Highgate—Eight-year-old Will Marcotte stood beside his shiny go-kart in the Marcotte hanger at the Franklin County State Airport in Highgate.
Will and his dad Dan built the go-kart together a year ago, one of many projects the two have completed.
“First we assembled the frame, then we put on the wheels,” explained Will. “We bent all the tubing, machined it, and welded it together.”
There’s not one piece on the go-kart Will can’t tell a story about, from the steering wheel they made out of chromoly tubing to the shiny red and black vinyl that Sarah Jo sewed for the seat.
Dan and Will build the karts, but they also have fun racing each other.
“We don’t take it easy on each other,” said Will, smiling and shaking his head, bright blue eyes sparkling.
Beside the go-kart is Will and Dan’s latest addition, a two-stroke kart for racing. The duo picked it up used, fixed a few things, and put it to the test at the Rocky Ridge Raceway in Graniteville this summer.
“Racing is super fun!” said Will. “I like making new friends and the teamwork. I also like passing people, spinning out, and driving!”
Passing people takes some strategy, and Will has learned a lot this summer about what it takes to overtake a competitor.
“There are all sorts of places in the track to pass, but there’s a cone rule in the hairpin turn. You have to pick a lane and stay in it between the cones. Faster people usually pass on the inside lane,” said Will. “When we’re going down the hill my strategy is to get my inside tire on the rumble strips and do a full throttle turn right through.”
Will has raced in eight races this summer and has taken first place in two. He’s placed in the top three seven times.
“I was going for a second when I won my first race,” said Will, “but I ended up coming in first.”
Will nabbed a third-place finish in one race after a quick recovery.
“I nearly spun out while I was trying to pass somebody. We were right next to each other and I still finished in third–I was trying to go for a second.”
Rocky Ridge welcomes karts on Wednesday night for a 10 and 12 lap features; each class of drivers gets a 10 to 12 lap heat to determine the feature lineup.
Will and Dan carefully go over the kart to make sure it’s safe and race-ready when they arrive at the track.
“We check the tie rods, make sure that the cables are in the right place, and check the tire pressure,” said Will.
Four types of karts run at Rocky Ridge–Shifter karts, L206 and Briggs & Stratton four-strokes, and the two-stroke Comer Cadets.
The Cadet B’s, where Will races, usually have between four to six drivers in each race. Drivers in the Comer Cadet class generally range in age from six to twelve years old.
The kart Will races doesn’t require any shifting. It’s outfitted with a centrifugal clutch, similar to a snowmobile.
“You have a gas pedal, breaks, and a steering wheel,” said Dan, noting that the simplicity allows young drivers to focus on learning how to drive and get a feel for racing.
The race season begins in May and runs into September. Dan noted that the cars get a little faster when the weather gets cooler. Will agreed that the two-stroke engines like the crisper air.
On Sunday, August 25th, Will raced in the Boulder Classic, a 75-lap race broken into three 25-lap features.
“We’ve had two endurance races this summer and I really liked them,” said Will. There are more laps to prove yourself, more opportunities to pass, and you have time to pace yourself.”
Dan added that the Boulder Classic gave them time between features to make improvements and repairs to the kart. Will finished third, fourth, and second in the three segments of that race, earning nine points for an overall third place finish at the end of the day.
Safety is top priority in the Marcotte household and Will has everything he needs to make his race day fun and safe. He wears a neck guard, a chest protector, a fire suit, and special shoes and gloves.
Keeping the kart in race-shape is something that requires a little know-how, and Will has an excellent resource in his father.
“We spend a lot of time fixing motors. My Dad blew up the motor on his kart,” said Will laughing. “We took it apart and put it back together.”
Whether the family is at the racetrack or in the repair shop, racing is something they enjoy together.
“I love race vehicles, so to be able to play with my kid in one and have him enjoy it is great,” said Dan. “It was fun introducing him to the sport, but it’s really fun to race with him–he beats me most of the time!”
Dan has raced everything from jet cars to airplanes, but the Wednesday nights on the track in Graniteville have become one of his favorite places to be.
“It’s amazing how fast these kids learn. It’s like watching little Formula 1 drivers! It’s a great group of kids and they are really good,” said Dan.
“Jeff Blow, the owner of the track, has created an environment where these kids can learn about much more than just racing. Jeff wants the kids to compete, but he wants it to happen with respect.”
Drivers at Rocky Ridge take part in an event complete with announcers and lights, and all at a price that would surprise many parents.
“People might think that motorsports are reserved for people who are on the wealthy end of the spectrum, but this is very comparable to trumpet lessons,” said Dan.
Blow has many connections that can be used to acquire used karts and equipment. He keeps an up-to-date list online, and he’s always eager to help get new racers set up.
“When I started racing at 16, I was thrown out into a pack of guys that knew what they were doing. It was such an intimidating environment!” said Dan, chuckling. “At Rocky Ridge, it’s a competition, but with a very civil aspect that you don’t often find in motorsports.”
Dan raced short track for 15 years; he’s also done land speed racing at Bonneville and raced airplanes at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, NV.
“I’ve been in a lot of different spectrums in the racing world, and this is one of the best ones I’ve been involved with,” said Dan. “The racing community relationships have become paramount to the outcome of races for me. Kids expect to get high fives from their parents, but when they come down pit road and get that from other parents, too, well, it’s just cool when others recognize their hard work, no matter what the outcome. I want to set an example for Will and for the other kids, too.”
“The best part for me has been making new friends. I’ve also learned not to get frustrated or give up, like when things break, we just persevere and figure it out,” said Will.
Sarah Jo has a hand in the racing as well, but her part has been in the design of Will’s logo.
“Before he started racing he came up with the Stunt Bunny racing idea,” said Sarah Jo.
The two worked on the logo together, starting with a sketch that Will made.
When it came time to pick a number for his car, Will chose the number 27.
“It seemed like a fast number, and it’s my Dad’s lucky number,” said Will. “We’ve got it on everything.”
Sarah Jo noted that Will’s love of racing and building was instilled in him at a very young age.
“I have pictures of Dan with Will on his lap in a kart when Will was six months old,” said Sarah Jo, smiling, “and Will’s been doing ‘shop night’ since he was a week old. When I say he’s grown up being a part of really cool projects, I mean it literally.”
The father-son duo spends hours building and racing together, and although it’s a different avenue than a ball glove or a backyard hoop, the result is the same.
“It blows my mind to hear him talk about what he understands about fabrication, mechanics, and troubleshooting,” said Sarah Jo, smiling as she watched the two race around the airport access road. “They have an incredible connection.”
More information about Vermont Shifter Karts and how kids can get started in racing: www.vtshifterkarts.com