The car is small and so is its driver. But as 5-year-old Travis Peacock prepares to race, he looks like a speedway veteran. His father fuels the four horsepower Honda motor and checks everything one last time. Travis is ready to put the rubber to the JRG3 Racing School track. "It's a good bonding experience," his dad, Josh Peacock, said. "I like working on the car, and so does he. He likes driving it and even though we have our difficulties with learning to drive sometimes, it's a good thing."
Five seems like a young age to start an auto racing career, but that's the minimum age to begin Quarter Midget go-cart racing and the time that many kids get their start.
In Travis's case, his training started sooner. Each driver has to complete a training course and learn how to drive the cart before he can race. Travis started his training while he was still 4 and was driving for three months before he was eligible to compete.
The commitment to Quarter Midget racing that Travis's family makes is considerable. Aside from investing thousands of dollars in the cart, equipment to maintain it, a trailer and gear for the young driver, the Peacocks make the drive to the Apollo Beach racetrack from Land O'Lakes every other week.
"It's a lot more expensive than football or baseball, that's for sure," Peacock said. "Pulling a trailer, it's an hour drive from where we live, but it's worth it. We have a lot of fun out here."
Like most kinds of racing, money brings results. Due to the financial demands of the sport, different families have different levels of commitment. J.R. Garcia started the JRG3 racing school 12 years ago and has seen all different levels of investment in the sport.
"You can race economical, but it costs money to win," Garcia said. "It's an affordable sport if you just want to have fun, but you have to spend to go fast. It gets stupid sometimes. I've seen guys that buy four or five sets of tires to race on. That's not necessary, but it happens."
The Peacocks are working on a moderate budget by the sport's standards, but have found some success. In May, Travis won twice in one night with a cart that cost his father $1,600.
For his parents, the price seems worth paying as the Quarter Midget Racing Association provides a road to Travis's dream of driving in NASCAR.
"I want to drive at Daytona," Travis said. "I love racing and I want to be a good driver like Carl Edwards or Tony Stewart."
Making that dream a possibility is something that has given Josh Peacock a new respect and understanding of what it takes to race.
"It's a lot of work," Peacock said. "You're constantly fixing stuff, cleaning, and tearing stuff down. It makes you realize how much goes into running one of these things."
The reward isn't just for the youngsters behind the wheel, however, as parents and family members become part of a small community of people willing to help each other.
Kelli Geary has been around the racing school since 2005, when her son began to race, and has become deeply involved in the community as its publicity director.
"The camaraderie here is incredible," Geary said. "There are people here from all over the state but if a driver spins out, everyone comes together to help get them back on the track. It's a very close-knit group."
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