Not your daddy’s go-cart: Local quarter midget track hosts promotional day
By Katie Scarvey
It’s a Tuesday night, and although the skies are ominously dark, plenty of families have gathered at the North Carolina Quarter Midget Association speedway near Peach Orchard Road and Interstate 85.
The NCQMA drivers range in age from 5-16, and they’re here to whiz around a banked concrete oval track in cars that are approximately one quarter the size of a full size midget race cars.
Tuesday night races are part of the NCQMA Summer Series, and most of the drivers for this series are from around North Carolina ó Mooresville, Huntersville, Greensboro, Thomasville, Concord and elsewhere in the state.
The Saturday weekend series races attract more racers, from a broader geographical area ó up and down the East Coast.
Six-year-old Charlie Klingler is one of the few drivers from Salisbury. The son of Beth Harkey and Kirk Klingler, he races in the 5-8-year-old Junior Honda category. In the fall, he’ll be a second grader at Hanford Dole Elementary.
Beth is surprised that not more families from Rowan County are involved in NCQMA racing.
“We joke about it being the best kept secret in town,” she says. “Of the close to 100 members of the organization last year, only about three kids were from Rowan County.”
She finds it ironic that there was such a brouhaha over the track before it was built in 2004 by Bobby Labonte, when so many people today seem to be unaware of its existence.
Club president Michelle Allison says that the mission of NCQMA ó which is an all-volunteer organization ó is to provide kids an opportunity to compete in motor sports in a “safe, fair and fun” environment.
The cars are tiny but powerful ó these ain’t your daddy’s go-carts. Each one has a transponder for lap timing accuracy.
Charlie’s car, which features a 120 Honda motor with a restrictor plate, is somewhat low profile because it has a camouflage exterior. Others feature a glitzier appearance, like Slater McCray’s “Slater Bug,” which is glossy black with hot pink accents.
Like many of the quarter midget racers, Charlie comes from a racing family. Both his parents used to drag race, and his grandfather, Luther Harkey, was a NASCAR driver back in the 1960s.
Charlie loves the sport.
“I like driving, and sometimes winning,” he says.
Driving fast is fun, he says ó and passing people is fun, too, he adds.
Charlie, like all of the kids who race here, has been through a novice training session. Children must be 4 1/2 to train. At 5, they can compete.
And that requires an investment ó of money as well as time.
The price of a quarter midget car varies, depending on whether it’s used or new and on other factors. Kirk estimates that a quarter midget car ranges in price from about $1,500 to $7,500.
And of course, there’s gear involved: typically fire repellent suits, helmets, gloves, safety equipment. And of course a trailer is necessary to transport the cars. It’s a fairly significant outlay, which is why, Beth says, parents should make sure a child is really interested in the sport before spending a lot of money.
To that end, the speedway is sponsoring a promotional day today, from 1-5 p.m. to allow kids to get a taste of the sport.
On this Tuesday, the young drivers know what they’re doing. Turnout is lighter than usual because rain clouds are looming.
Charlie races in the first event of the evening, a Batch Qualify race.
Three of the cars are bunching together, but Charlie keeps his distance.
Beth says that Kirk has advised Charlie not to worry about other drivers, to just do his thing. In this race, it’s the time that’s important, not who wins or loses.
Charlie’s average lap time doesn’t come close to what he normally does, which is generally in the 6.7 range.
Kirk is a little disappointed.
“You were a little slow,” he says.
“So was Colby,” says Genia White, the mother of driver Colby White, a 7-year-old from Maiden who races in Charlie’s division.
Genia ó who’s also on the NCQMA board of directors ó explained that the track condition caused everyone’s time to be slower.
Temperatures were cool because of rain earlier in the day, and a lack of heat in the tires caused slower times, she said.
Although there’s clearly a keen sense of competition in the air, you don’t get a sense that it overshadows the fun.
Charlie and Colby ó who happens to be a girl ó are always trying to beat each other on the track, Beth says.”They’re so competitive,’ she adds.
But they also happen to be great buddies.
After they race, Colby shakes her blonde hair out of her helmet and yells over at her friend.
“Hey, Charlie. Good job!”
Between races, the young drivers break out scooters and bikes.
There’s a casually festive feeling at the track, and a feeling of easy camaraderie among the families.
Both boys and girls participate, although the boys outnumber the girls.
While Charlie and his family are over at their trailer discussing the race the skies open up and the rain begins to pour. Kirk thinks it’s just as well. He decides that Charlie doesn’t need to race anymore tonight since some adjustments need to be made to his car.
Before too long, however the rain stops, and officials decide to dry off the track and continue the racing.
A guy in an orange T-shirt is among the first to find a blower and take to the concrete. Elsewhere, he’d probably be signing autographs, since he happens to be NASCAR star Jeff Burton.
Here, though, he’s simply the dad of Harrison, an 8-year-old quarter midget racer who is in his third year of racing.Burton says that the quarter midget experience isn’t about money or glory but about friends having a good time together.
“It’s a great way for kids to race,” he said.
Nobody takes it too seriously, he says, although the kids do try hard and put a lot of effort into it.
“It’s fun,” he says. “For now, it’s just having fun.”
Burton said that he didn’t know anything about quarter midgets until about five years ago. He raced go-carts when he was a boy, he said.
The Burtons participate in the Tuesday night series and some of the Saturday races as well. The Burtons sometimes travel for quarter midget events ó they participated in the nationals in Meriden, Connecticut, which drew 850 cars.
When asked if Harrison wants to follow his footsteps, he says it’s too soon to tell. Harrison likes to race, but he has other interests too, Burton says.
Promotional day today
Kids aged 4-15 who are interested in driving a quarter midget racecar are welcome to come out to the track today.There is a $20 fee, which is required by the national sanctioning body, Quarter Midgets of America. A parent or legal guardian must be present to sign a waiver.
A quarter midget racecar and all mandatory safety equipment will be provided. Children should wear or bring tennis shoes and pants.
Each child will receive up to 10 laps on the track with guidance from track officials and the track flagman.
The NCQMA facility is located in Salisbury and is open most Saturdays, April through November, with racing all day. Admission for spectators is always free.
For further information and current schedule please visit www.ncqma.com.
The NCQMA Speedway is located at 1130 Speedway Boulevard in Salisbury. Going north on I-85, take exit 72 (Peach Orchard Road.) Turn left on Peach Orchard Road, and then another left on Porter Road. Take a right on Speedway Boulevard. The speedway will be on your right. In case of inclement weather, call 704-637-1099 for message about cancellation and/or rain date.
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