As you might know, Gus races go-karts in the summer at Ravenna Motor Park, and I’m his crew chief.
He’s quite a talented driver – and I’m an enthusiastic student of things that make the kart go faster.
This year, we had one primary competitor, Josh and his dad, Fred. Going in, we knew we wouldn’t be able to compete for the championship, because we had to miss too many Saturdays this year – instead, each week would be fierce competition and an opportunity to learn.
Early in the season, we usually had more speed. When Gus got ahead, he stayed ahead. As crew chief, I got a bit complacent – after all, why make the kart faster until they catch up?
Well, they caught up! Kudos to Fred – he kept improving Josh’s kart, and with about four racing weeks left in the season, it was clear that they were quite a bit faster. Now I was scrambling to find more speed.
The easiest way to find more speed is to spend money – you can buy new tires (probably the most reliable way to gain some tenths), a new clutch, even a new engine … if we were fighting for the championship, I probably would have dropped the $220 for new tires – but Fred’s not an idiot, so he would have just matched it! Also, I have a very difficult time mounting new tires – last time I did it, Fred actually did most of the hard work (on my tires), so that would have seemed kind of lame. We both decided to ride out the season on older tires.
I did replace his aging clutch, because I know how to do that one myself and it was only $50. That gained us a tenth or two Also, in the 2nd-to-last week, we finally blew a head gasket – and Fred helped me replace it. We were clearly losing some horsepower there.
In case you hadn’t noticed, competitors help each other a LOT at our track. Our goal is to make the racing as good as possible, and it’s more fun if each kart and each driver is set up to go as fast as possible. That’s when the most learning happens!
By the last week, we were really, really close to each other. I think Josh still had maybe a tenth of a second on us (per lap), but the boys were set up for really good racing. It turned out to be the best racing of the year.
We didn’t win. In fact, Josh swept the two heats and the feature on Saturday. I couldn’t have been more proud of both boys. I was proud of Gus for his effort, learning, and attitude – he never complained once about the kart or his competitor. In fact, Gus heartily congratulated Josh on each of his wins and let him revel in the success he earned. Likewise, Josh showed his chops on the track and was a gracious winner.
In the first heat, Gus started on the outside and made a beautiful pass off the start. He couldn’t shake Josh, though – which was a new thing for him.
In racing, you have to learn how to win with a much faster kart, a slightly faster kart – and ideally with a slightly slower kart. Gus tried to hold off Josh, but he just couldn’t do it. Josh was patient and eventually put Gus in a disadvantageous position to take the lead. It was a great learning experience.
In the second heat, Gus started on the pole and had a good start. I thought for a while that he was going to make a tiny gap, but Josh caught up, and Gus felt the pressure behind him. Again, Josh was patient and waited for the best moment to pass, taking him at the point where he had the biggest advantage. In my opinion, it was the best race I’ve seen from Josh – it’s great to see his growth as well as Gus’s.
In the feature, Gus started on the outside, but Josh had a solid start for the lead. Gus stayed with him admirably for about half the race, but eventually, his kart dropped off compared to Josh’s, and Josh stayed ahead for the win.
We didn’t get any wins, but it was a great week of racing. Gus and Josh raced each other hard and clean and got to experience 3 excellent passes. That’s a big deal. Both boys are better than they were at the beginning of the season, and I can’t wait for next year.
And there are big changes coming next year! After the race day was over, I finally took my first laps in my new kart! I’m not going to let Gus have all the fun – I’m going to be racing next year myself. 🙂
If all goes well, we’re going to create a new class next year with a slightly better motor (Briggs 206) and a slightly higher weight (in the ballpark of 320 or 330 – we were 285 this year). We’re going to combine the “lighter” adults and more experienced kids into that class. Hopefully, we’ll have 6 or 8 racers mixing it up together in that class, which will bring a different kind of learning for the kids (and will be more fun for us adults, too).
If you live in West Michigan, you should come out to the track and check it out next year. It’s amazingly fun and a super healthy way to push yourself. Talk to me if you’re at all interested. The people at Ravenna Motor Park mean so much to me – I want more people to experience what we’ve experienced. It’s an absolute blast!