John’s First Day Of Karting: Much Better Than My First Day In The Koni Challenge, I’ll Tell You That


Last night, John had his first test in his TopKart. He failed to destroy a $15,400 engine, so by the standards of our family I’d say it went very well. Actually, it went well by anyone’s standards. But for me, it was a complete nail-biter from start to finish.


As discussed in these pages yesterday, my goal in buying this kart and getting John sorted out in it is to start next season off right rather than to try competing in what’s left of the Ohio karting year. There’s a steep learning curve for me — I don’t know anything about small engine maintenance and repair, I don’t know how to set up and align the kart. I know nothing, Jon Snow.

John, on the other hand, got used to the TopKart in a hurry. He really didn’t like the noise of the engine; it’s directly below his right ear. With a helmet on, however, it’s tolerable for him. John’s instructor for the day, the fellow who is selling us the kart, is a Vietnam-era Marine aviator and he was very, very patient with my son. He uses a pretty well-thought-out system to get children used to the idea of operating a 35mph vehicle.


After getting John fitted into the kart, we pushed him around a “track” of sorts at the local fairgrounds. As a parent, I panicked when I saw the “track” because it contained curbs and telephone poles and, memorably, some sort of power distribution box. I pictured John slamming into the thing at 35mph, a massive Trinity-style explosion, and the entire Eastern Seaboard power grid shutting down while I cradled him in my arms and we spoke our last words to each other.

None of that happened.

In fact, the clone had only one real issue: he had trouble remembering to keep his feet off both pedals at once. The karts that he’s driven elsewhere have stiffly sprung pedals so you can leave your feet on. Not so the TopKart. Under his coach’s directions, John learned to start and stop on command. “Putt-putt”, the coach called, and John pulsed the throttle to shove the kart forward in a series of brief ring-a-ding-dings from the Comer C50 (or is it a C51?) engine.

We ran around behind and ahead of the kart as John putt-putted it around the course. Every curb, every crack in the pavement, loomed monstrous before me. As the sun set, I imagined that John would be blinded by the light, so to speak, and run full-tilt into a building.

Most terrifyingly, I had not really considered just how fucking totally safe the karts at places like Magic Mountain are. They do maybe eight miles per hour and the whole track is lined with rubber bumpers. Even the higher-speed indoor kart tracks are lined with bumpers and the karts don’t accelerate well and there’s never any way to wander into danger.

Not so at our test track. I’d given my six-year-old a vehicle that could break the speed limit on every road in my neighborhood and then I’d asked him to drive it in a loosely-defined tri-oval. I was in a permanent panic attack state the whole time, waiting for disaster. But John kept his throttle discipline and even when we ostentatiously stood with our backs to him he didn’t make any mistakes as he circulated the course. Finally we called him to a halt and my pulse dropped from 165bpm.

“Well, that’s the end of today’s session,” the coach said.

“I want to hit it,” John squeaked from behind his visor.

“You want to what, now?” I asked.

“I want to go as fast as it can go.” The coach and I looked at each other.

“Okay,” the man said, “but you have to watch for my signal to accelerate and then to stop. In a straight line.” I started panicking again. My vision went dark.

John was fine. He was just fine. Better than fine. He’s ready to do this.

“Where did my racing suit come from?” he asked, because he heard the coach say that it belonged to “Senna”.

“Senna is one of his grand…” and I thought that the truthful completion, daughter, might make him self-conscious about wearing a turquoise drivers suit, “…children.”

“Yup,” the coach said, “my other grandchild is Ayrton.”

“You have grandchildren named Senna and Ayrton?”


“Well,” I knelt and said to John, “those kids are named after famous racing drivers. You’re just named after me.”

“Are you telling me,” John replied, “that when I am a famous racing driver, a lot of kids will be named after me?”

“Let’s hope,” I said, choosing my words carefully so as not to waken Atropos from what I hoped would be a long and peaceful slumber, “something else good happens instead.”


11 Replies to “John’s First Day Of Karting: Much Better Than My First Day In The Koni Challenge, I’ll Tell You That”

  1. AvatarDisinterested-Observer

    When I was a little older than John my parents let me drive a 3 wheeler that their friend owned. When he taught his kids, he had a string tied to the spark plug so if they went to fast or something he could yank it and kill the engine. For some reason he didn’t do that with me, and I didn’t wear a helmet. Decades later the scars on the backs of my legs have faded but I still have a permanent lump where my head hit the tree.

  2. AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

    A far cry from my kart at age 7. Not homebuilt, but not a lot better. 3 1/2 hp briggs ( with a straight pipe exhaust, woo, hoo), “clutch” was an idler pulley connected to a pedal, brake was a pad that contacted the tread of a tire. Instruction consisted of ” don’t hit that tree”, which I immediately did. Glad I had that $5 K-Mart helmet or I might have escaped with no injury.

    Karts have come a long way in 50 years. All most makes me wish I was 7 again.

  3. Avatar-Nate

    Jack ;

    He’s attentive , pays mind to what he’s told and obviously isn’t a drooler , you’re doing great .

    Kids : you wind ’em up and let ’em go , that’s that .

    That looks like so much fun ~ I had to steal cars to learn how much fun driving was/is .


  4. AvatarBeverly Lindeborn

    When I was a year older than John, my dad put me in a go kart. It was a frame with an engine and a seat bolted on it. No seat belt. Two parallel metal bars overhead.
    The track was a dirt track, very similar to a BMX track. I flipped it jumping a set of doubles. I got hurt.
    This seems much safer….just don’t turn into the old jock strapping a set of pads on his kid to relive his own glory days.

  5. Avatargalactagog

    that is pretty freaking fantastic!!

    but wow, lots of stuff to crash into on that course….hydro poles, curbs, fence, old posts sticking out of the ground ( !!! ), old concrete footings from a derelict bench…

    I was just waiting for SNAKE PLISSKIN to come running through the shot, on his way outta there 😀

  6. AvatarBaconator

    You’re a good parent for letting him try things like this. When I was that age, the thing I wanted most was a kart to hoon around in. My parents were unable to overcome their sense that the world was a dangerous place. I’ve been taking risks of dubious wisdom ever since, no doubt in reaction to that early experience. So think of your elevated heart-rate experience now as an investment in a child that doesn’t try so hard to scare the hell out of you later in life.

  7. Avatarjz78817

    thinking more about this, like many other things (e.g. learning a language) this is the time for him to learn. I’m in my late 30s and just in the past few years got into R/C boat racing. I consistently bring up the rear because I can’t trust my instincts (because I don’t have any) against folks who have been racing since they were 7-8 years old.

    old dogs can learn new tricks, it just takes a hell of a lot longer.


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