Brenden McMaster’s focus is fixed on the distance, not what’s right in front of him. When he’s coming out of turn 1, he’s thinking only about the line he’ll take in turn 2. And so on, for 25 laps.
It’s not entirely unlike Nintendo’s Mario Kart, he says. But Brenden’s dad, Brad, thinks the real thing has the edge.
“In my opinion, this is better than sitting inside playing video games,” said Brad McMaster.
Outlaw Kart Racing is going on weekends this month around and around the raised lips of the River Arena racetrack at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Roseburg.
This youth-centric iteration of open-wheel racing has existed in Douglas County since the early 1990s, its season usually held from November to January. For a time in the ’90s, kart races were also held during the summers, out in the elements, at Diamond Raceway off Diamond Lake Boulevard.
In-season, a handful of volunteers maintain the track. The dirt that during the Douglas County Fair supports sheep, hogs and goats in the same arena, is formed into a 50-meter oval with raised edges. Hoses and a jury-rigged aerating device finish it off. You want a supple surface because, with speeds like those seen in kart racing, you want to be sliding every turn.
Outlaw has racers from squirts to geezers, though it’s arguably the squirts who get the most out of it.
Brenden is only 9, but he’s won more races than he can count. By now, the Glide Elementary School fourth-grader has probably been in hundreds of minor auto accidents, as well, and he’s vanquished racers four times his age. His worst injuries though: a bitten tongue and a sore leg.
He says he once flipped his kart 12 times flying off one of the oval’s raised edges, though how that number was ascertained wasn’t explained.
Once, his dad said, Brenden overshot a turn during a particularly tight contest. He flew and flipped, and berated the first official to reach him.
“‘Hurry up!’” Brenden is said to have said. “‘Get me back out there!’”
Because of its relative safety and affordability, kart racing has long been a proving grounds for kids aspiring to enter racing’s higher forms. Some continue karting into adulthood, but for many, the hope is always to one day leave the sport behind for drag, touring, formula or stock car racing.
In his modified kart Brenden gets to nearly 50 mph in a matter of seconds. Talking to the boy, it seems like racing is the most natural thing in the world to him. It’s good because there’s little one can do to teach racing, said Pat Desbiens, father of #4, 13-year-old Cooper Desbiens. But there’s still lots of coaching involved.
“You’re always talking to ’em. You’re always guiding ’em,” he said.
Kids have to get out there to develop the instincts they’ll need later, experience being the best teacher, Pat Desbiens said. “It’s just like driving on ice on the interstate.”
This drive to drive might be why some old dogs have a hard time letting go. Here in Douglas County are the Old Fart Flat Karts, founded recently for dads of racers and others longing to reclaim their own days of thunder. When Brad McMaster scheduled the first Old Fart race last year, he said he didn’t expect 16 people to sign up.
There are five serious kart classes, from the 3- and 4-year-olds in the peewee division, to the 250-CC kart racers like Brenden McMaster, to those who race the 500-CCs, which feature about the largest two-stroke engine outside of a motorcycle. Those are what Cooper Desbiens races. He can get going 78 mph during a race.
Cooper has claimed dozens of checkered flags, and his father says he gets better each week.
He hopes to one day enter sprint racing.
“Going fast, I guess,” is why Cooper likes to race.
A jump to a different motorsport could come before or after he gets his driver’s license. Of course, that process will be more or less a formality to Cooper, who’s been behind the wheel literally as long as he can remember.
“After this, driving a car will be boring to him,” said Pat Desbiens, before bestowing a bit of fatherly wisdom. “You don’t want to make it interesting.”
For the McMasters and Desbiens, karting’s about quality time and shared interests.
“Bottom line is, it’s fun,” Pat Desbiens said.
Fear seems to be the furthest thing from Brenden’s mind. His dad, too, is so used to karting’s sights and sounds he says anxiety never crosses his mind watching his son race. But for Brenden’s mom, Kaci, well ...
“She doesn’t get scared,” Brad McMaster said, searching for the right word. “She gets excited.”
His son agreed.
“A lot of the moms get excited,” Brenden said. “Aunts, too.”
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.