WIMAUMA — They want to grow up to be NASCAR drivers, racing at 185 mph past 150,000 screaming fans.
They talk about crashes where they flip over, slam into the wall, or lose a muffler.
Members of the Tampa Bay Quarter Midget Racing Association start small and dream big. "All my friends at school are like, 'Yeah, right, you don't race anything,' " 11-year-old Teddy Lively said.
Teddy, a student at Beth Shields Middle School, is one of about 50 kids younger than 16 who gather most weekends at the 10th-of-a-mile track at Ambassador Racing School in Wimauma to race small go-carts called quarter midgets.
The cars are smaller versions of those driven in regular cart racing, a sport that launched big-time stars such as Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick.
The public can take a test drive on the quarter midgets Sunday at the Ambassador track. The event costs $20 and is open to kids 5 to 16.
"People think it's just kids going out there, driving around in circles, growing up to be rednecks," said Doug Menendez, whose 13-year-old son, Cameron, races.
But parents say racing builds self-confidence and is safer than some other youth sports. "They feel better about themselves," said Teddy Lively Jr., the father of Teddy and his 9-year-old brother, Trey.
The Livelys of Ruskin have a special trailer to carry the boys' three go-carts and extra parts and safety gear.
Quarter Midgets of America, the national governing body, counts 4,000 drivers and 49 local clubs nationwide. The only other Florida club is in New Smyrna Beach. Used carts cost $1,500 and up. Dads say a typical race ends up costing about $200 in entry fees, tires and other parts.
Cameron Menendez, who lives in South Tampa and attends Coleman Middle School, hopes to move up to truck racing or some other NASCAR stepping stone when he turns 16. He cringes when his dad talks about all the die-cast race cars he had when he was little. "I just enjoy driving and being competitive," Cameron said. "I like the speed and stuff."
Quarter midgets reach top speeds of about 45 mph, but tight turns and competitive drivers make crashes inevitable. Drivers wear full fire suits, helmets and other protective gear.
"I think it scares the moms and dads more than the kids," said Kelli Geary, who serves on the Tampa Bay Quarter Midget Racing Association's board.
Jan Wesner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 661-2439.