Real People. Stihl People.

Rural Missouri Magazine

Go speed racer, go!
7-year-old Tyler Betts burns up the race
tracks in his outlaw sprint kart

by Heather Berry
Tyler Bett’s 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.

“Come on, Tyler, time to get ready for hot laps,” says Bob Betts, Tyler’s dad, interrupting his son’s play.

The 7-year-old 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.

Tyler 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.

Tyler 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.

Unlike go-carts, 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.

While 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 night.

“Look at 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 compete.

For 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.

“How’s it running?” Tyler’s dad asks.

“Good,” comes 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 pipe.

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 Bob.

Racing is a generational sport with the Betts, as Tyler's grandfather Larry and father Bob prepare the kart.

As Tyler’s 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.

Tyler’s 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 Wee.

“This is 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.

When he’s 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.”

“Ultimately, 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.

“It costs a little money to do this, but we’d spend it doing something else if we weren’t racing,” adds Bob.

It’s now dark at the track and Tyler’s 12-lap feature race is about to begin.
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 everyone’s 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.”

Tyler listens to instructions from his dad before an upcoming feature race at the County Line Speedway in Brighton, north of Springfield.

In 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.

“When 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 Bob.

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.”

Another pause.

“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 October.

Rural Missouri December 2014
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