A Sport For Kids of All Ages…..
By Jim Dickey
There is no doubt that sports can greatly enhance a kids development. They can teach teamwork, discipline, the value of hard work, and a sense of fair play. Sports like football, baseball, soccer, and hockey have been a major component in the shaping of American’s self identity for more than a century. They are each wonderful in their own right, but they don’t serve everyone equally and in many cases serve to alienate kids who weren’t blessed with the gifts of size, strength, speed, or agility. As a guy who weighed 64 pounds in the 9th grade, I was constantly reminded that I was just short of worthless when participating in team sports. I endured all the jokes about being a horse jockey, a convenient armrest for taller players, and was even the “tossed object” in a couple of impromptu midget tossing contests. Suffice to say that I never found great joy in athletics.
Not having excelled in team sports as a kid left me ill prepared for the critical role of helping my son Austin to develop athletically. While other fathers were outside tossing the football or playing catch with their sons, I was inside playing with Austin and his toy truck collection. By the time he was in grade school, many of his peers had already started playing different sports and before I knew it, I had put Austin at a competitive disadvantage with his peers. He was nearly 8 years old when I realized that I had not fulfilled a big part of my job as a parent. Thats when I made the greatest discovery of his lifetime – Go Karting.
In go karting, I have found a sport that has allowed my son to gain all the benefits of a competitive activity without paying the price imposed on him by his less than perfect birthright. Karting is a fast paced, action packed sport that has taught Austin the value of competition, fair play, teamwork, and dedication to constant incremental improvement. It has given him an incredible sense of confidence, self worth, and focus. It has helped him to grow into a fine young man who can assert himself when it is needed, and exercise patience strategically when it is beneficial. It has taught him many valuable lessons about success and failure. He has learned that even when you do everything correctly bad things can happen, but through persistence and focus you can achieve things you only once dreamed of. He has learned that second place in a hard fought competition can be more rewarding than an unchallenged victory and has found far more pleasure in making bad equipment look good than winning in the fastest kart. He has learned that adaptability and hard work are more valuable than pure talent and consequently you should never stop learning. Beyond the things it has taught him, racing has provided him motivation to work hard in all the other aspects of his life (school, chores, etc.) and thus is a pillar in the foundation upon which he is developing his character. As a bonus, taking Austin go-kart racing has made me unofficially the coolest dad on the block.
Austin competes at Summit Point Kart in Summit Point, WV throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Summit Point provides karts and safety equipment in an “arrive and drive” arrangement which makes it surprisingly affordable and headache free to compete in their racing leagues. “Arrive and Drive” is just what it sounds like – Summit Point Kart provides all the equipment (karts, racing suits, helmets, etc.) and you simply arrive and drive. There are karts and a special track for kids as young as 5 years old, and faster more sophisticated Karts for teenagers and adults. The adult karts run on a larger circuit than the junior karts and some of them can reach speeds up to 85 mph. Let me say that 85mph is mind-blowing when you are 2 inches off the ground. Summit Point offers classes to teach the young ones how to drive and compete safely. Upon graduation, kids are eligible to compete in weekly racing events in a league format. There are also Adult, and Junior racing leagues available. The leagues are run by Jens Scott who owns the facility. Jens is the son of two time world champion Formula V driver Bill Scott and has been around racing since he was a baby. Jens’ approach is that of a latter day aescetic or zen master, teaching a purist racing philosophy to his followers who make a weekly pilgrimage to his retreat in the mountains of West Virginia. Before each racing league, Jens reviews the rules, emphasizing that success in racing is a matter of mastering the art of clean passes and using your mind to outsmart your competitors, not in dive bombing people in the corners or bumping people out of the way to get past them. The emphasis is on safety and fairness and Jens and his staff really deliver a great time to all their guests. I can’t think of any place where I see a greater concentration of happy, enthusiastic, and energized people. I often tell Jens he should take a page from Disneyworld’s playbook and put a sign of the entrance to Summit Point Kart that says “The Happiest Place On Earth”.
What makes karting so different from other sports is that a well run program like the one at Summit Point strives to create as egalitarian an environment as possible so that the competition is won by the driver who has the most developed skill. The kart is the great equalizer – neither favoring the biggest and strongest, nor penalizing the smallest and weakest. In karting, it is persistence, mental focus, adaptability, and endurance that trump size and strength. I have seen kids in leg braces beat athletes across the finish line, younger sisters beating their older brothers, and with great regularity, sons passing their fathers. For many, it is truly a family sport that bridges generations and gender by allowing everyone to compete with one another regardless of their age or sex.
This is not to say that karting is not a physically demanding sport – it is grueling. Driving a kart is like grabbing the collar of a steel beast that wants to go as fast as it can in a straight line, and bending its will to yours using all your mental and physical strength- lap after lap after lap. Most people are wiped out – both mentally and physically after only 10 minutes behind the wheel. Reaching speeds up to 85 miles per hour, braking efficiently, and snaking your way through turns as fast as you can takes a tremendous toll on the body. The lateral G-forces whipsaw you back and forth as you fight to keep the kart on the racing line. Core body strength and the ability to endure are all important but the mental toughness required for racing is unlike any other sport I can think of. There are no timeouts, or huddles, or line changes to give you a chance to relax and recouperate. When behind the wheel, the margins of error are so slim and the stakes so high that you simply can not let your concentration wane. If you do, someone will take your position, and if you are any good, there are 10-20 people behind you ready to do just that on any given lap.
Karting is also great for teaching emotional control. When watching a football game, I often marvel at the hyper-aggressive chest pounding, the boastful gloating, and the glaze of testosterone that covers the eyes of the competitors. That type of aggressive posturing is useful on the football field but is counterproductive in almost every other aspect of life. By contrast, successful racers develop an almost preternatural ability to remain calm in the midst of extreme chaos, and at the peak of competition. Why? You simply can not be angry behind the wheel of a kart and remain competitive. Consider this…the blink of an eye takes about 3/100ths of a second. In kart racing that is an eternity. It is not uncommon for the top 5 or 6 fastest lap times in a qualifying session to be within 3/100ths of a second – and that is over the course of a 60 second lap. There can be less than a 1% difference between 1st and 5th place. Drivers who lose control of their emotions on the track make minor changes to the way they drive (braking a fraction of a second later, turning in to a corner 5 feet sooner) and those changes make small but extremely significant changes in their results. The difference between winning and losing often comes down to emotional control and if you don’t have it, the kart and the clock and will let you know right away.
Karting at Summit Point Kart has benefitted my son and I in so many that it is difficult to keep from rambling on. I could not put a price on the positive change it has made in my son’s outlook and self perception, and the joy it has given me is beyond words. If you are looking for a great activity for your child, check out Summit Point Kart, you won’t be sorry.