My Favorite Kart League Racing Experience

The racing that I didn’t compete in.

Through conversations with my racing friends, it often comes up where we talk about our favorite moments in racing.  In many cases, it’s a moment here and there, but rarely does it become an entire race.  Today, I’m going to tell you of such a race and if you’re one of my racing peers, then you’ve heard this before.  I often talk about this “favorite” race of mine because there’s so much to learn from it. 

How we came into this racing league late …

I’m going to start off with this race isn’t so much about me, but instead about my son, Senna.  Senna enjoys racing and has started racing at the age of eight when SyKart allows for kids to start racing.  Senna and I had been going to the track for a year or so enjoying our practices whenever we could get away.  Sometimes we could get races in a couple of times a week to a couple of times a month.  Senna also plays club soccer and as some of us know, that sport takes up a lot of time and unfortunately a lot of time away from the track.  It just so happened that Senna’s soccer practices were on the same night as the junior racing league nights and with an expensive bill for soccer, that was the priority at the time.  So we opted to sit out a season of junior league races.  At the end of the soccer season, however, there were a couple of weeks where Senna could race in the final two races of the league season.

Starting our race from last position …

We showed up for the second of the last race and while Senna had not been a part of the spring racing league, the competition amongst the racers was closer than expected.  Only a couple of points separated several of the kids at this point in the season.  Now my son, Senna, who hadn’t raced all season comes in out of nowhere and is going to disrupt the points.  Several of the parents were upset and didn’t want Senna, a ten-year-old at the time, to race because it was going to upset the points.  Some parents knew Senna and welcomed him in.  Other parents didn’t know him and were furious that he was even allowed to race this late in the season.  Fortunately, the management there knows of Senna’s racing abilities and quickly put the upset parents aside stating that he had every right to be there and that he had raced in league races before. 

… the front runners were faster and there was a gap that was forming …

Senna got into the kart and we strapped him in. Unfortunately, Senna had to start in the last position for a couple of different reasons.  One is that we missed qualifying and the second is that he hadn’t raced against this group of kids before.  However, he knew the drill and knew what to do.  Now, normally Senna and I run comms and I can give him real-time feedback on the things he’s doing right and wrong out there. However, when it comes to league racing, we don’t run comms because people get upset and think we’re cheating. So I just let him go out there and “figure it out” (that’ll be a blog for another time).  As the race started, Senna quickly made his way through the pack of about five or six kids.  The front runners were faster and there was a gap that was forming that Senna had to make up for.  Fortunately, he was putting down the fastest times and was making up time pretty handily. Senna found his way up to the second position and was really putting pressure on his friend Enzo.  There’s an old saying in racing that, “you can drive faster to catch someone but passing them is something different.”  Senna got to experience that first-hand. 

Senna leads Junior Racing League in the final race of the season.
Image Courtesy of RacingForBeginners.com

The event became all about race craft

Now on to why this was my favorite race.  Once Senna had caught Enzo, Senna had to figure out how to pass him.  Everyone could see that Senna was trying different things in trying to pass Enzo. There were attempts on passing on the inside, the outside, in the middle of the corner, after the corner, over-under passing as well as under-over passing.  You could tell that Senna was thinking out there and “trying” different things. More importantly, things that I had not taught him yet.  It was amazing to watch his mind at work.  During all this cat-and-mouse driving and with Enzo doing well to block, the third and fourth-placed drivers had made up over a half a lap gap on the two and then was starting to put the pressure on the two of them.  With one lap to go, Senna went in to make a dive on Enzo to make the pass.  However, Senna knew he wasn’t going to be able to make the pass on the inside and over broke to avoid hitting Enzo.  During this whole time, Senna raced cleanly and made every effort to not make any contact with his competitors (later on in higher-ranked leagues, Senna will discover that others will easily spin him to get past him when they can’t).  With the failed attempt at the inside pass on Enzo, Senna had lost all momentum of the kart, and second place soon became fourth place and that’s how the race finished.

After one of the best races of the year

Dejected, Senna sat in his kart a little bit longer than the others before working his way to the crowd.  The funny thing is that the kids were very sportsmanlike and all the kids were happy and congratulated one another.  Some of the parents who knew Senna was also very excited for him and the show that he put on.  The other parents who didn’t know him though were still complaining and wondering why he was allowed to race and now their child had missed out on some points. Many of us though, were reliving the race that we had just watched, and several of the track workers and other racers had said that was the race of the week, if not the year!  You could tell that Senna was not in his normal mood and that he was as “professional” as he could be.

From disappointment to discovery

When we got to the car, he broke down and started to cry. I let him have a moment and then I asked him why he was so upset?  He responded with, “I didn’t win.”  After what seemed like a minute of silence and him crying, I began to laugh.  I pointed out some key breakthroughs that he completely missed out on during that race.  One, he started at the back of the pack.  Two, he made his way up to second place and he was fighting for the lead. Three, he was “thinking” at full speed and trying to find a way around Enzo.  Four, he raced cleanly and didn’t wreck anyone.  And last, I asked him, “at the end of it all, did you have a good time?  Meaning did you do the best you could and enjoyed with all the discovery?” Still somewhat sobbing, he shook his head yes in agreement.  I confirmed with him that I was in no way upset with his placement for the day. This was a very important day for him in discovering that there’s more to racing than just driving fast.  You also have to build your race-craft. 

Lessons learned from the race.

As a parent and a coach, I am a little happy that he was upset that he didn’t win. This tells me that he wants to fight for the lead and he wants to win. Winning is not everything, however, it’s good to try for the win and to never give up. Also, I reminded him that he’s not a “paid” driver, nor a “professional” driver and it’s experiences like these that will make him a better driver. It’s better to learn this stuff now, than later when a paycheck, a professional drive or connecting with a sponsorship is on the line.

The journey gives meaning.

I replay this race in my head all the time.  I really enjoy him winning but this race was probably one of the most important races for him and recognizing that there’s way more to racing than being upfront.  Being up there is only half the fun, whereas getting up there is just as thrilling.  Some people find it odd that my favorite race of his is one that he didn’t win.  I guess it depends on what you define as winning.  With Senna learning so much about racing in that one race, I’d take that over any of his other wins.  However, one could argue that one of the main reasons why he has won as many races is because of the lessons he’s learned from that one race.

The evolution of a new racer.

On a side note, Senna went on to win the final race. Further upsetting the points and several of the parents who protested against him racing so late in the season. The following racing season, Senna went on to get pole in every race, except the last race, and won every race. That final raceā€¦ that’s for my second favorite race of his and for a different blog.

Guest Blogger: Bernie R. – Coach


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