s what the five-to-seven-year-old karters race across the country. You can get other KidKarts, of course. The fastest ones are made by Birel and TonyKart but the TopKart is the Porsche GT3 of kid karts. Durable, heavy, well-supported at major events.

And there are major events! Chock-full of impossibly-wealthy parents chasing the last possible blueprinted tenth of a second. And the forum discussions! Here’s an example:

I think most Kid Kart dads will agree that you can put a kid like Nick Snell on any competitive kart (properly set up) with a good motor and he’ll perform as well.

So there are famous Kid Kart racers. Here’s Nick Snell:

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He’s a National Champion. His FB page has more likes than most Tudor drivers have on theirs. He has fans. A lot of fans. He is frequently discussed. Last season, he took eight poles in thirty-seven races. (Formula One has about half that many races on the calendar.) He gives statements to his sponsors.

I think he just turned seven.

With a spec kart and a mystery-meat motor, I don’t look for John Baruth to be the next Nick Snell. There’s no chance that he’ll ever have the budget or time or support that the top kids are getting. I’m not even sure we’re going to race this year; we might wait until 2016 just so I don’t have to buy two sets of racing leathers.

So why do it at all? Well, I firmly believe that it’s important to get the fundamentals done early. I believe that my relatively quick ascension through the open-lapping/racing-school/spec-racing/and so on ladder is due to my father taking me to Malibu Grand Prix when I was a kid. I drove the “Road Runners” about fifty times over the course of a couple of years, when I was eleven and twelve years old. I got to be very good at it.

The science backs me in my assertion that it’s important to start as young as possible for pretty much anything you do, whether that’s chess or karting or mini-triathlons. You don’t have to be a champion karter as a kid, the same way Michael Jordan wasn’t a champion middle-school basketball player, but it helps to get the fundamentals in.

There’s no way I’d want John to be a champion eight-year-old kart racer. I think it’s an all-consuming lifestyle that turns out a lot of miserable children, just like any other childhood competitive activity where the budget and time constraints of the parents are the most important factors in achieving success. But I want him to get started.

Tonight is his first “test” in the kart that will be his if he wants it. We’ll be on a large parking lot. Next week or the week after, he’ll drive the same kart at a racetrack. And at that point I’ll sit down with him and his mom and we’ll make a plan. From what I hear, he’s been talking a lot about it ever since his first fitting this past Saturday. He likes to race, he likes to compete. He really likes to win so I think it will be difficult for him to line up against kids with endorsement contracts and a van full of rebuilt engines.

I want him to do well, I want him to enjoy it, I want him to be a better sports-car racer than I am when he reaches the age of forty-three. But there’s a little voice in the back of my head that says, You know, if he has a knack for it you’d be a fool to ever race again yourself when you could put the money, and effort, into his career. The birth of his racing career could be the death of mine. Choose this day whom you will serve: your son’s talent, or your own passion. And choose wisely, because it’s only the hopes and dreams of a child on the line. But who will deliver that fatal message to the child within myself?

10 Replies to “So May It Secretly Begin”

  1. AvatarRoamer

    You might be missing a trick here…with your exposure in the industry, if you invest the time in his career it will probably be easier for you than most to get sponsors that can help him be competitive. Everything you’ve written about John says that he’s going to want to win. And if that goes well, you might be able to parley his later drives into a ride for you. “Okay, John will drive a prototype for Porsche at Le Mans, but I want a ride in one of the GT 911s.”
    Yeah, not likely. But father/son combos have raced before, and as Paul Newman proved, you can race when you’re a lot older than you are now.

    Reply
  2. Avatar-Nate

    WHEE ! .

    That John is having fun and has the competitive instinct , is a great thing .

    I expect to read all about how it turns out soon .
    My Son took me to a carting track this year and I idly watched the kids doing practice laps as he was working on his Moto in the pits , I was amazed at how well some really little kids drive .

    You’re right , beginning early is the key but don’t neglect the arts too as he’ll need everything to discover all he can be in the future .

    Music too ~ sing to him , let him play your guitars etc. .

    Children are the future of America .

    -Nate

    Reply
  3. Avatar98horn

    Supporting your son is your highest and best calling. The reality is that you will never compete in racing at the highest level as a driver. Your son, however, can stand on your shoulders to reach his dreams. I wager that it will be more satisfying to you to help him achieve his dreams than to indulge your own.

    Reply
  4. AvatarVicMik

    It’s a selfish choice either way ain’t it? What is more valuable to YOU- the exhilaration of racing yourself or that of watching John race? Either way I’d choose to maximize most of what YOU want.

    But why is it an either or decision – you could race a bit less so that John can race a bit more. No need to be scoping a plot for your racing career tombstone just yet.

    Reply
  5. AvatarDomestic Hearse

    You may as well start him out now on the kit as well. Start ’em young, and he’s obviously got the personality of a drummer.

    As for funding: winnow the guitar collection down to five. The five guitars with which you can accomplish 99% of the tones and styles you play. And three amps. The rest go up for sale on the collector forums. They are/were a cool collector hobby, but now it’s time for a trailer, any additional tools you may need, tires, engines, racing website (build his publicity and marketing platform now).

    This is exciting stuff! Nail-biting, all-in involving stuff. Late night knuckle-busting wrench stuff. All day driving to the event stuff. Last minute tweaks and instruction stuff.

    There’s nothing you own, nothing you can do, that will be as all encompassing or enjoyable or as frustrating or as bonding. Enjoy the ride!

    Reply
  6. AvatarVolandoBajo

    The thing about sublimating your own goals to those of your son will sort themselves out with time, and each case is different. But it will be a growth experience for you, and can be a real bonding experience for the two of you.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about your “forcing” him into competition…after all, you “forced” yourself to excel in BMX because it was in your blood and in your nervous system. And I suspect it likely will be the same for him. You may have to worry more about how you can get him to tame his aspirations and to broaden his horizons, but it will likely end up only being fatherly guidance, and not something you will be able to dictate or enforce.

    He is already showing signs of finding his unique self…a thing many of us don’t get to til later in life, or some perhaps never. But he is already exploring who he is and who he wants to be.

    Even all those broken bones you suffered helped to make you who you are today, and they, and even your accident, didn’t kill or permanently maim you. He comes from tough stock, and will not only accept, but will seek out, his own difficult things to do and to excel in.

    Or perhaps he will decide it isn’t that much fun, if he can’t be number one…then he may decide to pursue a more individualistic path, perhaps as a musician, where the competition is secondary and the challenges are more of a personal best nature.

    There will only be one way for you find out which it will be, or what other thing it will be, and that is to be his father, to guide him and help him, but to recognize that your job is not to protect him from all harm and danger…rather it is to teach him to assess his personal tradeoffs, and to make wise decisions that will fulfill his nature, and not yours or anyone elses.

    And as one who is about a decade and a half further along in the fathering journey, believe me, as cliched as it sounds, it is both one of the most difficult and one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life.

    And my son and I have a bond and a trust between us that is beyond words. He knows that he is free to pursue his own path in life, yet he also values the opportunity to discuss his choices with me, and to hear my perspective on the choices he is weighing and is making.

    It has brought me happiness beyond what I would have thought possible, in my hedonistic prime, just months or years before I met his mother.

    He has a pretty solid relationship with her too. But the bond we have developed is beyond description, and I sincerely believe it is only because I learned to study who he was and who he wanted to be, and then to show him that it was OK to not know where he was going, but that he would have help and guidance as he sorted it out for himself.

    I’m just glad that I have lasted at least long enough for him to have done the majority of his growing and maturing while I am still here with him. And I know if I am given more time, I will continue to see him, and our relationship, grow. But if not, I also know he has a firm foundation, and that I helped to give that to him in a way no one else could have.

    You are a bright and sincere person, Jack. I suspect you will both understand all that I am saying, and that hopefully, it will shine some light on the path before you and your son.

    It will be unique, but the basic principles remain the same. I wish you and John all the best.

    Believe me, in ten to fifteen years, you will still have many of your own dreams, but the ones you have left behind or have had to accept as no longer there for you, will more than be offset by the bond you will have with your son, regardless of the directions he chooses to grow in.

    Once again, all the best to both of you. Let us keep knowing how it progresses for the two of you.

    Reply
  7. Avatar-Nate

    I told my Son : ” I am not your friend , I am your Father ” .

    Same deal as Volando ~the rewards are great and now we’re friends as well as blood kin .

    Agreed , it’s always been fun to sit and listen to him come home from work and discuss things , problems , jobs at hand etc. ~ like me , his thought processing speeds up and gains clarity if he thinks out loud .

    -Nate

    Reply

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