Need advice-driver has fear of passing

My son is 12, and we just started racing last year. Currently running lo206. He is capable of running towards the front of the pack as far as lap times, but doesnt usually qualify that well so he starts in the middle of the pack. But he has a mental block on passing. He made a bad pass last year and took out another driver, and it’s been all bad ever since. The only time he will complete a pass is on the straight, and if he’s clear of the other kart. If he’s on the inside and fully along side the other kart he will back out. It’s frustrating watching him follow another kart that’s 2 seconds a lap slower and not pass. I don’t know what to do or how to get him past this. We have talked about it over and over and he always says he’s afraid he’ll cause a wreck and hurt someone. Or that he’ll get penalized for rough driving. We’ve watched videos on passing. I’ve explained to him about getting position on the inside of the turn and boxing out the other kart. Nothing helps. I’m at a loss. Advice?


Im interested to see other dad/mom responses. I’m more interested in hearing personal responses from folks who have climbed this hurdle and how they did it.
I have some thoughts as I have always been “cautious” but I’ll wait to see what other suggestions are voiced before throwing my hat in the ring.

Hi Kevin,

I deal with this problem all the time, it’s not uncommon and I know lots of drivers who overcame it and went on to huge success.

Here’s some of the ideas I use.

  1. Work on braking first: Drivers need absolute confidence in braking late, and even braking too late. They often feel like they can mess up in the braking zone during an overtake and cause an accident.

Free chapter on braking

  1. Look into the gap: That means when they position themselves to make a move they need to focus their eyes and mind on the apex of the corner. Often they are in position to pass but their mind is focused on the wrong thing, which is the driver they want to pass. When you focus on the other driver, you are looking for danger signs in order to avoid problems. Instead, you need to focus on winning the race to the apex and hand over responsibility for danger to the other driver.

  2. Quit half moves: This means choosing one or two corners where overtaking moves are relatively easy, and quitting changing your racing line in order to have a look at a pass. This ensures you don’t lose time making moves that don’t come off, and increases the possibility of making good moves.

Also, don’t worry about making moves that don’t stick… if you make a pass and the other guy gets you back on the exit of the corner don’t worry - you are practising passes and you’ll get better and better.


Thanks for the advice Terence. I bought your book last month and we have both read it. It’s awesome and helped us in other areas, especially communication.

One of the first things we worked on when he started driving was brake control. He’s gotten really good at it, getting right up to the edge when the tires chirp but not locking up. He also taught himself how to trail brake. He can hang the rear end out going into a corner if he wants and keep it under control. But he quickly learned it’s not necessarily the fastest way around the track. He could easily outbrake most of the guys in his class to make a pass if he wanted to. I see them letting off or braking 25 plus feet before they have to. But he just brakes when they do and stays in line.

I asked him if we’re there to win or just have fun. He wants to win. I said either you have to qualify on pole and win from the front, or learn to pass. Bottom line.

Ok that’s great, that means you can focus on the other stuff.

I would guess that he isn’t really happy handing over responsibility to the other driver when he makes a move. That’s the problematic thing with overtaking, you have to share responsibility and control over a situation with someone else - and if you have an acute sensitivity to danger the last thing you want to do is share responsibility for your safety with someone else, especially if you know they have less skill than you (which is why you caught up with them)

So, I would suggest that you work on how it is possible for you son to increase his perception of his control over the situation, and also lessen his perception of danger and consequences.

I would start by asking him to spell out in fine detail what he sees as potential problems for the overtakes he backs out of, without challenging him. Then he can formulate ways to reduce the potential risks and work on his own skills to mitigate against specific problems. For ones that he can’t find an answer to post on here perhaps, and you’ll get a ton of solutions.


Hi Kevin,
I agree 100% with what Mr. Dove said, but it might also be useful to dig around under the hood a little deeper, so a little more information would be helpful:

  • Could you describe the whole ‘bad pass’ scenario that happened last year? That might give us an idea of what he’s churning around in his mind.

  • Has your son been taken out… yet?

  • Does your son play any other sports where he could potentially (but accidently) hurt someone, like football, hockey, baseball, etc.?

  • Most people care about what their peers or others they care about think, but do you think your son cares what others think of him more than the average person?

It sounds like the bottom line is that he made 1 significant passing mistake in his FIRST year of karting. If that’s the case, then it seem like he’s holding himself to an unreasonable, unattainable, and unfun level of passing perfection, especially considering his level of experience. Heck, watch the first turn of almost any F1 or Indy Car race and you will see hugely experienced drivers who cannot achieve the level of perfection your son is asking of himself.

If he really wants to race, and really cares about being competitive and winning, then he’ll need to come to grips with the fact that each opportunity to drive or make up a position, holds within it the opportunity to make a mistake. It sounds like your son thinks the left image is how things work.
I learned more from my mistakes than from my successes, and about 40 years down the road from when I first started racing, I remember the discoveries and epiphanies along the way a lot more than the race wins and lap records.

Anyway, this is probably too much for a 12 year old, but an article I wrote about confidence also describes some potential internal conflicts and how to resolve them, so maybe you could have a look and distill whatever (if any) you think would be useful for him.

Another thing I would try is a physical approach. I have an article about Race Walking here:

You and your son should Race Walk against each other all of the time. Practice block passes, crossover moves, etc. etc, when you’re walking through, your house, around the mall, through the paddock. It’s constant and free race craft training.

Years ago, my friend and I would Race Walk through the factory we worked in to get to the break room for coffee or lunch. No one could tell what we were doing, but we would subtly change positions from outside to inside (if the ‘leader’ didn’t take a defensive line), and go in deep for a pass at the apex to the ‘corner’ where we headed up the stairs. If the passer went in too deep, then there was a crossover move coming followed by a defensive line into the next corner; a 180 degree corner that lead up to the next flight of stairs… it was great fun and great training.


Maybe he feels too much pressure during the race?

One thing that can really raise confidence is just going out to play and practice overtaking moves with a friend on a quiet day at the track. Do some lead follow, create opportunities for each other to pass and or practice forcing the issue a little, even practice holding each other up. Any tactics you can think of. Just generally spar on the track, having some fun trying to outdo each other.

I’ll probably get some flack for this, but rental karts can be great for this because of the wraparound bodywork. You can try out some different moves to see what works without contact and what doesn’t. Of course, you need to be aware of that when you get back in your racing kart.


Thanks for all the replies guys. It gives me a lot to try and think about. I love the idea of race walking. That sounds fun and he can learn from it.

Warren, he was coming down a long straight into a hairpin. He basically just threw the kart to the inside and whacked the rear bumper of the kart in front. Took them both out of the race and put the other driver in the hay bales. She hurt her hand and the paramedics had to take a look at it. And it doesn’t help that she’s a track friend of his. He still brings it up and feels guilty.

Yes he has been taken out both accidentally and intentionally. He’s really easy going and doesn’t get mad easily so he just shrugged it off. I wish I had his temperament. I was pretty pissed about the intentional one on the last lap. But that’s another discussion.

He can’t play contact sports due to a inner ear malfomality that he was born with. If he gets hit hard in the head he could lose his hearing completely on that side. He only has 40 percent in that ear as it is. I know there’s risk in everything but I figure less of a chance in karting than dirt biking or football.

Yes I think he cares more than normal what others think about him. There is a clique at the track of his peers, and they won’t accept him. They make fun of him behind his back but I know he knows it. I told him to get back at them by beating them on the track. But even though he’s pretty laid back, he won’t tolerate bullying to his face. He doesn’t take any crap. Which I encourage. I hate bullies.

And thank you for the links to the articles. I will be reading them today.


It’s likely a maturity thing. I had the same issue as a kid and young adult. It sounds like his skill level is where it needs to be. Is he confident in his driving? Sounds like he knows he can get around the track just fine.

In my personal experience I had to get to the point of wanting it bad enough that I was able to force myself to take the steps.

It’s like dropping in on a wave or a vert ramp for the first time…It’s really scary and you know you are probably going to fail and face plant. So you stand at the top of the ramp looking down trying to get the nerve up. There’s a bunch of demons you are battling in your head as you try to will yourself to do something while your brain’s programming is yelling “NO”.

There’s a lot going on at a personal level. Your self-esteem is being called into play and not taking action erodes self confidence. You know you can, but you get increasingly frustrated with yourself.

At some point you realize that you have to make a decision, commit or quit, either is good. If he really wants to compete in something, he will get to the point where he understands the crossroads he’s at and will make a decision.

As far as I see it, your job is to shepherd him to that point and hopefully have given him the support that he needs, and step back and see what happens.

In my case, it was able to push through my fears after I decided that not going for it wasn’t something that I wanted to live with. I worked through it by setting achievable goals. Basically challenging myself to progressively drop in on bigger waves. I knew it would take time to get where I wanted to be but I understood that I had to force myself to make progress in a way I could live with, with some measure of CONTROL of the situation. Eventually what was scary became the new normal.

I wish I had something actionable for you. Maybe just talking to him about his fears and what he wants to get out of racing would help. Perhaps articulating those things will help him find the courage to decide what he wants and to understand his limitations and begin thinking about how to break through them. Maybe he’s just not ready yet, and needs to keep building confidence in his core abilities.

Warren speaks about Sensation of Speed in his musings about racing. There’s also sensation of risk, IMHO. Sounds like your boy and I are kindred spirits, we are OK with the “go fast” part, we gotta work on the “go by” part. Our sense of risk needs to come up to meet our abilities.

If it’s any help, at 12 Nick was hesitant and insecure on track. At 13 he has become much more assertive and confident. Not sure what changed other than him getting older.

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Another thought:
We might be barking up the wrong tree and overthinking this.
He might not have any “fear” for himself, he might solely be afraid of “hurting others”.

In which case, totally different discussion.


Dom I think you hit the nail on the head. He’s never said he’s worried about getting hurt. It’s always about hurting someone else. And I’m sure to a certain extent he’s concerned about how he looks in the eyes of his peers. They mostly shun him as it is. If he takes one of them out then he’ll be ostracized even more.

He has confidence in his driving ability. His self esteem has increased exponentially since we started karting. Once he started winning races last year it has done wonders.

And getting back to the passing situation. Since he figures that passing on the outside is “safer”, that’s what he tried to do until recently. He’s been punted into the bales numerous times trying that. He almost flipped at 45 mph in a high speed sweeper trying an outside pass. It didn’t scare him one bit. But I had to put my foot down and say no more. No outside passes until he gets more experience. And we all know how they usually work out. Not good for the guy outside.

Dom wrote “There’s also sensation of risk, IMHO.” I think, you are 100% correct, but the sensation of risk is erroneously labeled ‘confidence.’ I’ve always viewed confidence as tool my mind uses against me to keep me from venturing beyond what it perceives is ‘safe’ into what I’m really capable of. If I want to perform beyond the limitations of my confidence, I have to take charge of programming my brain with the definitions of what REALLY IS and REALLY IS NOY safe. Anyway, that’s what the Confidence for Racers article is about.

Hi Kevin, so it sounds like the actual mistake was really not that ‘bad’; just a misjudgment of position or closing speed or both, and just bad luck/circumstances that his friend got dinged up slightly. Does the other driver hold a grudge, and if not has your son ever talked to her about how she felt/feels about the crash? I could be off base, but It seems like your son is constantly rehashing his very minor (but entirely typical) mistake, and as a result is treating himself like (or working overtime to not become - in his own mind) public enemy #1, when in all likelihood the ‘victim’ has forgiven him for a typical ‘racing incident’ long ago.

Maybe ask him straight up, “Think back to the crash; knowing the experience you’ve gained in the last ‘n’ months or ‘n’ races, and the skill set you’ve honed using Terence’s book, what % chance is there that you would make that same mistake again?”

Since he has been taken out, ask him to think about why he seems to be able to forgive (or at least not hold a grudge against) the other drivers… even when it’s not a ‘mistake’, but he can’t/won’t forgive himself for an honest mistake made when he was first learning his craft?

Your son’s inner ear situation is very interesting because he’s performing very well in the kart, which requires a significant contribution from the vestibular sense (sense of motion, acceleration, etc.), but the vestibular sense organs are in the inner ear.

I’m sure a lot of the bullying is because of this “we just started racing last year. Currently running lo206. He is capable of running towards the front of the pack as far as lap times” There’s nothing like threatening the pecking order to piss off the local establishment.:face_with_raised_eyebrow:

In addition to the other excellent suggestions that have come from other contributors before, I would suggest:

  • Ask him if he realizes that the mistake he made last season does not = he is a reckless or bad driver/person. If he does realize that, then ask him to forgive himself for his mistake and get on with pursuing his goals.
  • Ask him to accept the fact that everyone who straps on a helmet makes mistakes, and everyone on track knows mistakes happen. If mistakes are of the ‘honest’ and infrequent variety, then most competitors will accept an apology.
  • Finally regarding his concern about, getting a rough driving penalty; it sounds like in his mind ‘rough driving penalty’ = branded as a BAD PERSON. Maybe have him read the bit below from IndyCar announcer and steward Jon Beekhuis for some perspective on penalties:

Early in his racing career, Jon Beekhuis received a penalty and was placed on probation for over-aggressive driving. Indirectly, years later that period has played a role in the NBCSN broadcaster moving into a steward position in Race Control for the final two Verizon IndyCar Series events of the season.
“Looking back now, I think that was a good thing,” said Beekhuis, who was the 1988 Indy Lights champion and competed in CART among other racing series. “By nature, all drivers will push the envelope whatever the cost. An official’s job is to communicate as best as possible where these limits lie. In my opinion drivers will stay inside these lines as long as they believe everyone is being held to the same standard.


What he (Warren) said!

I agree that it sounds a bit like if he’s winning Races and he’s new… that’s a bigass target on his back. He’s a threat and kids can be, well, jerks.

Maybe he needs a little bit of “I’m TJ [email protected] KOYEN” attitude! (Which is a stretch when you are just a kid who wants to be liked by other kids).

This likely has nothing to do with driving or racing but everything to do with a boy finding his place. I’d be curious to find out if he’s actually worried about “hurting” others or more worried about “hurting feelings”. (Edit: I’m not poo-pooing how important that is in any way)


Your son’s inner ear situation is very interesting because he’s performing very well in the kart, which requires a significant contribution from the vestibular sense (sense of motion, acceleration, etc.), but the vestibular sense organs are in the inner ear.

I’ve wondered that myself. He had physical therapy for 5 years because of the concern for his balance and movement. Has worked wonders for sure.

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Kevin, I was in a similar situation with my 11 yr old daughter. We’re in our 4th year of racing, and she wasn’t where I thought she should be with how long she had been racing. However, early on there were several incidents that caused her to be very cautious. I know that some of the faster kids/parents didn’t take her seriously being that she was slower than them, and she didn’t like that. For us, it was just patience, positive reinforcement and trying to instill the self confidence in her to do it. We’ve really put in a lot of laps this last year, and the last few times at our home track she has gone faster than she ever has, and by a lot. In fact, I posted a video the other day of her making a pass for the lead, and this was a pass that I don’t think she would have made 2 months ago. She used to back out of every potential pass that was not 100% sure, but now she is showing more self confidence in making the passes. One thing she did say to me after she made the pass was that she did it Formula 1 style, since she has been watching F1 over the past year.

So basically, have patience and constantly let him know that he can do it, and build that self confidence. He has self doubt right now do to the incident last year.

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Everyone has pretty much covered it all. I’ll just throw in the “it can take some time”

When my son started the first few years were tough. He would show bits that made me think he had what it takes to race followed by holy hell what is that. LOL

It’s all about confidence, both with themselves and the others around them. Once the confidence begins to creep in, you will see a much different person on the track. Ultimately that spills over to off track and is a great thing.

Using many of the above mentioned tools your son will get there and when it happens it’s like a light switch. Be ready, your cheeks are going to hurt from smiling. :smile: Don’t push to hard and just remember to make it fun. If it’s not fun, it’ll become a drag on both of you.

Good Luck!

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Yes, that’s a super important point. Also, it sometimes completely reverses overnight so much so that you might be back at some point asking for help to calm him down!

I have one more thing to add as someone hinted at it.
My son is 13 and road races with guys twice his age at what his mother deems ridiculous speeds. He can do this because he and the other drivers trust each other. At 12 I am guess he is in the sportsman class and there are trust issues there, everyone is still learning the basics. He will have to learn to trust himself and the other drivers. LIke Don said it can take some time to build the confidence in himself and others.

If you don’t already get a gopro or something like that, its a great tool to walk though race action, what happened, why he did things. Mostly just listen, keep the pressure to pass low and offer hints, suggestions, and possibilities.

I love this attitude.


I can solve this for you, easily. Find an experienced senior racer you trust. Somebody that is a badass. Put your kid on the track with them for some 1 on 1 sessions. Practice all different kinds of passes. Your son will learn when a pass is a go, and when it’s a no-go. He’ll learn how close he can get. When to lift and when to stick it in. Repition, and seeing how these last millisecond passes develop, will help him get over the hump. A good Sr driver will likely have gone through something similar at a young age and will know exactly what to do. Good luck