Young drivers revving it up

Bo Mitchell, 12, of Farwell, races in a heat at Ned Houk Motor Speedway on July 25 during a race with the Clovis Kart Association. Photo by Eric Kluth.

By Helena Rodriguez

The go-kart track at Ned Houk Motor Sports Complex north of Clovis may be a far cry from NASCAR, but for some diehard young drivers — and some young ones at heart — it’s the closest thing.
Every Friday night from March through September, the small dirt track gets even dustier as Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon-inspired drivers — most of them too young to get a driver’s permit, let alone admission into a rated PG-13 movie — get behind the wheels of go-karts and put the pedal to the metal.
Four months of racing in these mini cars is all leading up to the championship night on Aug. 22. Participants from Hobbs, Lubbock and surrounding towns are expected to compete.
The go-kart track was built on city land about seven years ago and is run by volunteers.
“If it weren’t for the kids we wouldn’t be out here,” said Joe Stanford, president of the Clovis Kart Association. “My grandson got me started racing, too. We came out here with him and I got hooked.”
While a few adults race, participants are mostly children, with half of them being girls.
Ashleigh Mesman of Farwell, known as “Mini Me” on the race track, has been racing since she was about 5.
“My biggest thrill is being able to say I beat the boys,” said Mesman, now 12.
A small battery-operated pink Barbie car was her first set of wheels. These days, Mesman sports an alcohol-powered yellow go-kart.
Her dad, Theodore Mesman, doesn’t worry much anymore about his daughter’s life in the fast lane.
“I don’t push the kids. If they are willing to go faster, then I let them go, if they can handle it, but safety always comes first,” Theodore said.
Theodore, who is vice-president of the Kart Association, said, described the sport as family-oriented it and added it also teaches children about more than just getting in a car and going.
“The girls have learned how to check their tires and oil and wash their cars,” he noted.
He added, “Ashleigh would rather be here racing than going to a movie. She is more of an outdoor person. This could lead to NASCAR someday but we’ll just take it one day at a time.”
The Mesmans started with an inexpensive go-kart, which cost in the low hundreds and have worked up to an alcohol-sportsman brand. Stamford said karts can range from about $300 up to $2,000 or more.
Lance Myers, 5, the youngest driver in the Kart Association, has not even started kindergarten yet but has already been to three NASCAR races.
Lance said it makes him feel like “a big boy” when he drives his go-kart. His sister, Kyla, 7, also races.
Drivers are required to wear helmets, gloves, shoes that cover the entire foot and long sleeve outfits. Many purchase racer jumpsuits. Drivers in cage karts must wear seat belts.
“The nice thing about go karting is it is a family-oriented activity. I wish more people would come out here. It’s not that expensive,” said Lexie Meyer, mother of Lance and Kayla.
Stanford said in the seven years the track has been in operation, there have only been two accidents where drivers were transported to the hospital. In both cases the injuries were minor.
Don Houde, the oldest driver in the Kart Association crashed into bales of hay outlining the track a couple of weeks ago, but said that won’t stop him from getting back behind the wheel.
He admits go-kart racing is something he never thought he would do, but said, “It’s a real adrenaline rush and it’s a great family night out! It make you feel young to get up to 50 miles per hour.”