On the second day of the Texas Grand Prix, motors were roaring. As mechanics tinkered with vehicles, drivers talked strategy with their coaches and tried to memorize the curves of the racetrack at the Speedsportz Racing Park outside Houston. “I imagine it in my brain,” said Mikey Collins as he waited for his heat to start on the last weekend in April. “I envision it and try to do laps.”
Mikey isn’t a professional racecar driver, yet — he’s only 9. And the vehicle he would soon climb into was a go-kart. But for lots of kids who dream of racing professionally, this is where it all starts: steering go-karts around a twisting track at 60 to 70 miles an hour, flying just inches over the ground.
Like lots of drivers, Mikey started young, when he was just 5, on his local track in Orlando, Fla. He was hooked. “I like competitive stuff,” he says. “Anything that has to do with passing and trying to take the lead.” Kids who get serious about the sport continue on to national races like the one in Texas: days-long competitions in which dozens of drivers compete in heats against other kids in their age group.
It’s all a lot of time and work. Drivers might participate in dozens of races every year, both national and local, so many are home-schooled. When they’re not racing, some are training by lifting weights or doing cardio. Or they might be test-driving in simulators that mimic the racing experience. And it’s expensive: equipment and travel, but also coaches and mechanics and even sometimes sports psychologists to help the kids deal with the pressures of racing.
You also have to have steely nerves. “There was one time that I was going for a pass, and I knocked the wind out of me, and I almost flipped,” says Bristol Borneman, 11, who lives in San Diego County and has been racing since she was 7.
But to the drivers, it’s all worth it. Not just for the trophies, or even the dream of going pro. It’s also a really good time. “I get to come out here and travel around the world, get on the track and compete with really good racers,” Bristol says. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Meet the Kids Who Race Go-Karts
Some of the young drivers we met on the circuit.
Additional reporting by Scott Rossi.