Summary for those “TL:DR” chaps!
Whatever event you’re taking part in this year, timed competition or not, here’s a friendly reminder - “Aim to have as much fun as possible!”
So I went dirt kart racing for the first time this weekend. I’ll get this out of the way, it was a BLAST! I do enjoy a bit of roundy roundy left turn “race for the chase for the quest for the cup for the thing” - (Declan Brennan quote), and have always said if the races were shorter the TV audience could rival any top tier sport. 3 rounds of 20lap knockout-style hard racing shootouts. It’d be a hoot! Enough about my NASCAR ideologies.
My father-in-law’s friend recently bought a dirt kart and had so much fun that he decided to buy a 2nd for his teenage daughter. Well, she never got around to showing interest so he’s had a spare kart for a couple of weeks. Now, he originally wanted Mark to run it, but Mark has a son-in-law who’s a wannabe redneck at all time (this guy), so he figured I should be the one to channel my inner Ricky Bobby on the loose stuff. I got a call on Wednesday night, “there’s practice on Friday night and a race on Saturday if you want to go”. My obvious response - “Hells yea, leh-go!”.
We showed up on Friday night, paid $10 to practice, and picked the class I’d fit in with the available engine without any weights added - Predator Light (325lbs). It had rained most of the week, so the track was extremely loose and bumpy. I was quickly told that the track would be completely different the next day, so I just got out there to get a feel for the kart and track. It was very different, and I found myself bouncing around on the straights… not ideal. I couldn’t slow down my hands at all in both practice sessions. The kart was all over the place and the track had absolutely no grip. Leaving there on Friday night, I had no idea what to expect on race day.
We returned to Callahan Speedway around 3:30pm on Saturday. Paid the $40 for the race and talked to some guys about setup. Turns out the setup was completely backwards, and after a few changes and corner balancing, I went out for the only practice session. It felt much better, but it was a mixed practice session and I was being passed left and right so I had no idea what to make of it. My only focus at this time was that I was having fun power-sliding and clipping the small white concrete between T1 and T2.
After practice would be the heat race and the feature. Heading home Friday, I was just hoping to not get lapped in the race. With the setup sorted but still figuring out how to drive the kart, my thought had changed to “I’ll be alright if I don’t spin out”. Took to the grid in 3rd for the heat race. There were 7 of us in class. On lap 2, I passed for 2nd chasing down the leader. On lap 4, I was pushing the leader on the front straight. He bobbled in Turn 1, and to avoid hitting him, I backed out of throttle and got out of the groove - #rookiemistake. I dropped all the way back to 5th by the time I joined on the back straight and passed 2 more karts to finish in 3rd by the end of the 10 lap heat. As I was pushing my kart across the scales, the goal had changed from “Don’t get lapped!” to “We can win this!”.
In the 15 lap feature, I started in 3rd and advanced to 2nd by lap 2. Someone spun in the middle of the track and I had nowhere to go. I ran the front right part of my bumper square into the guy and moved him out of the way. The kart felt slow from that point on. I reached around trying to feel if something was stuck on the wheel, etc. No dice! Leader lapped me on lap 14 and I crossed the finish line in 5th. Yup, full circle back to the previous thought - I’d been lapped.Turns out that the chain had jumped and was wedged between the gear and guard in the hit.
I wasn’t set up to record video, but here’s a quick cell phone clip. https://youtu.be/IwPzXf35f4E
Now what did I learn worth penning down? Loose is fast, slideways is fun, and dirt is a blast! More importantly; however, the approach I had going in was something I’d been missing for a while and something worth sharing. I had no expectations other than to have fun. In my NASA events, my car is extremely competitive. I expect to have a shot at winning every event, and failing to do so means a faster driver showed up that day, I made a mistake, or something happened with the car. Here’s a quote I read somewhere that I haven’t practiced in a while. No racer can completely control whether they win everything, nor can he win all of the time. What they can do is control how they approach every race, which should be to aim to have as much fun as possible!
So add that to your list and have an awesome time on track this year. My season’s already started while fun wasn’t the focus, I made sure my car turned laps all weekend after the return from the Daytona crash. Still a few things to sort out, but we’ll be making sure “fun” is one of the goals each event.