'Quarter midgets' race at Thompson's at the Little T Speedway
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Fri., Jun. 28, 2013
Joe Ferreira helped his 9-year-old son Nicholas as he prepared for a "quarter midget race" at the Little T Speedway in Thompson on June 23. They were in the hot chute, four cars back, getting ready. Ear plugs were taped on, gloves and helmets were donned, and then a neck collar was fastened. Ferreira checked the fit of his son's helmet and five-point harness. He attached wrist straps so that Nicholas' hands would remain within the roll cage of the car, should it tip.
When Nicholas was ready, the race director checked the car. He grabbed it and pulled to make sure the brakes worked. They did. Only after checking all the cars in line did the director give the signal to start the race.
The sport of competitive racing is strong on safety procedures and protocols. There are club rules, ground rules, champion rules and points rules. There are scoring and race procedures that all 5- to 16-year-olds must follow. Cars are subject to detailed technical specifications.
“It's safe,” Ferreira said. “I've been carried off the soccer field with more injuries.” His son rolled his midget once, barreling down the front stretch. “The first thing he asked was, 'Is the car okay?' He wanted to finish the race.”
Quarter midget racers are small cars. The ones at the Little T track can't be longer than 84 inches. The maximum height, including roll bar, is 80 inches. The cars weigh at least 160 pounds. But none of them has a starter. Each car must be pushed until the engine catches. Once they do, drivers take them around the small track that measures one-20th of a mile.
But just because the track is small doesn't mean the cars go slow. Older, experienced, upper-division racers can reach speeds close to 65 mph.
Don Jencik of Canton, Conn., has three children racing this year – 9-year-old twins Devon and Ariana, and 6-year-old Conor. “They have the helmet, the full fire suit, the gloves, the neck protector. They're in a cocoon of protection,” he said. But Jencik likes the family friendliness of the sport as well. His dad raced Modifieds when he was growing up and the experience left a mark. “As a child it was fun,” he said. “Everyone got in the car and went somewhere. We met long-term friends.”
The other benefit is they can all do it at the same time. “They love it. They want to do it,” he said. The Jenciks are racing in Connecticut this year, but next year they may venture out to New York and New Jersey tracks.
For Rick Fuller, the sport is a hands-on exercise in good parenting. He likes the fact that parents aren't restricted to sitting and watching, like they might do at a soccer or baseball game. “This sport is all about you and your child,” he said. “It forces us to communicate better. If there is something the car needs, you have to figure it out and communicate it.” There are certain guidelines that cars must meet, but there's room in the rules to make them handle better or make them more comfortable for the kids.
Fuller's 11-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son both race, but his son is nearing the end of the line for midget racing. Sixteen is the cut-off year. Fuller expects the experience will serve both children well. “These kids are going to be driving the rest of their lives,” he said. “This trains them to anticipate what's going to happen on the road.”
For more information on quarter midget racing, go to www.littletspeedway.org. A promotional day will be held at the Little T track at Thompson Speedway on Aug. 3 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The rain date will be Aug. 10.