Zoom, zoom

South Florida Parenting

Maybe it's the wind whooshing over her helmet or the asphalt whizzing by beneath her. Brittany Butler loves "going fast." For Chris Sullivant, a Nomex driving suit was more than protective gear, it was a statement of who he was for the five years he spent racing in it.
Lots of kids and teens have had a taste of kart racing, and it's a growing sport with karting clubs, one-day expos and driving schools for children as young as 5 years old.
Both Butler and Sullivant started kart racing young with the Quarter Midgets of America, just one of many organized kart-racing associations.
"Kids start as early as age 5 and run until they are 16," says Curt Sullivant, Chris's father and Quarter Midgets' regional director. "Not too many kids go to the 16 cutoff. My son did, and he had to retire."
Although Chris retired from his racing career, his 12-year old sister Mandy is carrying on the speed-karting tradition. The kart motor's stock configuration gives it between 2.5 and 4 horsepower. Modifications, as allowed in the upper classes, permit the engines to reach several times the stock horsepower.
"We race on a 1/20th of a mile, small, oval track," Sullivant says. "A novice is an 8-second lap and bigger engines run a 6-second lap."
A 6-second lap means the experienced drivers are running at speeds of 40 to 45 mph. The oval shape keeps racers at lower speeds because of the nearly constant turn, says Sullivant.

Safety first
If the thought of a 5-year old behind the wheel of a kart screeching around corners worries you, the family-oriented Quarter Midgets have strict safety rules. The organization requires every new driver to take part in a training session for both driver and pit crew, usually a mom or dad. The session is included with club membership fees. The other club members come to the track and teach about the car, flags, racing and rules.
"We get them on the track to get some laps under their belt," he says. "Then more novice kids go out so they can get used to racing with other kids."
The Quarter Midgets currently have 4,500 racers nationwide. The contestants' beginnings were all nearly the same: They came to a promotional day. Days are scheduled throughout the year at different venues.
"It is a 10-lap test drive in a [member's] car with safety equipment and instructions," Sullivant says. "And in our experience we haven't come across a kid yet that hasn't had a blast."
The next step is to buy a car and required safety equipment, costing between $1,500 and $3,500.
After that, finding a racing venue in South Florida can be somewhat challenging. Current race locations in the state are New Smyrna, Tampa and Titusville.
"We are trying to establish a club in South Florida," Sullivant says. "We thought we had a go with one venue but they decided to go another way."
The South Florida club has a few participants willing to drive to the north and central Florida locations, sometimes on a weekly basis, he says.
"The guys that are racing want something to do with their kids," Sullivant says. "We know it would be big; we just need a venue."

Looking for a home
Ronnie Laing, president of the South Florida Quarter Midget's Association, found the sport when his son Tyler, 12, said he wanted to race "something."
"I told him no motorcycles," he says. "I get to spend quality time with my son in a great sport; doing the boy thing." The Laings fly around the country to attend karting events.
"I wish that we could get something going down here," he says. "There are places they could put it that would work, the different dog track venues, several motocross places."
Bill Butler, a Quarter Midget member in Palm Beach, has been a driving force behind the club finding a home. He races with his 13-year old daughter Brittany.
"I'm her crew chief - these cars have to be set up to run on these different tracks with gearing, shocks, suspension and the computer on the car," Butler says. "I get her in and out of her car, make sure her belts are on; it's been really great bonding for us."
Before each race the Butlers have a prayer tradition, Brittany says.
"I pray with my dad that I will do well and be safe for every race," she says.
Brittany won four races in her novice year and she will move up and race for points next season. She is expected to do well because the girls are very competitive, Butler says.
"The girls usually beat the boys, they are very aggressive and you can't count them out," he says. "Once it was two girls racing for first place, I have never seen two girls beat on each other like that."

It's not all competition
For children not ready for the level of competition Quarter Midgets require, single-day karting classes are available at Moroso Motorsports Park in West Palm Beach.
"We have a program for novice drivers 8 years and up on our beginners night," kart operations director Polly Rowland says. "They come out and get instruction and track time."
Along with Beginner's Night and Arrive & Drive, Moroso hosts several karting races, including the Easy Kart National and the John Smith Series. Professional drivers stop by to help instruct at some driving school dates.
"I have an actual school that is very successful where a pro driver comes out and works with four or five people," Rowland says. "We have had a lot of response to this."
North Carolina-based Endurance Karting also makes a stop at Moroso. Typically one of its driving schools will have three or four students under 16 but its Family Camp takes place in April in Jacksonville, says Endurance Vice President Karen Schwartz.
"Parents call, and a small percentage say 'my child wants to be the next Formula One driver,'" Schwartz says. "This is a good way to test if your child still has a flavor for it at the end of the day when they are tired."
Students at Endurance don't need a driver's license but do need clearance to compete in races.
"They have to show they can make a split-second decision if they are edged off the track or spin," she says. "As an adult driver, we already know how to multi-task and think about these things."
Endurance and other karting schools and clubs encourage safety and knowledge before any child is allowed to compete. "We don't just go and throw a youth into a cart, especially when some children ask which is the gas and which is the brake," Schwartz says. "The number of carts on the track is never more than 10 participants plus instructors so everyone can learn and get used to driving."
There have been instances where parents have called Schwartz to thank the school for giving their child a better understanding of driving in general.
"We had two teens that had [near accidents] while driving with a learner's permit," she says. "They looked at their parents and said thank you, Endurance Karting, for the driving skills."
Ultimately the Quarter Midgets, Moroso Karting School and Endurance Karting boil down to three things, safety, fun and competition - oh yeah, and that speed thing Brittany loves.

Copyright © 2018, CT Now