Over the course of this article, I’m going to share some essential tips for how to teach your kid to start karting; everything from off-the-track to racing and being competitive. Maybe you’ll learn something new by reading, too!
So, what are my tips for teaching kids how to drive a go-kart? My six tips for teaching kids to drive a go-kart are:
- Know Your Controls!
- Safety First
- Tackling Turns
- Lead by Example
- Observation is Key
- When in Doubt, DON’T go Flat Out!
Just like all the parts of a go-kart working together to make it go, there are a lot of components needed to drive the rig outside of knowing how to stop and go. With that out of the way, let’s get to those all-important tips!
1. Know Your Controls!
What better place to start than at the beginning, right? From outside the kart, point out the essential controls that they’ll be using while driving; the steering wheel, the brake pedal and the gas pedal.
Kid karts won’t come with a gear pedal or shifter ability, so don’t fret about that. Even if it’s an option, request a non-shifter kart because of the simple fact that it’s easier to learn when there isn’t another variable to worry about like gears.
It’s difficult to explain how much gas and brakes they’ll need because that’ll come from being out on the track itself, but the absolutely key thing they need to understand is this:
Never press both pedals at the same time!
There are a few reasons for this, but first and foremost, it’s outright dangerous. If they try to press the gas and brake simultaneously when going through a corner, 9 times out of 10 they’ll spin off the track and into the barriers.
That’ll result in injury or a black flag rendering them unable to race anymore, so it just isn’t a good idea. The sooner you can teach your kid this fact, the better their practice will become.
Another vital point when it comes to the controls of the kart is the need for everything to be smooth in operation. When first learning, kids will probably panic and snatch the wheel back and forth in over-corrections, and that’s not a huge problem minus the possibility of a spin.
After every session on the track, explain the benefits of moving the wheel smoothly and ‘feathering’ the gas in tricky parts of the race. Racing and driving should be smooth, and not only for the extra comfort that this affords. It’ll make them go faster around the track, too, so it’s an extra win for them if they can control the wheel for nice smooth inputs!
2. Safety First
Trust me, thinking about safety is probably one of the last things on your kid’s mind when they get to hop into a go-kart. I’ve been there as an eager 5-year-old. However, as with any motorsport, safety should always be one of the first things taught to any young driver.
View this post on Instagram
Heck, any driver who thinks that rocking up to race without a suit or overalls is fine isn’t somebody who values their own safety, and that has no place on a race track.
Take some time to explain the purposes of wearing the full safety gear of a kart driver to your kid. When I started out racing, I was a string-bean of a child and nothing fitted me properly, so I felt like a total idiot. But, when my dad told me all about why I was wearing everything, I put aside looking cool once and for all.
Overalls and race suits are designed to protect against potential abrasions if the driver is ejected from the kart, and they also prevent burns if you were to accidentally press a leg to a hot piece of the kart.
Gloves are designed to keep a firm grip on the wheel so you won’t lose control, and they protect against blisters (a real killer sometimes). And of course, a helmet is designed to protect from impact damage in collisions on track.
Don’t let these explanations scare your kid, however; it’s all part of karting and honestly, accidents rarely happen. They’ll spin and bump into a barrier, easily able to walk away. But that shouldn’t devalue the worth of proper safety gear.
3. Tackling Turns
Straights on a race track are easy enough to explain, right? You press the gas flat to the floor and go fast. Taking corners is a bit trickier to go over, but the bottom line is that you should always tell your kid something pretty simple: go-karts don’t like turning, they love straight lines.
Make sure to brake plenty before reaching the corner on the far side of it, and then turn while gently applying more gas to take you through the turn. By the time you’ve passed the apex, which is simply the middle point of a corner, their gas pedal should be pressed down pretty firmly and they should smoothly drift out to the far side.
Rinse and repeat to different severities depending on the type of corner, and you’ll be golden!
Another very useful fact is that every go-kart track will have a map of the circuit itself, complete with a racing line drawn on it. If not, take some time to sketch out a rough estimation and explain that your kid should always look for the ‘line’ as it appears on the track.
It’ll be visible by being a bit darker than the rest of the track, because of all the tire rubber that’s passed over it. That’ll help them follow the right path into and out of corners!
4. Lead By Example
Above all else, the best way to teach your kid is to be out on the track alongside them. And if you aren’t a driver personally, ask around at the kart track and see if one of the marshals wouldn’t mind showing your kid the ropes in practice.
I spent hours looping around tracks closely following my dad so I could better understand the racing line! He came up with a code of sorts, holding out his hand when he reached a braking point, waving his hand forward and backward as an indicator to stomp on the gas and pointing at the apex of corners as he rounded them.
Although every track will be different, the bare bones of these teachings can be carried onward no matter where you end up.
When your kid gets a bit more confident in the kart, a good way to teach them how to handle others getting in their space is by racing against them. Not with the purposes of beating them, of course; you’ll want to constantly try and cut them off when they go to take corners, and otherwise be an annoyance, an interruption.
They’ll quickly learn how important it is to take the racing lines aggressively, and move to avoid you in no time flat! No kid wants to lose to their parents, trust me.
5. Observation Is Key
Leading on from the above point, use the previous lesson as a way of showcasing how important observation is on a go-kart track. Conditions can change very frequently and when your kid starts practicing with others out on the circuit, they need to be aware of the positions of all karts around their own.
View this post on Instagram
This will help them avoid collisions as second-nature, and they’ll get a better perception of the circuit overall when they spend time being aware of everything that happens on it.
If they’re racing against one of their friends and they always get that hairpin just right, your kid can watch and learn from that to start replicating better techniques and lines. It isn’t just a safety thing, but will be an essential part of becoming a better driver overall.
6. When In Doubt, DON’T Go Flat-Out!
I know, it’s a race and going like a bat out of hell doesn’t always work? Go figure. During the time you take to explain the brake and gas pedals to your kid, make sure to quantify the lesson about driving smoothly with the fact that rushing to reach top speed can often be a detriment.
View this post on Instagram
If they worry more about putting their gas pedal to the floor, they’ll be paying less attention to the kart they’re driving and it’ll lead to spins. Keeping a solid momentum is better than fluctuating between flat-out and very slow.
I hope that now I’ve gone over the varied tips I have about teaching kids to drive it makes more sense as to why I included stuff about safety and things to do outside of the kart.
Driving the kart will come easily with plenty of practice, but the full picture of how to race properly, safely and overall competitively is something far harder to see when you focus only on one part of it.
Provided your kid gets the basics down pat when it comes to the pedals and how to corner like a pro, everything else will slot into place and they’ll be a racer in the making in no time!