A culture age-out: unfortunate there aren't more 30+ yr old drivers competing in senior classes

I’ve been karting for a few years now, and realized something which makes karting kind of strange in terms of autosports norms; there are very, very few examples older drivers (lets say 30 and over) racing against those younger. This seems true at almost every level of the sport; national, regional, or club.

It’s a shame that this is the case, because there are a couple negative effects for karting. In my case, for instance; in my 40’s, just under 150lbs, which puts me exactly in the middle of my ‘ideal weight’ according to my height (5’7"). Practically speaking, my choices are to either bolt on 40 pounds in order to glacially slow my kart in order that I can race with the few other old guys (not appealing for me personally), or else just not race at all. I’d be happy to race in a senior class, which is what I fit in weight wise, and feel that I can keep the pace there - but there’s no world in which I’m doing that either, because I don’t feel like trying to pioneer this type of situation in the midst of a culture that doesn’t seem to really accept it (nevermind avoiding the potential issues that come with racing against those karters in the senior class which might be still be accompanied by their aggressive parent(s)).

I’ve been driving for ‘fun’ and not racing since I’ve started in karting so I can keep that up, but for the sport it seems like a shame that there’s not more frequency of overlap in the age of drivers in the senior categories.

1 Like

The top 3 in KZ in the world have a higher average age than the top 3 in F1, so don’t despair, Fore is in his mid 40s :slight_smile:

But yes I think you’ve observed something that I have noticed anecdotally from a cultural perspective and that is the Juniorfication of Karting.

There are a multitude of factors that kind of feed each other and sorry for what will follow - a mish mash of my thoughts on the subject, anyway here goes. I could write a book on this haha.

In the UK, we bought into the ‘racing ladder’ hype hard as a form of promotion. It was especially noticeable in 1996 when Champions Of The Future was on prime time TV (you’ll know it form all the vids of Lewis Hamilton in Cadets on Youtube).

The fact is it’s the most reliable and easy form of promotion. Everyone can understand the phrase ‘karting is the first step on the ladder’ and that kind of rubbish. We threw aside every aspect to karting that we should bestow as core values of out sport in exchange for this honour of being the place where racers like Hamilton started out.

It makes sense, but comes at a big cost. The cost is any adult will only associate karting with children. What happened with Luca Corberi at the World Champs for KZ highlighted that. Everyone thought Luca and the racer he attacked were children. I even had to correct a BBC reporter on it who said on National TV the incorrect age for Paulo. So this is the psychological mountain we have to climb.

Karting in general, from a cultural perspective, doesn’t celebrate our champions at the highest levels. We lack that kind of cohesiveness and this partly fuels a lack of identity that counters the ‘racing ladder’ narrative. I think this is partly fueled by single-make racing which I believe has disconnected racers from the sport’s very own ladder to the top. Karters are very insular now, maybe they always were. In the UK at least though, on the historic pages especially, there’s talk about Mickey Allen, Terry Fullerton, Mike Wilson, Bobby Game, Pankrucker and then maybe some stuff on Michael Spencer. Then from about 2000… no one really reminisces about the top drivers. It’s as if time stops. I think the market change towards MAX away from 100s ands so on was partly responsible for that. Not saying it’s good or bad, but the psychological change seems quite clear to me. At that time national racing also became more accessible to everyone.

But back to the racing ladder thing. Parents will spend more on their kids than a person in their 20, 30s, 40s etc… on their own racing. In terms of investment trying to get adults karting is a much harder prospect. it costs more to do and gets less return.

In addition karting is a brutal sport. Being 10 seconds off in a car race doesn’t matter, no one cares. You’ve had a nice weekend and got some nice photos. Motocross, well if you’re a few seconds off the top guys, you’re actually still bloody good. The problem with karting is if you’re 1 second off the pace it’s borderline pointless. It’s absolutely brutal competition, especially modern karting.

It’s slightly different in the retro classes, but I think we’re all so culturally connected to the old karts that we do it because we love the actual karts first and foremost. Culturally it’s a more cohesive racing scene. We aren’t just racing for racing’s sake, we are fundamentalists, which borderlines on religious in nature. I think a lot of people who race modern karts, if given the opportunity to race something else, would take that chance. The amount of ex-karters I see racing the most dog slow awful car racing serious is depressingly high.

There’s so many other factors as well. I try my hardest but it’s an uphill battle.

2 Likes

I won a KA100 Sr. Points championship with our club at the tender age of 42 and intent on throwing my hat in the ring at some nationals next year in Sr.

The racing is a little more aggressive but if you want to compete against the best you do it in Sr. Not masters in my opinion. Not saying there isn’t talent in masters but I busted my ass to lose 45 lbs over the last 2 years so I could run at Sr. Weight to see how I stack up.

edit I clearly identify this as my mid life crisis and I’m 100% fine with it and will ride it out for all it’s worth.

5 Likes

Once the parents stop footing the bill, once you get a “real” job, once you have bills and a mortgage or rent, once you have a kid… it all starts to get really tough to race. For most of us, around 30 is where that stuff starts to take a toll. I’ll be 30 this year, and am hoping to get out for some laps and maybe run a race or two. I have the desire and pace, just not the time or money.

I’m counting the days until I can run a full season again. As soon as it’s possible for me, I’ll be out there.

1 Like

I agree with all of the above. There’s definitely some stigma around karting for older adults who view it as “motorsport for kids” or “first step on the racing ladder” which means adults with the time and money end up doing things like local autocross events or some form of SCCA racing. And for the other adults who would otherwise be interested…well time and money can be hard to come by for most 30 and over, for all of the reasons TJ gave.

But I wouldn’t let the fact that there aren’t that many 30+ guys and gals running senior classes stop you from doing it - I definitely didn’t. I turned 30 this last year and this was my first season back since I had to stop racing when I was 20ish, and I never felt like I was out of place because of my age.

I did try running masters for 1 weekend this year, but I was not a fan of running with that much weight on the kart. So my plan for now is to keep running senior for as long as I can.

1 Like

Good for you, Andy and Jake. Your stories are inspiring to hear! (same for Alan’s comment about some of the top KZ drivers, I hadn’t realized that)

Andy, do you feel like you’re ever presented with any unique issues/problems from racing in the senior class from any of the participants, or their crew, at the races? (asking from a ‘show me the ropes’ perspective, not to gossip)

I’ve always joked and even memed that karts are for adults and formula cars are for kids.

One thing you’ll find in road racing is that the average age is higher, so there’s that too.

1 Like

Being 30 in a field of 14+ year olds has its interesting challenges. For starters, the kids are fast. Most have them been doing for a large portion of their life already so they’re already “in tune” with how things work. With that said, there is a clear maturity barrier there. From my experience, a lot of your typical senior drivers aren’t thinking in the long run. They’re all about the right now. Which leads to a lot of over aggression and plenty of DNF’d heats because they just wanted to get by that guy in front of them. They’re not thinking about how the heats build up to the prefinal which builds up to the final. It’s all about now. Which gets frustrating when you effectively get turned into their brake pedal and get side podded off track.

I’m sort of the opposite of TJ. I didn’t have the money to go racing before. Now that I’m older I’ve worked up to being able to have some fun. The issue is just finding the time to do it. My off weekends rarely line up with the kart race weekends.

2 Likes

I am 53. This year I came back to kart racing after years in cars. I usually ran Masters class this year, which was only 10 pounds more than Senior, so not much slower. Twice I ran in Masters and Senior, so with the kids. I set sprocket to be ideal for Master because it was main class and adjusted weight between runs.

So to borrow a phrase. Just do it!

I ran one or two senior races. The competition is better and the fields are bigger. I suspect for most middle aged men the issue is just making weight. There is also the fact that masters fields tend to send it less!

1 Like

I was one of those people that could not make weight. I could not make it for Masters either. So I went on diet and lost 45 pounds. Now I have to add 15 for Masters and 25 when I run Senior. Lucky for me Masters locally have good numbers. We averaged 15 and had a high of 28

A lot of this is what everyone else already says. I will add, I’ve seen Masters drivers hop in Senior and hand it to the kids sometimes. It’s not terribly common, but I’ve seen it happen.

I’ve noticed there’s also a big gap from about when someone turns 20 (aka me) until late 20’s when things generally start to get where they can manage to get on track a bit more often. I’ve been trying to avoid that but haven’t had a lot of success staying 18 at this point.

If you want to though, go ahead and enter the senior races. Honestly those can be cleaner than Masters sometimes.

Regarding parents, I can’t stand some of the parents that will throw themselves in front of their child the moment something happens. The parents that don’t allow anyone to get near their kid when the driver makes some stupid move on track and the driver taken out wants to have even just a discussion with the kid. I haven’t had that issue myself, but I’ve seen ot happen a few times in Seniors.

1 Like

I was thinking the same thing Dom. I’ve seen it first hand, younger drivers don’t usually have that little voice telling them “you have to go to work tomorrow”, they live in the moment without much regard for life after the race. Now, I have seen some older drivers like that too, but typically, as we age the definition of “send it” changes. For the most part I would rather race with like minded people that aren’t going to make moves that have no chance of working.

2 Likes

Man, I wish I could come in here and add something insightful, but it’s pretty much been added already.

When you’re having to fund the racing yourself, you start to see a different type of racer appear. I’ve done a few podcasts talking about the importance about figuring out how to support your racing career, when mom and dad stop.

Granted, I started racing when I was in my early 20s, so I’ve never had that experience (at least with racing. My parents spoiled me in other ways.)

Now as an older driver (cries) myself, I find myself balance out more of my adult responsibilities with racing, and also trying to find new places that I want to go racing.

Winning a regional title is on my bucket list, but at the same time, I want to travel to different tracks and see other places.

Racing with other Masters is also a nice thing, because we all have to go to work on Monday, so there are less “Mclaren will call me after this race” divebombs than what I experienced racing in Senior.

Also, I’m a little taller as a karter, and so I don’t want to lose a serious amount of weight, just for karting, since I like my body size (mostly.)

1 Like

I sure do not “hand it to the kids”. In one of the Senior races I ran I finished about mid-pack after a good battle with another driver. It was fun to see the look on the 17 or 18 year old on the way to the scales when he saw I was some gray hair “old guy”. As some commercial used to say. Priceless

4 Likes

Yeah it always makes me laugh. I had a good rental battle once with a 17 yo kid half my size and weight, full of himself. When we looked at the timing boards (I’d whooped his ass :rofl:) he looked me up n down n said how is it possible :joy::joy::joy:

I agree with so much that has already been said, but here goes my $0.02. I will never likely be able to make senior weight. I just turned 45 this year, am 6’9" and currently weigh around 205 lbs. That is after loosing 15 lbs. With no lead my kart and I scale in around 405 lbs. Because of my build, I will never be able to lose more that another 5 to 10 pounds without looking anorexic.

Running TaG at our local clubs, the highest weight for a given engine in senior is Rotax Evo at 400 lbs. For my engine, the MY-09 Leopard its 360 lbs in the senior class and 390 lbs for masters. Some of the difference is in package weight and some in horsepower/power band. Because TaG numbers are pretty soft these days, I usually end up running senior to to have someone to race against. My current goal is to upgrade chassis to a newer year model and replace the engine with something more suited for my weight allowance (X30 or Rok). Unfortunately neither will put me in range of the senior class, so if you can make the weight I say go for it!

I grew up around auto racing. It goes back generations on my father’s side. At the time, drivers under 18 were not allowed to participate due to insurance regulations. Had I known about Karting, I would have likely made a push for it. As it was, I was just biding my time before I could get behind the wheel. Then Life happens. Go to college, work 3 jobs to pay for it and any free time was spent chasing the fairer sex or partying with the boys. After college, you start working and your priorities shift to more expensive things like marriage, car notes and mortgage payments. Throw on top of that working 80 hours a week to pay for it all. Weekend? What’s that? As the years go by the opportunity to go racing seems to slip further and further away.

Fast forward 20 years, on my second wife, first child and still have the bug to go racing. I guess its just in my blood. After visiting a few local rental kart tracks, I discover proper karting. So now I have the means, but still short on time to go race. Unfortunately the business I’m in, weekends are mandatory. The rare time I get one off I try to schedule it around available races when possible. It doesn’t make for a lot of seat time, but it definitely fills the void. I am also not the 185 lbs bean pole I was after high school, so I have to make do with what I have.

I think for many of us, the mid 30’s are a time of building lives. Its not that we don’t want to go racing, its just that other priorities prevent us from it. Maybe that’s why the “Mid-Life Crisis” exists at all. Its just the moment in our lives where we have enough of a base established to get back to the dreams and aspirations of our youth. In this manor, I whole heartedly embrace it!! I will never be a Michael Schumacher or Max Verstappen, but who cares. Send it does not always mean you have to dive bomb every corner. It can also mean showing up and putting in your best effort against the competition, whomever that might be. Just get out there and have fun!!!

2 Likes

I think if you kart, mid-life crisis happens and you don’t notice. Everyone else does, but you don’t. Having too much fun to call it that, but re-inventing yourself as a racer in your 40s does seem to qualify.

My problem has always been making weight, honestly no reason to run senior if you can’t make weight.

One thing that hasn’t really been brought up in this thread is that kart racing isn’t really promoted towards adults, largely 1) due to the stepping stone narrative that so many push that “the only way to go racing is through to cars”, but also 2) because most karting programs, clubs etc., don’t showcase adults racing.

To Greg’s point, if you’re a “normal adult” building your lives through your 30s, by the time that you start racing, you’re going to want to race with people who are in your peer group, not against the children of your peers.

Typically, you’ll find more adults club car racing in your SCCA, NASA, now Gridlife type series or motorcycle racing, because there are people that are in their age group there to get advice and learn from. Even adult professional racers rarely talk about karting as a thing they do, so they don’t motivate adults to seek the sport out as drivers themselves.

Also, you rarely see adults creating social media about karting themselves, so their friends rarely see them do it and aren’t encouraged to join. Everyone is waiting for someone else to create the media.

Since karting doesn’t really encourage the 30+ racer globally, it’s no surprise that you rarely see them outside of the hardcore racers, or ones that just say “sod it” and do it anyway.

1 Like