Jaxon Porter is happiest behind the wheel. Coming out of a turn, he pops his go-kart into high gear and accelerates to 70 m.p.h.
“I love going fast,” Jaxon told TIME for Kids. “When I get into that car, pretty much all my thoughts go away. And I just go as fast as I can.”
Jaxon is not a professional driver—yet. He’s 10 years old. But like the other kids tearing around the track, he dreams of going pro. He already has a sponsor : the supermarket chain Hy-Vee. It helps pay the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to maintain the car and travel the country for competitions.
Jaxon was racing at 5. “I’m still learning,” he says. But he grew up in a go-kart. He feels like a veteran driver. “I’ll be up there soon, an IndyCar driver,” he says. “Next 15 years.”
Jaxon began driving in local races at a go-kart track in Phoenix, Arizona. Before long, he and his family were crisscrossing the country for national races. Drivers compete against other kids in their age group. At some races, a thousand cars compete.
“For a lot of families, that’s their vacation,” McKenna Haase says. She’s a race car driver, and heads Youth Racers of America. The group holds camps around the country. It coaches families new to the sport on everything from health and safety to managing the expense of racing. “In most race teams, everybody’s contributing,” Haase says. “Mom and Dad, the siblings. Everybody’s involved.”
For many go-karters, racing runs in the family. Maybe an older brother is the mechanic, maybe Dad raced when he was a kid. Families spend several days of every month at national events. Many drivers are homeschooled or attend class online. That makes time for racing.
“It’s a sacrifice for the whole family,” says Elysia Porter, Jaxon’s mom. “But it’s worth it. You just fall in love with it, and it becomes your life.”
A Growing Sport
Audrey Littrell first got into a go-kart at age 4, at a track in Indiana. Now 7, she’s on the New Gen Motorsports team. The car company builds the frame of the go-kart she races.
She could be part of a larger trend. Only a few women are professional drivers. But young racers are used to seeing girls zipping around a track.
“Racing’s growing a ton,” Haase says. “It’ll be interesting in the next 10 or 20 years to see how many female drivers make it to the pros.”
For now, Audrey is focused on becoming the best driver she can be. “I had to learn how to control my kart on the track,” she says. “And make sure I’m keeping myself and other drivers safe.”
Go-karts may be the most popular form of auto racing for kids. But there are other ways to hit top speed. Kids as young as 5 compete in junior drag racing (left). These cars can go 85 m.p.h. They can cover an eighth of a mile in less than eight seconds. Other kinds of vehicles include sprint cars and outlaw karts. These race on dirt tracks. And for kids who want a taste of NASCAR racing, there are mini stock cars.