WKA: Karting roots pave path to NASCAR

HARRISBURG, N.C. (Oct. 26, 2000) -- Most school yards, local YMCAs and sporting complexes have countless baseball fields, basketball courts and football fields for young children to learn the ropes of sports considered to be American pastimes. ...

HARRISBURG, N.C. (Oct. 26, 2000) -- Most school yards, local YMCAs and sporting complexes have countless baseball fields, basketball courts and football fields for young children to learn the ropes of sports considered to be American pastimes. Learning how to hit a fastball like Mark McGwire, slam dunk like Michael Jordan or catch a winning "Hail Mary" pass thrown by Dan Marino is all possible for the hundreds of thousands of children who participate in organized sports.

But, what about the children who want to grow up to become a NASCAR hero like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt or Dale Jarrett? They can't practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway or Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway to hone their skills. So where can they find their "field of dreams"? Just ask NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Tony Stewart where his racing background was developed.

"It (karting) got me started in racing at a young age," Stewart said. "Being able to start at the age of eight was a big benefit. When you're young like that, you feel like you're invincible and you're not scared of anything. You learn to drive at fast speeds and it doesn't bother you. It teaches you things at a young age, whereas if you're older, it takes longer to learn." Jason Jarrett, a NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division driver and son of 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett, echoes Stewart's sentiments on the importance karting plays in a young racer's career.

"WKA is pretty organized and has things laid out well as far as the way they do the championships and the different classes," Jarrett said. "It's important to get kids involved in something that's organized. If you're going to play football, you'll obviously be playing an organized sport. So in racing, you need to be involved in something that is organized, too.

"Karting is also very competitive and keeps that competitive fire going," Jarrett continued. "I didn't know anything about cars, or go-karts for that matter, when I started. So as far as the mechanical side of it, it started me out in that direction. I learned how to drive around other cars and the things that you should and shouldn't do. You could make big mistakes, but it really didn't show up quite as bad as if you were running 200 mph at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. You have a learning curve in karts, but you can make mistakes without it being too drastic."

The benefits of karting have been proven by former karters turned NASCAR stars, even though the costs involved are slightly higher than football cleats or a ball and glove. However, for children serious about the sport of racing, karting provides an affordable introduction.

"You don't have to go out and spend $100,000 to learn whether you want to be a race car driver or not," Stewart said. "You can do it for a lot less than that. Karting is a good form of racing, and you can do it in a way that's affordable."

And if you're worried about spending the same type of quality time with the family while participating in WKA -- don't be. Stewart pulled this karting memory from the recesses of his mind without hesitation.

"The memory that stands out the most is probably the first time my family and I left our home track in Indiana. We went to the Grand Nationals in Iowa, and I really didn't know what the Grand Nationals were -- I just knew it sounded big. I was 12 years old and we beat a kid that had all the resources that you could have for a go-kart team. He had won the championship the last two years in a row. We showed up with our operation, and we looked like we could barely get by with what we had, but we ended up winning the race by a straightaway. That was probably the highlight of my racing career in go-karts."

Jarrett says karting allowed him to be with his friends, plus do something that he loved -- race. "It just seemed like a good way to spend time with my friends," Jarrett explained. "I always went with a couple of friends and I also had one friend that raced with me so we always rode together. We always seemed to turn it into a good time. "Looking back on my time in WKA, it was a lot of fun without so much of the business side of things," Jarrett continued. "I know it (the business side) now, but at the time I took it a lot more serious than I should have. "Looking back, maybe I should have had a little more fun with it, but at the same time I did have a lot more fun than I've had in the past couple of years (in NASCAR) with the business side of it. The NASCAR Busch Series, and for that matter, racing in general, has gotten pretty tough."

The World Karting Association is a member-owned corporation founded in 1971 to regulate and promote the family sport of competitive kart racing and provide a safe and fair environment for the fulfillment of racing dreams. Learn more about WKA at www.worldkarting.com.

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Series Kart
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Jason Jarrett