To semi-retired NASCAR driver Russ Bond, the kartSTART program is more than a throwback to his roots.
It’s a way of “giving back to my sport,” he said. “Go-karting is where you start. Everybody has to learn how a vehicle works, whether you’re going to race, or drive on the road.”
The kartSTART program, sponsored by Toyota, is a Cross Canada Drivers’ Safety Education tour designed to help kids as young as 10 “establish an early foundation for safe and responsible driving,” according to the website.
Bond started his racing career in go-karting as a teenager, back in 1977 or 1978. He launched kartSTART eight years ago as a way to introduce kids not to racing, but to road safety. Go-karting is all about the driver understanding the machine, he said.
There’s no ABS braking system, no traction control - “it’s just them. When you turn too fast, when you brake too hard, they see what happens and why,” Bond said. “This is no video game. There’s no reset button. This is real.”
And because it all takes place on a controlled, closed track, under the watchful eyes of the instructors, it is also safe.
The kartSTART program travels across the country, bringing the learning experience to kids and teens. It combines classroom instruction with on-track experience, supplying the kids with CIK racing suits and Snell-approved helmets.
Boys and girls have signed up for the sessions.
Austin Roberts, 12, came all the way from Keswick for the kartSTART experience. "I loved it. It was very fun!"
Asked if he would do go-karting again, he said, "Uh, yeah!"
His 10-year-old sister, Sabrina, agreed: "It was fun!" The hardest part? "Probably the turning" on the winding course.
Parents come along to supervise, but also to get a lesson in safety, watch their kids driving on the track, and test-drive a new Toyota. Each group enjoys a catered lunch, as part of the half-day program, which costs $79 plus taxes.
Christine Goodall and her 14-year-old son, Jacob, came from Collingwood to participate.
"It's awesome. He's loving it," she said, watching him get back into his kart after a drink break.
The program is also now accessible. Just this year, kartSTART added an accessible go-kart to its fleet, modified by Jonak Motorsport to incorporate ATV-style hand-controls for throttle and brake.
The Innisfil stop on the kartSTART tour runs Aug. 5-8 at Sunset International Speedway – one of 10 stops on the national tour. “We absolutely love coming here,” said Bond. “Sunset is where it all started eight years ago.”
The program was close to capacity, with 20 to 22 kids in each session. They took turns on the track, in groups of 10 – practicing acceleration, turns and braking on the winding course.
At first, said Bond, the kids needed encouragement to step on the gas – but by the end of the day “they’ve learned a life skill. They’ve learned how to handle a motorized vehicle.”
For more information, visit kartstart.ca or call the hotline at 647-401-5153.