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Racing For The Young Ones

3/4 Midget racing action. [John Wiedemann Photo]

3/4 Midget racing action. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Turk’s Tracks
A Few Loose Lug Nuts From Pit Row

by Gene Turk

If you are a parent with a child between 5 and 16 years old that shows an interest in motorsports racing, you have many options to get that child involved in racing. You can chose racing on four wheels, two wheels, on a dirt oval, paved oval, road race course, or even a motocross circuit. You can race outdoors or indoors. You can even choose your engine option of a 4 stroke or 2 stroke engines. So, let’s explore four of the most popular racing options for your child. We’ll start with quarter midgets.

The concept of racing quarter midgets was a simple one. Take a full size midget, shrink it down to 1/4 size, place a small 4 stroke engine in the rear, and go race on a 1/20 mile oval dirt race track. Now the earliest quarter midgets had their beginnings in the very late 1930’s. However, the onset of World War Two in 1941 curtailed any further racing. But, by the mid 1950’s, quarter midget racing found a renewed interest. The oldest quarter midget race track in continuous operation is located in Terra Haute, Indiana which has been in operation since 1958. One of the earliest clubs was the Greater Milwaukee Quarter Midget Club that can trace it roots back to 1955. This club did race on a section of the front stretch of the famous Milwaukee Mile track before it was paved.

Presently, there are over 4000 registered quarter midget racers in the U.S. The Quarter Midgets of America has divided the country into 13 regions with a listing of the clubs in each region. The majority of the clubs are in the Midwest, California, and the far Northwest. They have broken the racing into two main classes – 5 to 8 year olds and 9 to 16 year olds. Then they have a sub group. The child is weighed with their clothes on and less than 100 pounds is one group, over 100 pounds is another group. This is to try to keep the racing as fair as possible. So, what is this all going to cost to get into quarter midget racing?

There was a dark period in quarter midget racing when the cost of building a race car got out of control. Special racing engines could cost $6,000. Chassis could exceed $9,000 due to the use of exotic materials. Luckily, wiser heads prevailed when they standardized on the 7 horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine to keep costs down. Today you can buy kit chassis in different stages of completion for $1,900 to $3,000. A quick check on ebay finds race ready used units for $2,000 to $4,000. These cars are capable of going 35 MPH, but do not attain these speeds on a dirt oval. However, higher speeds are obtained on a banked paved track. Now, let’s move on to another popular form of racing for the kids, Go Karts.

Here we have a very simple concept. Take a welded tube frame, add four small wheels, a seat and bolt on a small 2 stroke chainsaw engine driving the right rear wheel. Find a big parking lot, put down some orange cones to form a road race course, and go race. Thus, this is how it all began in California in the mid to late 1950’s. From these humble beginnings, Go Kart racing spread rapidly throughout the United States. The use of Go Karts in amusement parks was a major factor in its popularity.

Go Karts allow many options as to how you want to race. You can begin racing at 5 years old and continue all the way into your adult life. You can start with a small 4 stroke engine and move up to 90 horsepower 2 stroke engines. A big advantage that Go Karts have is that you can race indoors with electric go carts. If you live in a section of the U.S. where it rains two days out of every third day, you might want to consider this. You can chose between two basic cart designs. They are open-no roll cage and caged carts -full roll cage.

As far as costs go, you can start your young child in a clone class of go cart for $1,500. The clone class uses a 6.5 horsepower 4 stroke engine and is ready to go. Just add gas. Full race used units are very close to a quarter midget cost -$2,000 to $4,000. Before your child is allowed to race, he or she must have the proper safety gear. This includes a full face Snell SA2005 or K2005 approved helmet, a racing Balaclava, driving suit, driving gloves and boots. Now, let’s move on to two wheels with the dirt bikes.

With the advent of mini dirt bikes from the four major Japanese manufacture’s, this form of racing on a motocross style track is becoming more popular. Here again, your child can start racing as early as 4 years old. Classes are divided by engine size. Staring with 50 cc, 65-70 cc, and 85cc. This includes 4 stroke or 2 stroke classes. One thing is unique about this type of racing is that the 2 stroke class is divided into an oil injection class and a pre-mix class. This is because the premix engines tend to be a little faster than the old injection engines. Best to check what type of engine is popular with your local club before you dash off and buy a dirt bike. As with the G Karts, your child will need the proper safety gear. This includes goggles and a chest protector besides the helmet, boots, gloves, and riding suit. Make sure you factor these additional costs into your budgets beyond just the dirt bike.

With this form of racing, the parent must be aware that some time along the way, your child will fall off of the dirt bike. Hopefully, all of the safety gear will do its job and the child will not be injured. But, this can be a traumatic experience for a young child. Some children will shake it off and get right back on the dirt bike. Others won’t. Don’t force your young child to get back on the bike. They will get on when they are ready. So, onto our last option – ATV or better known as quad runners.

Quad runners are one of the newer options for the little tykes. Again, we have age ranges from 4 to 16 years old. Engines can range from 50cc to 450 cc. All of the big four motorcycle builders have quad runners in their lineup, so you have many options. Older used units are also in that $2,000 to $4,000 range. The racing courses for quad runners are very diverse, so that does make this form of racing very special. The course may include trails, footpaths, roads, hills, motocross tracks, or any type of terrain that may be negotiated by a motorcycle or ATV.

So there you have your options to get your son or daughter involved in racing. Here is a great opportunity for your child to learn good sportsmanship, make new friends, learn how to maintain their race car, dirt bike or quad runner and just have fun. A side benefit, you will be creating memories that will serve them a lifetime.

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Gene Turk
Gene Turk was born with racing in his blood. At age 8 he started racing Quarter Midgets as member of the Great Milwaukee Quarter Midget club. For five years he raced the #7 car that his father built. He then graduated from the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) with a degree in Industrial Engineering and Internal Combustion Engineering. While in college he obtained his Private Pilot’s License. Along the way he has attended numerous Indy car and stock car races at the Milwaukee Mile during the 60s, 70sand 80s along with area Midget car races. He would also frequently fly to the Brickyard to watch the Indy 500 time trials in the 60s and 70s and more recently attended the 2014 Indy 500. He has also attended numerous sports car and NASCAR races at Elkhart Lake Road America. Finally, Gene has owned many classic cars including his present 1990 Corvette and is a self-described “Gear Head.”