Tony Marinaro can’t help it.
He can’t help but wince every time his son, T.J., turns a fast corner on the go-kart track at the Emo Speedway. You can’t blame dad. After all, this is the younger Marinaro’s first experience on the go-kart circuit this year.
“Before I couldn’t even watch him turn those corners,” he said, complete with blotches of mud all over his white shirt after helping his son clear out some of the dirt during track preparations one Saturday this month.
“It still takes some getting used to on my end, also.”
Since moving into the Emo Speedway this year, go-karting has found a place with the Borderland Racing Association, racing before its event starts and holding trophy dashes during intermission every Saturday.
And if one walks around the mini-track that afternoon, you’ll see nothing but kids working diligently on their cars–either with their friends or parents–as sounds of drills, motors, and laughs ringing throughout.
In just a few short months, it has become a steadfast tradition there for many area families.
“Everybody helps everybody,” noted parent volunteer Tracy Stevens, whose son, Josh, races in the beginners’ class. “It’s always good to spend time with your kids and find some common interest.”
Tony enjoys the atmosphere these Saturday afternoons bring.
“The good thing about go-karting is that it’s family-oriented,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to get involved. If the dads can’t make it, then the moms are usually here to help out.”
Dan Galloway, whose whole family, including son and regular racer, Joey, and wife, Monika, have been vital in sustaining go-karting for the last two years, said the sport is a constructive way not only to learn about taking care of something, but also a good way to stay out of trouble.
“The kids that are doing it are really into it. There’s quite a bit to do with it: air pressure and motor checks,” he said. “Basically, it keeps their minds sharp while keeping them off the street.”
There currently are 14 go-karters, ranging from ages seven to 15, who spend their Saturdays learning the ins and outs of car maintenance and racing. Five are in the beginners’ class, four in the regular gas class, and five in the alcohol division. The latter is considered more advanced because alcohol fuel propels the karts to go faster.
Race rules are pretty simple. A maximum of five racers run a 150 feet long track for 10 laps and winner takes it all. This season will run until the end of September — three weeks after the Borderland season ends.
Parent Jim Caul warned go-karting can be expensive to begin with, as a brand new, race-ready kart costs upwards of $4,000. But he suggested new enthusiasts try for a used vehicle, which can go for half that price.
That’s exactly what 10-year-old Josh Stevens did this year. He and dad, Jay Webb, bought his kart from current mini-sprints rookie racer Ken Perry Jr.
“At first, I liked coming out to watch the cars [during the Saturday night racing],” he said. “But now I like being a part of it.”
Perry encourages any youngster who has aspirations about racing to give go-karting a serious look first.
“It’s great for someone getting started, especially if you have no clue on working with a car,” said the 14-year-old. “It’s different compared to anything you’ll try.”
While still a rookie, Josh Stevens is looking to becoming a go-karting veteran like Perry. “[Circuit racing] is something I want to do. But first I want to try every [go-karting] level,” he said.
The Gavel family has been sending its racers through the mill. Brothers Kyle, 15, and Donnie, 12, are two of the top go-kart drivers, and they’re looking to follow in father, Phil’s, footsteps into the modified class of the stock car circuit.
Until then, young Donnie is just enjoying the ride.
“The speed is key,” he said calmly while wiping the dirt from his wheel axles. “It’s fun once you get going fast.”
But make no mistake, this sport is open to any and everyone. Talking with Carlee Bosma for five minutes proves it. The nine-year old Emo native is the only girl competing in the go-karts but says the boys rarely give her any hassle. Like Donnie, she enjoys the race’s overall excitement. Despite being a rookie, she has travelled with dad and regular streets stock racer John, to some events in Winnipeg.
“She’s really taken to it,” noted John, whose #21B is embroidered on Carlee’s car as well. “We’ll see if she takes over my [streets] car.”
Go-karting has been in the district since 1994, when the races were held at the Riverside Speedway in Rainy River.
Perry said he and current modified racing points leader Steve Arpin were one of the originals–he at seven years of age and the latter at 10. While the two are busy prepping for their own races, they try to help out the go-karters when they can.
It’s the contact the go-karters have with current racing standouts that Galloway said has been key in making their move from Rainy River to Emo a smooth one.
“They have been 100 percent behind us,” said Galloway. “They’ve helped us when we needed them.”
Tracy adds any interested parent or children are welcome to come to the track and watch the action.
Last weekend’s particular trophy dash has some extra gusto to it. For it’s Emo Fall Fair weekend and the grandstand is absolutely packed. The go-karters take centre stage on one of the biggest nights of the season. The normal excitement is turned up a notch — even for the parents. Tony, who is doubling as a sideline co-ordinator, finds himself cheering for his son and sure enough, son delivers with a win in the beginners’ division. Dad has the honours of passing T.J. the checkered flag before his victory lap.
When asked if he ever tires of such a sight, Tony, complete with a beaming smile says, “Nah, never.”
He can’t help but show a little pride.