Getting involved in Youth ATV racing

Sep. 01, 2002 By George Szappanos
As an avid former racer and part time current racer I was not at all patient about getting my kids into racing quads. I'll be the first to admit that I'd be hard pressed to explain the difference between a knuckle ball and a bowling ball, or how many innings there are in the SuperBowl... so while the other neighborhood kids are playing catch with their dads, my boys are busy polishing their late-braking skills and jumping prowess. Trail riding together on the weekends is heaven, but racing together is the icing on the cake.  

I'm sure some of you are quietly nodding your heads in empathetic agreement, but many of the rest are aghast at the thought of letting kindergarteners race machines weighing 3-times as much their peewee pilots, at speeds much in excess of the top speed of a grown man. But given the right preparation it's no more dangerous than sled riding or skateboarding. And the personal satisfaction and reward offered to the racer can build lasting confidence and pride, given the right mindset. At this stage of the game finishing well is relatively insignificant. It's the accomplishment of having raced that's important.

This article is meant to offer some insight into the preparation required to ready a racer and machine for their first racing event- both mechanically, and in mind. I am the father of two boys ages 5 and 7 that recently had the opportunity to enter a local motocross race. Both are avid quadsters having been on 4 wheels for more than a year (20% of their life?). The younger is the daredevil, born-to-be-racer. The older is the more cautious, methodical, careful one. They each required their own specialized guidance in their respective racing endeavors.

Machine Preparation

Making sure the quad is thoroughly inspected before race day is critical, both from a safety standpoint as well as a competitive one. The last place you want to break something or find a missing or loose bolt is after psyching your kid up for the whole thing, spending 30 bucks in entrance fees, and driving an hour just to watch others race around the track. Invite your racer to help- it's as good a time as any to get buy in and demonstrate commitment.

Top off the gas tank and oil reservoir, and check your tire pressures. Pop a new spark plug in if your machine has a reputation of being finicky.  

Most racing associations and tracks will require you to install a safety tether which is basically a switch that kills the motor when a cord attached to the rider detaches from the handlebars- much like personal watercraft. You can also use the training tether many mini-quads already have. Just connect the end of it to the riders pants.  

The other item most tracks will require is a rear number plate. Generally, a piece of white plastic about 8x10 with two holes near the top zip-tied to the rear grab bar will suffice. Add a 6" black 1 or 2 digit number of his/her liking to the plate.

Rider Preparation

The single most important thing you can do especially for a racer that's apprehensive is to give him the opportunity to practice in a race-type setting. Not in grampa's backyard or the local trail. At a race track. Find out when practice time is offered and spend some time on a real motocross track, just like the real thing just without the hoopla of race day.   

P8160003.jpg (125948 bytes) Start him out slow using the throttle limiter. It's better to have the machine be the limitation on speed than the rider. It'll force him to make better use of what power is available and concentrate on perfecting his riding skills instead of exploring his limits of control. Gradually add more throttle as his skills develop.  

This is the time to inundate him with encouragement. He's likely to be very self-conscious and insecure about his racing competence. Greet him at corners and provide positive feedback and enthusiasm.   

It's a good idea to bring him in every 15 minutes or so to debrief and discuss how he feels about his riding. Don't overdo the coaching. Racing at this level is all about fun. It's later on that we turn them into ruthless, competitive fiends. ;)


Obviously, a helmet is a necessity but here's a list of other gear either required or recommended for racing.  

Most race tracks will require motocross boots. Some will allow hard soled over the ankle type work boots, but they really don't offer the protection of proper riding boots. Decent boots can be had for about $90 new or cheaper if you can find them on an internet based auction.  

Goggles if not required are common sense. Get a pair. Same goes for gloves.  

Chest protectors are a good idea. They can prevent injuries to the collarbone and chest area should the rider part company with the quad, or should he slam his chest into the handlebars. 

Race Day

At long last, race day. Probably as many butterflies as the first day of school. Not to worry, that's what makes it fun.   

Usually, tracks will start out with a few laps of practice. For kids this is imperative so as to get comfortable with the layout of the track. You can even walk the track beforehand to get a preview of the course.   

After practice, usually a racers' meeting follows. The class running order is laid out along with other pertinent racing details. Make a mental note (or written) of when his class races and which class(es) race immediately before.  

The moment of truth. His class is staging. Get him prepared early so in the event the goggles are misplaced or the quad won't start you'll have time to recover. Provide some last minute encouragement, but don't overdo it now. (And forget about the holeshot- it ain't gonna happen.) Let it all sink in. By now that little heart is beating like hummingbird's.  

Help him stage at the starting gate. If there's no actual gate the start may be a little odd (no "mark, get set, go"). Just a sudden dash of quads leaving the start for no apparent reason even though the starter has given the "go" signal. (Both my kids left late not knowing what the actual starting cue was.) Don't worry about it. For them it's probably more fun trying to catch up and pass slower riders than leaving in a fury of tires and dust heading for the first corner.  

At this point all you can do is watch. Try to find a corner to watch from and shout out to him to offer encouragement.  If he crashes, biffs, or stalls brush him off, ask if he's OK, and get him back on. Finishing is important, not where you finish.

Finding a local race  

Unless dad (or mom) is already involved in motorcycle racing, finding some organized competition may take some doing. A good place to start is the American Motorcycle Association's (AMA) ATV body, the ATVA, whose site is at Use their Racing pages to locate an event near you. Another more traditional approach is to call or visit your local motorcycle dealerships. And as a last resort, search the internet for "ATV racing" + "your state". Good luck! Newsletter
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