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Blog - KAM Kartway

Beginners Guide to Driver Development

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1st do your homework. Know the rules & procedures, the flags and understand the different classes.

Know the Rules

Race classes are based on skill level and age and are set up in a step ladder approach for the optimal Driver Development system to learning and training (see diagram below). Many newcomers come in over anticipating the ease it should be for their child to excel at racing and when luck is on their side early on they tend to want to fast track their driver through the classes to move them ahead at a faster pace. Drivers need to take their time and commit to the ladder step system and go class to class as they master the skill levels before moving up to the next higher level. A good rule of thumb is to stay with the group of drivers you came in with. There is so much growth and learning to be gained by working with other drivers and viewing them as teammates and not just competitors. By most accounts the classes are limited to skill and age although there is a wide age range for each class. Typically, the lower level classes or beginner divisions are geared for a year, however some drivers are better off held back to repeat the class for a 2nd year especially if they are at the young end of the spectrum. On the other hand, if a driver is lapping the field and winning week after week it is time to move them up - even if that is mid-season and they are the points leader.

Rookie Driver

Often the newcomer comes in overly optimistic and full of unbridled excitement. That’s great! Racing is exciting and unique, and for many it was a huge step to take the plunge. Karting is a family sport with everyone on the team playing a role. The child is the driver, the Dad is the Crew Chief and Coach, the Mom is Team Manager and PR representative. Sisters and brothers are part of the pit crew. The fortunate few will get on top of their too-high expectations quickly and not underestimate the complexity of the sport and what it takes to master every aspect of it from kart handling to track management, vehicle maintenance, driver coaching and seat time as well as the risk involved.

The learning process is expected of everyone and no one comes in knowing how to race. I don't care if you are the biggest NASCAR fan in the country - you don't know how the sport is played from a player's perspective. It’s a learned process. Yes, talent is involved but in the beginning there is more luck than talent I promise you.

Learning image

Parents must be committed to learning the sport from the ground up and understanding the rules and procedures of racing from the basics to the more technical and scientific aspects of it. Racing is not just hammer down on the gas and make circles until the checkered flag comes out and hope that your driver gets there first. There are a lot of moving parts to the sport.

It's highly unlikely that you can just come in and start winning races right off the bat in a truly competitive environment. Although that is not a steadfast rule as some beginners have no fear and the best luck (aka: Beginners Luck) and can man handle the kart while avoiding obstacles - such as other drivers or track workers - and manage to start winning races right away. While this may be a little bit of raw talent, this is not skill. This is luck. I’m not being a defeatist – I’m being real. New parents are well advised not to let their collection of trophies and Victory Lane pictures mislead them into thinking they have a natural born racer who is geared to be the track’s new superstar driver. They still have to go through the motions of development, knowledge building, learning, training, evaluation, growth, ability, and improving skills.

While racing does take skills and mastery of technique to perform the sport with success, luck plays a big part in racing as a natural progression of the sport. Talent and skill sets have to be cultivated and developed over time while learning many aspects of racing (the many moving parts) - from the rules, flags, track procedures, specific techniques needed to kart handling and of course safety measures. Paying attention to the flagman while concentrating on the actual racing itself takes practice. The Flagman is the main communicator to the driver during the racing action. Drivers need to know what to do when a yellow flag comes out or a red flag. They have lights to accommodate the flagman's calls and should be taking note of them as well.

Crew Chief

Dad, you will be taking on the job of crew chief and you have a lot to learn yourself. In addition to having a full working knowledge about the sport so that you can properly coach and train your child, you have the whole kart mechanics to learn. It can be overwhelming. But make no mistake your most important job will be “Coach“, especially during the driver development years in racing. There is a lot to learn for your young driver; kart control, how to manage traffic, how to brake and gas for optimal effect, how to find their line and hold it – just to name a few. They have to be given goals and guidance along with coaching to reevaluate their progress. They can’t just go out there and bang into each other as they attempt to turn laps from the Green to the Checker Flag. These kids come in excited and they want to win, sure. It’s natural. It's amazing to watch these kids grow from beginner classes all the way up and into the Outlaw classes. So be patient and know that if your Jr 1 driver is getting banged on it's because the kid behind them is still learning kart and speed control and doesn't mean anything by it. [They are not rough driving at the beginner stage - they haven't learned that bad habit yet - they just haven't learned total kart control yet.]

Race flags

Drivers have to pay attention and understand the procedures of racing. Lining up, starts and restarts, pace laps before the Green, what to do under caution or Red flag conditions, going to the work area if needed, and how to enter and exit the track. These are just the basics. They will eventually learn the apex of the corner and timing control as well as speed management, passing and how to read the competitor ahead of them to anticipate their moves and formulate a plan of action as to what their best strategic move should be. But they will probably get brake checked and spun out on numerous occasions before that happens. These skill sets are necessary for successful racing and will be developed over the years as they go through the ladder steps progression of the different class divisions. They must master one class before moving up to the next higher level of competition.

Long term goals image

Parents should make a long-term plan with goals and realistic expectations. Develop a coaching and training process for your driver to learn and hone the needed skills. A phrase you will often hear is “Seat Time”. They need seat time to learn and hone these skills and techniques. The track is open for hot laps after each race for about 30 minutes to an hour. Make time to stay and run drills with them, set up obstacles cones and have them run a line with consistency. Team up with other drivers to practice passing and slide jobs. Make use of this valuable practice & track time offered by KAM.

Praise your driver for their on-track performance but don’t over celebrate a victory that was made easy or effortlessly. Once you start collecting trophies they can become addictive. I assure you that in the future they will be nothing more than scrap metal junk cluttering the bottom of the kid’s closet collecting dust. I have parents who couldn’t have enough trophies their first year or two to only want to donate them all back to the track later on. Trophies are a measure of success for a race performance and our Podium Finishers (top 3) each get one for their efforts and I understand they are important. Trophies are a big expense at most tracks and we see them as special too. When they are hard fought and justly earned they are the perfect measure of success. Our Victory Lane celebration is a special part of the race program. It's where we celebrate the top drivers in the class for displaying the best skill and talent shown. All three places have a special part to play in the Podium. Drivers are to line up - 1,2,3 - after coming across the scales in font of the flagstand to be presented with their awards and pose for pictures. A Podium picture of all three drivers is a moment in history for your child's race resume to show the talent level of the top drivers and how hard earned a finish they actually had.

Sportsmanship header image

Drivers should be out of their karts shaking hands with each other in a show of good sportsmanship. Emotions can run high when a race didn't go your way or you encountered some bad luck at the end of the night, but sportsmanship is the character trait that we hold with high regard and we expect from every driver and parent. If you placed in the top 3 you should take your place on the front stretch regardless if you feel you didn't get the finish result you should have. Don't ruin it for the other drivers. Remember, there is real value in learning hard lessons with mistakes being made with less than stellar race results – as long as the driver gained experience and knowledge.

Driver Development Program Ladder system diagram

The Young Guns class is our 1st step beginner class starting at the age 4 with the average age being 5. This class is a non-compete class with all the drivers earning the same award. The reason is that we want the drivers to learn how to drive before they actually start racing each other. There is a lot to learn and parents need to be patient with their drivers while pushing them to make strides and improvements. The Young Gun class is also fewer laps than the rest of the classes for safety and stamina reasons (6 lap heats and 12 lap Features). We are training them to build up strength and endurance while understanding their attention span is limited. It’s a fast-paced action-packed sport with no time-outs or do-overs. We will help the Young Guns get into place on line ups and restarts. We don’t use a cone on restarts and we stop them on the track and do a standing Green flag start.

The next level in Jr 1 Clone offers a rolling start from a stand as we will still help them get into position for the grid lineups. Jr 1 is still considered at beginner class and although the drivers seem to be coming into their own, they are still learning the sport and how to operate a motor vehicle. Like Young Guns they also have 6 lap heats but 15 lap Features. There will be lots of bumping in this class because they have not mastered throttle and braking and speed is still relevant to them as the thing that gets them to the finish line first. Speed control is developed and refined in this class as well as overall kart handling. I assure you that at this age they are not deliberately hitting others to gain track position – they just want to race without getting hurt. Their biggest fear is flipping - which actually holds many back and makes them hyper cautious until that first flip happens; and they realize it wasn’t as bad as they’d feared and they are able to push themselves harder.

[See Rule: 4.4 The general policy (suggested) number of karts per heat is 8 [The exception would be with the younger age groups with regard to the groups overall skill level, or lack thereof, we may require a beginner class to be split up even if they have right at 8, or even fewer, karts in the class. This is at the sole discretion of the Race Officials and is determined with best flow of progression and overall timing concerns of the race program in mind. Parental input is also taken into consideration when it relates to driver safety concerns.]

Once in Jr 3 a driver will not physically be helped into their grid line up or starting position. They are expected to be paying attention and when the green is coming out they need to ready to go. Some drivers who are new to the class take a little bit to catch on and don’t focus on where they are on the track in regard to where they should be. Lagging behind is not anyone’s fault but the drivers. The front row starts the race when they simultaneously enter the start box in turn 4 at the same pace. We are not going to hold up a race or give a “do over” because someone in mid-field or the back wasn’t on the gas when it was time to be. Jr 3 through Open Outlaw will run 8 lap heats and 20 lap features, unless there are fewer than 5 karts in the field at which time the track may elect to run 15 lap Feature.

The next level is Outlaw karts and they learning process pretty much starts all over again as the power to wheel ratio is so much like a Sprint Car they have to master new skill sets to compete. But Outlaw is where showmanship comes alive and the drivers become the entertainers they are meant be and put on a good race show for the audience. Used to drivers would graduate out of karts at this level and move up to Mini Sprints as the next higher level of completion but Open Outlaw 500 is a world of its own and is a highly competitive division in its own right. There is no time constraints and drivers could spend years in this class before moving up to the big track level of racing. We encourage that!!

While you move through the classes and from season to season examine your driver’s skill level and set goals on what needs to be mastered during the year in order to move up to the next higher class. Mistakes are part of the process and we expect them but we don’t want to see a driver making the same mistakes over and over again. Therefore, Coaching from the parent is very important. You are their teacher/trainer/guidance counselor/career advancement advisor. The track officials at KAM consider themselves teachers and advisors as well and we give all our kids tips and guidelines when asked.

Milestone sign

Passing karts is a milestone skill as well as managing lap traffic. One of my biggest pet peeves is blaming lap traffic for a poor performance results. While is some cases this may be true and a traffic jam may occur causing a driver to lose momentum with nowhere to go, but most of the time that is not the case. It is the responsibility of the driver to drive through or around lap traffic. The sport will always have Rookies and newcomers, and we need them to grow and have a strength in our racing community. It’s not fair to place blame on them for simply trying to learn something new and taking a little time to master some skills. Kids should never make other kids feel bad for this and should be taught that it’s their job as an advanced driver to manage the traffic and get around them. Drivers know when slower karts are coming up and will soon be directly in their path. A plan of action is needed before it’s too late and running up on them only to brake check the guy behind you is not the course of action a driver wants to take.

Warning: I stress that coaching is a parents job - but do not Coach from the sidelines. What I mean is do not give hand signals and gestures to your driver from the fence while they are racing. Their full attention must be on the track conditions and the racing action, and the only one who should be communicating with them is the flagman by way of flagging the race. Drivers often get confused and make mistakes because they are being told to watch their parent and to do what they instruct by way of hand signals. Then try so hard to focus so they don’t miss you in the blur if faces as they speed by that they lose kart control or over drive the situation to comply with the all too familiar “go faster” signals being exaggerated by a parent. This is just not safe and we do not permit it. Coaching must be done in the pits, during hot lap sessions, at home or with one-on-one private instructors. Once they are on the track it is up to them to drive their karts and race their circumstances.

Flagman with checker flag

The flags are basic racing 101 and should be the first thing taught to a driver. Drivers need to be instructed that they are to slow down when a Yellow flag is thrown as the race has been temporarily halted. They must stay in their order or wait to be lined up by the track officials. But a slow pace lap is expected of them during cautions. During a Red Flag condition, they are to stop immediately right where they are when the red light/flag is waved. It’s fine if they are out of order as they will be directed to the front straight away and put in proper line up order for restart once the red flag condition has been taken care of and it’s safe for them to continue. If stopping causes them to stall they will be allowed to restart motor and a parent will be waved onto the track to assist. Parents must remember that they are not permitted on the track during live action racing and can only enter if they are given permission (called upon or waved on). Running out on the track is not permitted. We know that if your child is in an accident you want to get to them. We don’t want to keep you from that. But you may not enter the track until you are instructed to do so by a track official.

Wrecks and crashes are scary and we understand that your child may be hurt but it is the track officials job to safely stop racing action and make sure track is clear before allowing parents onto the track. Again, DO NOT RUN OUT ON THE TRACK under any circumstances. We are not being mean or bossy but it is for your safety the safety of our track workers and the safety of our drivers that we maintain full control of the race program and track surface at all times.

Obstacles and challenges such as wrecks and caution laps are a common and expected part of racing. Drivers will need to learn how to avoid wrecks and spin outs but sometimes a wreck is just too fast and too close to be avoided. But if a kart stops on the track it goes to the back of the field on the restart. Even if it wasn’t the drivers fault and he had nowhere to go. This is a racing rule and you will find it at all the big tracks across the country. The purpose is to avoid making assumptions as to who is at fault which has led to being seen as making inconsistent calls. As much as you may not like this rule and consider it unfair it is absolutely the most across the board fair way to handle stops on the track and when you move up to big track racing you will experience the same rule. Your driver must be instructed that even though it may not seem fair it is the rule and we apply it to all drivers in such situations. I have had irate parents suggest that they will instruct their driver to just “run them over next time” or plow through. This mind frame is not only dangerous, its unsportsmanlike and negligent. Keep your wits about you in emotional situations with regard to race calls and track incidents.

Past mayhem antics: as mentioned as they progress up through the class ranks more and more is expected from the driver. For example, once being helped in line up position for race starts (Young Guns), a bigger class (Jr 3) will have the expectation from the drivers to pay attention and be ready for flag calls. I had a mother go all kinds of bat shit crazy on the score keeper (Megan) and the flagman because her driver lagged behind when the green was thrown losing several track positions and ground. It was his first race in the bigger class and she expected us to stop the races and do a "do-over" for him. She screamed nonstop for the duration of the race cursing wildly and ranting insults and creating a scene as she voice her objection and disapproval with the start process. Megan is better than I am with people yelling at her and she just ignored her - so did Kevin (the flagman). They were very professional and didn't let her disturbance affect their attention and they kept control of the race and the safety of the drivers were not affected. Later I asked the little boy what happened because I heard he didn’t have a good start and he said “yea, I wasn’t ready”. So parents before you want to come to the defense of your child in the name of "fairness" or entitlement, your driver knows that they caused the error and it should just be left as a teachable moment and learning lesson and not subject to having the entire Rhome Police Department called out for an unruly disturbance.

Black Flag

Another point of contention is getting the Black Flag. Getting a rolled or waived black flag is not the end of the world and doesn’t mean that we are picking on your driver. A rolled black flag is a warning that something they didn’t wasn’t right and don’t do it again. I need parents to put that Coaches hat on and really think about the best way to handle such a situation when it occurs. Your drivers are learning a new sport or a new class division and they are going to make driver errors, hence a rolled black flag. (Or at lease they should be.) Black flags at the big track are known for rough driving or unsportsmanlike conduct on the track. In karting, especially the development period, I see it more as a learning opportunity or teachable moment. I’m proud that drivers are pushing their limits and boundaries to gain a new skill set or try a move that their confidence level had been keeping them from making until now. So, it didn’t work and they got a warning (rolled black flag). That’s okay. They will try again and master the move the next time, or the time after that. Don’t view the rolled black as a negative - “bad driver” - race call when it is most likely a great teachable moment for you as a Coach and valuable learning lesson for the driver. A full waived black flag is for more serious or for repeated violations. It could also be for mechanical reasons and the kart is deemed unsafe to drive. Drivers should be instructed to exit the track immediately when they get a waved black flag. The flagman’s calls are not debatable and rebelling by staying on the track is unacceptable behavior. Violators may be penalized.

As we go through the season everyone wishes for favorable race results and top overall points finishes. There can only be one winner of a race, or one Class Champion. The driver who shows determination and drive to improve and learn is the driver who will be most successful in the end. Don’t underestimate consistency in running up front and attendance when it comes to overall points finishes. It doesn’t take a succession of #1 finishes to garner a coveted Championship Cup at KAM. We only award the top drivers in each class (usually top 5 but may go back further if the class is large). We consider all the Cup recipients winners. Getting a Cup from KAM is a big deal and well respected in the racing community.

Pro Tip: video your drivers race and watch it with them later. Show them where they could make improvements by making a move or altering their line, or learn from a mistake they made that cost them track position. Have them watch the other drivers too.

A child who receives nothing but negative complaints and disappointing comments when they don’t win races because the parent only wants to win and nothing else is deemed a good race night otherwise, will lose his passion for the sport and grow to hate even coming to the track on the weekends. Another problem this causes is a driver, in their effort to please their parent, will develop bad habits and poor driving techniques in an effort to get a track advantage at any cost. I have witnessed all too many sweet and loving kids turn into disrespectful punks because of the years of negativity drilled into their heads. It happens when the "Cheerleader" Pit Mom - who only smiles and squeals of excitement if there is a trophy for her to hold onto after the race. I was told by one such mom that “winning is more fun” and was the only time she could be counted on to be nice at the track. Her son lasted 2 years in karting. Those moms (and Dads/Grandparents/Aunts) may think they have the child’s best interest at heart because they are cheering for their child - and what proud mom wouldn’t do that - but I’ve seen parents with a look of total devastation at the end of a race because the driver’s finish order wasn’t acceptable to them. Moms remember that you wear that "Coaches hat" too - consider yourself the Assistant Coach before cheerleader. I’m not trying to single out the moms because I know how exciting it is to watch our kids race and emotions take over, but just keep it in check.

As mentioned, winning is not the total measure of success while in the driver development process. Progress and skill mastery are. Not just doing something to get a desired outcome but know why and how it worked is the goal parents should have for their drivers, and how to repeat the process again for the same desired result is where mastery comes in.

strategy plan

Small progressive steps and milestone achievements are invaluable and should be rewarded with positive reinforcement and accolades. A positive mental attitude and a humble spirit are the forefront character traits of a good Coach. Jealousy, envy and ego are the worst. The latter causes pit drama and nemesis rivalries that not only hurt a driver’s career and progress but make for a negative atmosphere and combative conduct, all of which is unnecessary, petty and just not the outcome you want to have. Also remember you are making family memories and bonding with your children. Staying positive and constructive goes a long way in both parenting and coaching. We expect our KAM Kids to handle themselves with dignity and professionalism. Shake hands with fellow competitors after the race or going up to them in the its after and saying “Good Race”.

We are all here for the same reason. To race and to give our kids the best Driver Development program and race format possible so that they will have the best chance at achieving their racing dreams with a long and successful career.

The high cost of our sport makes racing stressful with costly wrecks hurting the race budget and family finances. This can make for an unenjoyable pastime if we let it get the better of us. Professional and friendly conduct with an emphasis on sportsmanship is the only acceptable way to act at the track.

Pro Tip: Parents should remember that they are part of the Class their driver is in as well. Don’t isolate yourself by keeping to yourself. This may not be a team sport by definition but it does take the entire class working together toward the same goal for it to be rewarding and beneficial to our drivers. Offer to help your pit neighbors when needed, lend a hand to a fellow competitor to help get them on the track. This all goes full circle and when you need help the other parents will jump in to assist you.

Worth Repeating: No child is justified or entitled to win. Wins and podium finishes are earned by the actual race results as drivers cross the finish line. It takes grit and hard work, perseverance and dedication. Racing is a serious sport with high risks involved. It should be respected, as should your fellow competitors. Our Race officials are dedicated to your children and the race program and should always be treated with respect as well. It is highly offensive to insinuate that the track plays favorites or gives special treatment to some drivers without merit or that a child has been “cheated out of” something. That is simply not the case under any circumstance. Parents who fill this way are wrong and there is no other way to address this. To believe this is playing the victim and/or coddling your child over a perceived injustice. All the kids at KAM are treated the same and given the same opportunity. To act or think otherwise is just hurting their development program because you are more than likely missing teachable moments.

Our goal is to make championship level racers who will go on to compete against the best the sport has to offer in the more advanced Outlaw classes or at the big tracks in Mini Sprints and later Sprint Cars. No one driver is more deserving of that than another.

Final Words: you made the leap when you bought your first kart. Make sure you follow through with that investment by making a real commitment for overall success. We have a bigger responsibility for our kids than if we’d just signed them up for football or some other stick and ball sort. Those sports have full associations with board of directors, governing bodies, and fundraisers to pay for the equipment and travel. They have trained coaches and those coaches have assistants with team moms to help out and organize events. You don’t get to drop your kid off at a field and hand him over to someone else to do all the work. You don’t get to sit back and watch - or judge. You must do all the hard work yourself and your child only has you to rely on for getting it right.

Again, know the rules and race procedures - read them - they are posted online. Print a copy off and keep it in a binder in the trailer with your Race Data Sheets. When your child has questions about why something happened on the track or a race call that was made a certain way, look first to see how it's covered in the rules. The race officials at KAM are highly trained with years of experience under their belts. We know how to run a race program and the calls we make are fair across the board. We are human and we do make mistakes, but for the most part the race is governed by the rules and procedures we have in place that are posted online. Please come and talk to the flagman, Score Keeper or Race Director about a call you have a question or concern about - at intermission or after the races. We want to make sure you understand the process so you can grow in the sport. We don't pick on the kids, nor do we play favorites. Some calls may seem subjective but that's the nature of the sport given the multiple drivers all going at high rates of speeds - fast passed action - and split second timing to make decisions. Furthermore parents are focused on their child only and we have to be focused on the entire class - multiple drivers at the same time. The Race Director relies on the Flagman and the Flagman relies on the Score Keeper and we all work in unison to bring you the best race program possible.

The staff at KAM is here for you and we want what you want - for you to have a long and successful race career in Motorsports taking you to the highest level and becoming a professional race car driver. We believe in our Driver Development Program and want you to be a part of the successful track record we've created at KAM Kartway. Our former driver and parents paved the way and we learned a lot from them. Let us be your mentors.

Now it's your turn.

Comments or questions. Post a comment and lets get a conversation started. 

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