Children, start your engines

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright meets the littlest racecar drivers at a Kids Kart event in Mount Wellington

Jordyn Wallace, with her dad, Matt Wallace, pre-race. Jordyn says beating the boys and going fast is what she really enjoys.
Jordyn Wallace, with her dad, Matt Wallace, pre-race. Jordyn says beating the boys and going fast is what she really enjoys.

Next to towers of shipping containers on a tyre-lined track, dozens of children are racing each other in karts. It's the cheapest way to experience the thrill of motor racing and often a pathway to future motor racing success.

Around the edge of the track are work stations, each belonging to a family, busy readying their little daredevil for the next race. It's a hub of activity and children with happy faces are trying hard to look calm, containing their excitement. But it's easy to see how proud they are just to be wearing all the gear, let alone being let loose on the racetrack at speeds up to 90km/h.

"It's a real bonding opportunity for the families," says Roger Edwards, KartSport Mt Wellington's club captain. "Dads might help as mechanics, mums with counting laps and big brothers and sisters also lend their help."

The event is small enough to feel intimate, unlike many kids' events where there's an element of push and shove with the bigger crowds.

"The kids are all mates," says Roger, who has competitors as young as 6, including Sir Colin Giltrap's grandson.

"We also have older kids, teenagers, who do this on the weekend and it 100 per cent makes them better drivers," says Edwards. "It definitely works because they don't need to do it around the streets."

The club is 50 years old and has homegrown heroes such as Scott Dixon, Mitchell Evans and Scott McLaughlin, among many others, having passed through it.

"They all got their start in karting," says Edwards. "It's just the speed and thrill of it. Doesn't everyone want to ride them?"

Jordyn Wallace is one of the few girls racing today and her dad, Matt, helps with the mechanics and station. Matt started racing at the speedway when he was 15 then did circuit then karts, which he says is a bit of a backwards way to do things.

With no sons, his two daughters were bound to follow in his footsteps.

"I like going fast and beating the boys," says Jordyn, who owns a purple kart. "The more you drive, the better you get. Any girl can do it."

Matt says it costs around $4500 to get set up with the race suit, gloves, boots, helmet, neck brace (not compulsory, but highly recommended), and a second-hand cart. Then there's the station, which is from about $4000 to $20,000.

The kids are weighed in first, so each race is even. The karts are wheeled out, as if on tall stretchers, past the St John's Ambulance post. They're lined up low to the ground for the starting line.

There are plenty of smiles, despite the rain, but the tension on the faces in the line-up is also evident. They're a serious bunch right before the first lap.

"Look, he's just sitting there getting into the zone," says number one cadet finalist Ryan Crombie's mum, Angela. "He's quite focused since starting kart racing and has amazing upper body strength - he's always home-running in softball now."

Ryan has a quick pep talk with dad Greg, a car salesman, who takes him to races in Te Puke, Rotorua and Hamilton. Then they're off.

"The only downside is the drying out of the gear on a rainy day," says Angela as she wills her son to retain pole position with each lap, hoping he won't spin out in the rain.

"It's sometimes quite nervewracking to watch but I do like the smell and excitement of it and we've met some really nice families through it," says Angela.

"We're normally covered in black by the end."

After the race, children come out of the clubroom with buckets of hot chips smothered in sauce. Hot chips never taste as good as they do at a speedway and the kids bundle up their gear for the more sedate drive home, no doubt dreaming of their next thrilling kart race to come.


Raring to go

The KartSport New Zealand Driver Development Academy provides coaching clinics. See kartsport.org.nz for information about the programmes and to find one of 21 clubs around the country offering Kids Kart events and driver training.

V8 Supercars ITM 400 Auckland

To see the big kids in action, head down to the upgraded Pukekohe Park Raceway today and tomorrow for the V8 Supercars ITM 400 Auckland.

New Zealand's largest annual sporting event features the Car of the Future, new teams, new drivers and new manufacturers, serving up some of the world's best motorsport action.

Racing starts 9.35am Saturday, 10.05am Sunday. Parades, merchandise and driver autograph sessions.

Travel free on event buses or trains (from Albany on Northern Busway, or Southern Line trains from Britomart) - just present your ITM 400 Auckland ticket. When you get there follow the fun Fan Trail from train and bus stations to the track with 14 cool activities along the way, and special V8 pies.

See aucklandnz.com.

General Admission tickets $75 for Saturday or Sunday (concession $65), under-12s free with paying adult; additional Paddock Pass $15; grandstand from $145 to $250.

For event information: v8supercars.com also see auckland400.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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