6B winged outlaw kart buzzes around the track during a late
summer race at County Line Speedway in Brighton. The 7-year-old
speedster is lighting up the track and building bonds with his
family as he collects racing trophies on weekends.
The deep crevice
in the ground doesn’t pose any challenge for Tyler Betts. He
zips his car up the ditch and it flies effortlessly over the chasm
below, landing on a hill on the far side.
Tyler smiles with
some satisfaction and then tells his friends, “Hey, let’s
make a deeper trench and then make a bridge.” He offers a blue-lipped
Gatorade grin to his comrades and then tosses the Matchbox car aside, grabbing
now for a sturdy stick to dig a larger crack in the dry earth.
Tyler, time to get ready for hot laps,” says Bob Betts,
Tyler’s dad, interrupting his son’s play.
knows to hurry and get his fireproof race suit on, strap on his gloves,
snap on his helmet and hop into his car. It’s time to zoom
around the 1/8-mile track. His goal? To do well in the heat race
and lock in a good position for the feature race later that evening.
Betts has been zooming around race tracks in Missouri, Iowa
and Kansas since he was 5 years old. One day he hopes to be
a NASCAR driver.
is one of a dozen or so 5- to 9-year-olds in the rookie class of
winged outlaw karts. They race every weekend from April through
October at the County Line Speedway in Brighton. Tyler also competes
on racetracks across south and central Missouri as well as Iowa and
Kansas when he and his family can hit the road to race.
winged outlaw karts have roll-over cages and arm restraints. Drivers
must wear helmets and fire retardant gear to compete. Each class
has a restrictor plate that limits how fast the car can go. As
Tyler moves up in classes, the restrictor plate will allow more speed.
he still competes in the rookie class, Tyler’s no newcomer.
Now in his second year of racing, he is as serious as any adult
when it comes to driving fast and winning trophies.
Tyler sits in
his caged kart, no. 6B, both hands on the small steering wheel
and stares straight ahead toward the track. Engines are revved
in unison by eager young racers. Six laps, well-raced, can get
Tyler a good position for the points feature race later that
him,” says Bob as he watches his son. “He’s
sitting there thinking race strategy. Tyler’s thinking
about who his biggest competition is today and about the last
time he might have raced against them. He’s thinking how
to get around them and get to the front of the pack.”
|Julie Betts, Tyler’s
mom, helps her son don his fire protection suit. Tyler wears
nearly $1,000 in safety gear every time he gets in his kart to
this young driver, racing runs in the blood. His grandfather,
Larry Betts, races older model cars in the legends classes around
the Midwest. Tyler’s
dad was a competitor in the adult winged outlaw class, but
he gave it up after the 2005 race season.
“Tyler and I both raced
that year, but it was kind of hard,” Bob
says. “I was trying to keep both cars running good and
keep both of us going, but it just got to be a lot with both
of us racing.”
When it’s time to race, the Betts
are all standing at the fence, ready to cheer Tyler on.
The signal is given by the race official and Tyler and the
other cars hit the tracks sounding like mad bees, their highly
modified 5-horsepower Briggs & Stratton
engines giving their all. The cars become colorful blurs
as many of the drivers hit the 40 mph limit. With the laps completed, Tyler
zooms off the track and into his spot in the pit.
it running?” Tyler’s
the simple reply from the second-grader, “Don’t
touch it.” Then Tyler, back to being a kid, runs
off with a friend, eager to see a giant spider in a drain
Bob finds it amazing
that a boy Tyler’s age
can come off the track and describe how a car’s
running. “He’ll come into the pit and
say ‘my tires are slick,’ ‘I can’t
turn the car’ or ‘the
engine’s off.’ It’s neat how the
communication between us has improved over time,” says
a generational sport with the Betts, as Tyler's grandfather Larry
and father Bob prepare the kart.
pit crew mechanic, Bob gets busy checking the tire pressure, oil
and fuel levels, readying the car for the feature race. Grandpa Larry
looks over his son’s shoulder as they review the tachometer
to see how well the engine ran during hot laps. Tyler’s
raced well during laps today, ensuring he’ll
have a good spot in the feature race.
mom, Julie, completes the pit crew. She also serves
as one of three scorekeepers at the track. Grandma
Gladys helps, too, handing out trophies to the
winners at the end of the night. Tyler’s younger brother,
Levi, watches the race so he can pick up tips from
his big brother. Levi, 5, started racing his own
kart this summer, which is aptly named The General
definitely a family affair,” says
Bob, whose Warsaw home is served by Co-Mo Electric
Cooperative. “Life pretty much works around
this racing addiction we have.” Bob and
Julie agree that racing was something they
began because Tyler wanted to race and they knew they
could spend more time together as a family.
not racing, Tyler, center, enjoys playing with Matchbox cars
in the dirt with his younger brother, Levi, left,
and friend, Bobby Williams. Levi is following in Tyler’s
footsteps and began racing this season with his own winged outlaw
kart, aptly nicknamed the “General Wee.”
we wanted to do something together so when the boys are 16, 17, 18,
we know where they are and what they’re
doing on Friday and Saturday nights,” says Bob, as he watches
their sons playing with Matchbox cars in the ditch again. “I
also wanted to have good, solid relationships with my boys. Besides
that, it’s just good, family fun.
a little money to do this, but we’d spend it doing something
else if we weren’t racing,” adds
It’s now dark at the track and
Tyler’s 12-lap feature race is about
The flag is waved and the racers are off,
vying for first place and a highly coveted
$10 trophy. As eager competitors bump into
each other, the caution flag appears several
times during the race. But no one is hurt.
The cars are lined back up and the race begins
again. Tonight proves to be a good night
and Tyler earns the first place trophy in
his race class.
Back in the pit,
Tyler jumps out of the kart and goes with Dad to the check point
where officials weigh the cars and check the race fuel, making sure
adhering to the rules. As his car is
weighed, Tyler runs back to the second place competitor, gives him
a thumbs up and says, “Good race.”
Bob notices the
exchange and smiles. “He was given a trophy once for his
sportsmanship,” recalls the proud
dad. “Tyler’s car broke
down during hot laps, so he helped
his biggest competitor get ready for
the race. If you ask Tyler which of
his trophies is his favorite, he usually
pulls that one off the shelf first.”
listens to instructions from his dad before an upcoming feature
race at the County Line Speedway in Brighton, north of Springfield.
two race seasons, Tyler’s collected
more than a dozen first place trophies
and more second and third place trophies
than his parents can recall.
he doesn’t win first place,
he might run off to be alone for
a bit, but pretty soon he’s
back, running around and playing
with the other kids at the track,” says
Ask Tyler what
he feels like when he doesn’t win, he pauses,
then says, “Well,
I just don’t like people
passing me because I know I’ve
got the fastest car out there.”
“But I love racing
and I win a lot. I’d
like to race NASCAR some day
like Kasey Kahne,” says
the youngster, who has the
remnants of a temporary tattoo
from vacation Bible school
still stuck on his forehead. “I
always just try to do better
the next time I race.”
For more information about winged outlaw kart racing, contact Bob
Betts at 1213Betts@socket.net. At press time, Tyler is fourth place
in points this season at County Line Raceway. Race season runs through