kart training

My Favorite Kart League Racing Experience

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 race… that’s for my second favorite race of his and for a different blog.

Guest Blogger: Bernie R. – Coach


How to avoid the mistake of sliding in a Go Kart

How to Avoid the Mistake of Sliding in a Go Kart

Fixing up Sliding & Drifting

Sliding: It looks cool, feels fast, but the truth is, it is slower than molasses and is a sure fire sign of an inexperienced racer.

Fix the slide, and it’s the surest way to beat all your buddies, qualify for advanced status, and challenge the veterans for fast lap honors.

Added Bonus! This applies to real cars as well.

Why is slding slow?

Indoor karting is all about managing a very small amount of energy, because you have very little horsepower in your engine you can only build your energy up slowly. Once you have momentum you have to bring that energy into a turn, carry it through the turn as you rotate the kart and then make use of whatever you have left on the exit of the turn. Every little bit makes a difference because if you can save energy in a turn then you need less energy to get back up to top speed.

Sliding throws your energy and momentum away in the turn.

After a slide, on the exit of the turn, you have to kind of start all over again building up your momentum energy.

If you slide, fast drivers will just drive around you like you are parked still, and in many cases a slider WILL be parked still.

There are 3 types of slide.
1. The Entry slide
2. The Middle slide
3. The Exit slide.

Just about all drivers are guilty of losing speed at some time to these three types of slide, even the pros. But here’s what you need to know to fix them.

By Entry, Middle and Exit, we are talking about corner phases.

In the image above we are approaching from the left and exiting on the right. 

It is important to start thinking about how each phase also has an optimal assigned purpose, and although they seem obvious they have profound consequences on your ability to be fast.

Goals for the Entry.

Our assigned purpose is to SLOW DOWN! We do NOT want to also be doing anything in the middle and exit that causes us to slow down, we want ALL decreases in speed adjustment to happen in the entry phase.

Goals for the Middle turn.

 Our purpose is to Balance, or to get control of the kart and spread the forces evenly between the front and rear tires. This will let us maximize the momentum and lock the kart to the ground without sliding. This sets us up for the next phase. It is not so much about acceleration here, as it is about balance, many pros only coast through this phase and wait wait wait for balance before trying to accelerate out. Remember if you are doing it right, you are already at the limit of traction here. 

Goals for the Exit.

We want to be doing things to Accelerate us. As a base line, until you get the hang of it, you should wait until you have passed the very middle “apex” of the turn, which is about when you pass the middle of the inside bumper, before you start to apply the gas. Do this and you will always be balanced before you accelerate. And Don’t rush it! Squeeze on easy and steady.

Fixing The Entry Slide. This is a slide that begins on the entry, it might carry on through the middle and into the exit, but it begins on entry.

On Entry we need to SLOW DOWN. Seems obvious right? But it is NOT just braking, there are actually several things things you can do to slow down, whether you know it or not, many drivers ALSO do these slow down things in the other phases of the turn, and this is where the mistakes begin that lose you speed.  These are ALL the slowing actions…

  1. Braking 
  2. Letting off on the gas 
  3. Turning the wheel MORE into the turn, (includes wiggling your hands when IN the turn)
  4. Sliding the rear

Note that each idea has different degrees of slowing potential, so the transition times can be gentle or violent. And in general we want our transitions to be precise, but smooth and gradual, and where possible as gentle as handling a vial of anthrax.

So in an ideal situation, ALL your slowing actions happen in the ENTRY phase of the turn.

For example “Turning the wheel MORE into the turn”, you only want to be adding steering when you are in the entry phase, if you are adding more steering in the middle and exit phase then you are making a mistake that is slowing these phases. If you think carefully about what you are doing in turn where you seem to be slow, you can find these mistakes on your own.

The second goal of the entry is to get your kart SET for the turn, in an optimal way. In almost every situation, with very very rare exceptions (which won’t matter until you are seasoned pro), you should be LEANING OUT OF A TURN – NOT INTO A TURN! And you do this on the straight before the entry – NEVER after you have turned the wheel in, always before. Take my word for it, it’s critical to speed in an indoor kart. There are very real reasons for this that any pro can explain to you.

If you slide beginning on entry, it almost always just means you are coming in too hot, or braking too late. Generally here we mean your rear wheels are sliding. It is possible that your front wheels are sliding too, but generally this does not happen until mid turn.  It’s the same cause though, coming in too hot. So start slowing down earlier!

The fastest deceleration will happen in straight lines, so in general if you want to brake late and more effectively, you should look for ways to brake in straight lines BEFORE you turn the wheel. You have rear brakes so lean backwards when you brake to put your weight on the rear – YES it makes a difference – the easy way is to lift and keep your head up high when you apply the brakes.

Fixing The Exit Slide. This is a rear slide that begins on the exit, after a stable entry and a stable mid turn entry.

Before we discuss the middle slide, we will look at the most common error, the exit slide.

Exit slide almost always means you are getting on the gas too early, but it can also mean you are offline and turning in too early. In general though, with even a little practice we can make any line stable with the right foot and hand work, so the exit slide can be a little deceiving when you are chasing the last .100 seconds. Even being slightly off line you can still qualify if you fix this one, you just won’t beat the fast guys until you fix the line.

So if sliding on exit, the first thing to try is to just get on the gas later. And the next thing to ask is, “Should I turn in later?”. You will know if you need a later turn in, because the other drivers will seem slow on the entry but pull away from you on the exit while you are still stuck trying to turn.

If you find you can not get full throttle until you are way past the middle of the turn, then you DEFINITELY have a bad line. You need to turn into the turn later, so delay your entry a bit and wait a bit more before you turn in. Start by deciding EXACTLY where you will turn in, and make sure you can hit that spot consistently. Then make adjustments, if you think you need to get on the gas earlier, move your turn in point forward by about 3 inches at a time, until it feels right.

Remember now you might need to slow down on the entry a little bit more to make it work. Don’t let that bother you, as any pro will tell you, the secret trick is to be SLOW IN and FAST OUT. As you will soon learn, fast in and fast out, generally doesn’t work, because it places you too close to the limits and messes up the balance and transition phases. Fast in-fast out strategies are very inconsistent and unstable, and the regular mistakes result in catastrophic loss of speed. Also the only way to make fast in fast out work, is to drive a big wide sweeping line, which makes the track so much longer, that you never make up for the time lost. That’s when you experience the feel of drivers pulling away from you in turns while you are still stuck rotating in the turn.

Fixing the Middle Phase Slide. This is a slide that begins after you have slowed, are approaching the apex and getting ready for the exit.

Take note of the shape of the driving line in our diagram, note that it arcs more in the Entry, then it opens out in the Exit phase and is almost straight in the exit. This is the classic slow in fast out line, with a slightly late apex.

Remember TURNING INTO a turn slows you down a little, so TURNING OUT should speed you up a little. Note the shape of the arc through the middle, it almost holds steady through the middle, without increasing, while it starts to open at the apex.

If your entry was stable and you start to slide in the middle, it could be several reasons, but generally it means you did not get set up for the turn early enough, and you are still trying to make radical inputs. 

In general you should be all set by the middle, and not need to be slowing down or speeding up, or changing lines. You should be holding steady and either coasting or making very very very subtle movements to maintain control and balance.

The reason coasting the middle works so well, is that during your entry phase a lot of the weight is thrown to the front of the kart, which makes the rear of the kart light. You have almost no traction at all in the rear, if you are doing things right. By coasting, the weight gently returns to the rear wheels and evenly distributes between front and rear wheels, giving you maximum rubber to carry the turn. As you begin to release the steering input more weight shifts to the rear and front pressure drops and the rear tires are given downforce to accelerate you out.

Hit the gas too early, before that weight has balanced, and you lose the back end (slide). OR another type of problem can happen, called the push, because the back plants and the front gets TOO light, you lose front steering. OR another problem called the BIND, where the back wheels plant – the weight shifts rearward and all four wheels fight causing a braking effect as you try to accelerate out. SOLUTION: Be patient – wait for the balance.

As you become a pro, you will learn to develop ‘the feel’ to be able to push the limits, and there definitely *tricks* that can be taught to cheat the balance, but it all begins with mastering the balance in the middle through coasting first.

Review of kart sliding problems and solutions

                              – BRAKING TOO LATE    – SLOW DOWN EARLIER

                            – ADJUST YOUR SPEED EARLIER**

                        – OFFLINE – APEX LATER

Remember the purpose of each phase
Entry = slow down
Middle = Balance
Exit = GO GO GO

Advanced TIP: Middle slide often happens because we are able to get into a corner with stability, but then in the middle suddenly realize we need to make an adjustment. Already being at the limit, even with a slight throttle blip or fractional twitch of our steering, we lose traction slightly.  If you find consistent mid turn instability, begin by asking yourself what the adjustment is that is causing it, and then resolve to do that adjustment earlier, even if you don’t think you need it yet. You almost always find after this modification to your line that you get more acceleration through a turn. This will really help you in a sweeper turn.

If you find Indoor Karting fun, and want to learn from the best drivers, come and jump into the racing leagues, they’re open to all skill levels and you are guaranteed to get faster.

Shout Out to Bernie at Racing For Beginners

Shout Out to Bernie at Racing For Beginners

If you’re looking for another website for karting advice on your journey to excellence, may I recommend my good friend Bernie and his son Senna. Bernie goes through the motions of being a dad with a kid in karting and has great perspectives on challenges of coming up through the ranks and coaching a young one with talent.

Bernie is a friend of mine who frequents my favorite track Sykart Tigard Oregon. He has come a long way with his son Senna, who by the way handsomely smoked me on the track the other night. LOL. Go Senna!

So here’s an article of his that talks about the voice within that we have to contend with when we’re trying to get our race on. Sometimes that voice is on our side, and other times it’s our worst enemy. Bernie puts together a great article.

Anyway, I hope you like his site as much as I do.


Bernies site has great advice for parents with kids in karting.