Go-kart rac­ers go­ing fast and hav­ing fun

Many a pro­fes­sional driver honed their rac­ing skills in these mini ma­chines

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - PAUL WIL­LIAMSON

WHAT do Michael Schumacher, Paul Tracy and Dan­ica Pa­trick have in com­mon? In ad­di­tion to be­ing rich and fa­mous race car driv­ers they also got their start be­hind the wheel of a go-kart.

In fact, prac­ti­cally ev­ery fa­mous racer in the world honed their rac­ing chops in one of these mini ma­chines, and the sport is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar right here in Man­i­toba.

The Man­i­toba Kart­ing As­so­ci­a­tion cur­rently fea­tures more than 40 driv­ers rang­ing in age from seven to 50 that com­pete in a to­tal of 10 race events through­out the sum­mer at the Gimli Mo­tor­sports Park.

Kart­ing is of­ten the en­try point for young rac­ers who move on to other classes of ve­hi­cles, but it can also be an eco­nom­i­cal way for am­a­teurs of all ages to try their hand at rac­ing. For those who stay in kart­ing it is also a haven for se­ri­ous rac­ers and is sanc­tioned as an in­ter­na­tional mo­tor­sport.

It is of­ten said that the fam­ily that races to­gether stays to­gether and af­ter spend­ing a day at the track watch­ing kids of all ages rip around the track while their fam­i­lies cheer them on it’s easy to see why. These folks go fast and have fun.

Michael Copp, an 11-year-old racer from Cooks Creek, is in his third sea­son of rac­ing and is thrilled with the sport.

“It was kind of scary at first but once I got the hang of it it’s been re­ally fun”, said Michael, who races in two classes and helps his fa­ther Jeff work on the karts in their well-equipped back­yard shop. The fam­ily loads up a truck and trailer and heads to the track through­out the sum­mer to hang out with their rac­ing friends and par­tic­i­pate in some fierce but fun competition. For Michael, his big­gest ac­com­plish­ment oc­curred on the day be­fore his tenth birth­day when he got his first chance to step onto the podium.

“It’s a big competition and it’s just as fun as hockey or base­ball”, added Michael, who is a huge NAS­CAR fan and dreams of one day rac­ing in the Sprint Cup. His favourite driver is Bobby Labonte be­cause in Michael’s words, “even though he doesn’t al­ways win he never gives up.”

For Michael’s fa­ther Jeff, a vet­eran metal fab­ri­ca­tor and a sea­soned race car driver in his own right, watch­ing his young son race karts has been a to­tal riot and his face lights up with ex­cite­ment when he talks about it.

“I just get such a kick out of watch­ing him race,” said Copp, who has put his own rac­ing hobby at Red River Co-op Speed­way on hold to sup­port Michael. “It’s a great way to spend time with him and we re­ally en­joy it as a fam­ily.”

For Guy Budel, an­other vet­eran racer who put his drag rac­ing hobby on hold to sup­port his 12-year-old daugh­ter Alexis in her kart­ing en­deav­ours, it’s also been a thrill to watch his daugh­ter com­pete and have fun. The Beause­jour fam­ily loads up a mo­torhome and tows a trailer not just to the Gimli track but as far away as Saska­toon and Cal­gary so Alexis can race.

“As much as I en­joyed rac­ing my­self, there re­ally is noth­ing like watch­ing Alexis race and the time we get to spend to­gether get­ting the karts ready and com­pet­ing at the track is price­less,” said Budel, who is a man­ager of a NAPA auto parts store. For Alexis, kart­ing has be­come se­ri­ous busi­ness; she has sought out spon­sors and keeps them up­dated with her own per­sonal web­site. Alexis is also a huge race fan and even named her puppy Dan­ica to pay tribute to her favourite racer.

“It’s just so much fun and ev­ery­one is so nice,” added Alexis as she geared up for an­other race.

Her fa­ther is also the vice-pres­i­dent of the Man­i­toba Kart­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and is quick to point out the im­mense com­mit­ment from vol­un­teers re­quired to keep the rac­ing events mov­ing.

“It’s not just the par­ents who vol­un­teer their time,” said Budel. “We also have many com­mit­ted in­di­vid­u­als who do­nate count­less hours to the sport and we sim­ply couldn’t do it with­out them.”

Budel es­pe­cially likes the fam­ily as­pect of kart rac­ing.

“We camp out at the track with other fam­i­lies, have bar­be­cues and pot-luck din­ners and re­ally have a great time.”

Al­though the sport can be ex­pen­sive and like any rac­ing the sky is the limit re­gard­ing how much money you in­vest, ac­cord­ing to Jeff Copp it’s more affordable than you might think.

“Used karts and all of the nec­es­sary safety equip­ment are eas­ily ob­tained,. You can get into the sport for less than $3,000.”

Al­though it is big fun, safety is of para­mount im­por­tance. The karts must pass a tech in­spec­tion be­fore head­ing out on the track and all driv­ers must wear ap­proved gear in­clud­ing full-faced hel­mets and rac­ing suits.

Watch­ing the rac­ers roar around the track at more than 100 km/h is ex­tremely en­ter­tain­ing and Both Budel and Copp chuckle as they ad­mit they have each at­tempted to race against their kids … and lost.

“It’s re­ally amaz­ing just how fast they go,” added Copp. “I was chas­ing Michael around the track last sum­mer in a prac­tice session and he ripped through a cor­ner in front of me at full speed. As I ap­proached the same turn I felt my­self lift­ing off the gas pedal.”

There are two days of rac­ing sched­uled this week­end. If you’d like to watch the ac­tion, or get in­volved, check out www.kart­ing­man­i­toba.ca for more in­for­ma­tion and di­rec­tions to the track.

Alexis Budel likes rac­ing so much she named her puppy Dan­ica.

Above: John Buzza (#12) drifts to vic­tory in a

kart­ing race at Gimli Mo­tor­sport Park.

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