Racing to the future, an 11-year-old finds grown-up drive, risks
It was March 2010 and Lance Fenderson was age 8. While most kids were kicking soccer balls or playing with Star Wars charactes, Lance was hitting 70 mph in his go-kart at the Florida Winter Tour, practicing the sport he'd taken up at age 5.
Tucked behind another racer, foot flat to the floor, Lance attempted to make a pass. At that moment, the leading kart lost grip and slid sideways. Lance clipped the kart’s exposed rear wheel, causing him to rocket skywards, up and over — flipping his go-kart at highway speeds. Lance’s father, Troy, watched in horror as his son flew through the air, while his mom, Christine, waited by the phone at home taking care of their infant son, Luke.
Luckily, Lance was fine, albeit shook up and sporting a fat lip. His race helmet, too, had a nasty chip on the front: “My dad and I immediately went to the store to buy a new helmet so we could make the next session,” Lance, now 11, told me. “The crash definitely made me feel a little nervous about what could happen, and it maybe affected me for a bit, but I’m fine now. I’ve seen worse.”
By Monday, Lance was back at school with his friends.
It’s a fine line parents must walk, allowing their children to chase racing dreams while keeping grounded and focused on education and just being young. As with many professional sports, starting young has become not just an advantage, but a requirement, often as soon as a kid's feet can reach the pedals.
Unfortunately, the chase comes with adult-sized risks. Three years ago, 9-year-old Taybor Duncan died from a crash during qualifying for a Colorado karting race; a grand jury later found a "perfect storm" of problems that led to the accident. There's no stats on how many children take part in amateur karting or get into spills like Lance's, but running an open-cockpit car on track always carries some danger.
And the challenges don't stop at the finish line; racing has its fair share of parents pushing their kids too hard in an attempt to resurrect their own dreams of glory. I started racing when I was 8 years old, and I’ve seen this firsthand: fathers punishing children harshly for their mistakes, kids terrified because of what their fathers will do if they don’t succeed. I only needed to see one father whipping his child with a belt after a race to understand.