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:
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?