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Driving Ahead

Kids thriving on the Regional, National and World Motorsports Stage

By Kent Smith

Photography by Karen Smith

If I were to ask you to name some local Idahoans who were top competitors in their sports, you might point out leaders like Kristin Armstrong, two-time gold medalist in the women’s independent time-trial. If I were to point to a sport such as go-kart racing, you might even laugh at me. Despite the lack of coverage or awareness of the sport, legitimate go-kart racing is actually the most popular form of motorsport. Even professional drivers in NASCAR and F1 practice in amped up go-karts during their off-season in order to keep their skills sharp. These karts aren’t like the typical one you will find at Wahooz, either. These karts are specialized racing machines, capable of speeds in excess of 75 mph and cornering unlike any other motor vehicle.

In the fall of 2013, eleven year-old Sting Ray Robb pulls his Arai helmet on, latches his chin strap, and slides into his fiberglass racing seat. He resets his onboard computer, and slips on his gloves as his coach gives him the signal to start his engine, which fires to life instantly with a surprising amount of noise for such a small machine. He’s motioned to take the track, and the Treasure Valley native guides his lightweight, high performance Italian racing kart out in front of 31 other drivers from around the country. In 2013 he captured the Rotax CanAm challenge, the Challenge of the Americas, the Western Canadian Championship, and more, earning his spot on Team USA for the world finals, where he qualified at an incredible 3rd place.

About the same time his good friend, and another local, Stafford Smith, 15, is doing the same thing, yet hundreds of miles to the north. He not only has to win to clinch the championship in Spokane, he’s suffering from an energy-zapping viral infection. The official signals the drivers to take the track; the Canadian raised in Eagle flips down his visor, and his steel blue eyes disappear behind the black tint as he leads the pack. Stafford pulled away from the start and won the race handily, capturing the championship and his 7th victory on 14 series races.

Although competitive kart racing is the most popular form of motorsport in the world, it’s hard to notice in the Treasure Valley. The local track is tucked away two miles north of Star, although I’m sure you’ve never heard of it. Karting classes differ depending on the driver’s age and skill level. As kids progress, so does the power, speed, and complexity of their karts. The local club, The Snake River Karters, has drivers aged 5 to 67 contesting in seven classes. The sport’s allure is a mix of sheer thrill, a sense of community, and strategy.

Stafford’s dad, Kent, comments, “What else can do you do that a teenager still thinks it’s cool to hang with parents?” Karting teaches mechanical skills, problem solving and—unlike video games—demands physical fitness and teaches respect for speed.

“Get off the couch,” jokes Sting Ray, “Live a little.”

Sting Ray began karting on his 5th birthday at the track in Star; Stafford, at 11, began at Fast Lane, Boise’s indoor kart track, before adding outdoor karting to his repertoire three years ago. Stafford notched up his first IKF national title in 2013, whereas Sting Ray won CanAm series earning a spot on USA’s world team where he qualified third. E Karting News ranked Sting Ray number 1 in the US compared with over 100 racers competing in his class in Rotax MiniMax. Despite this prestige, he chose to move up to Junior Rotax where he’s often the youngest driver. Racing at such a high level has become a total family effort and the investment in time and money is large to compete at the level the boys do. Despite this, the families are happy.

“We’re living the dream,” says dad Larry Robb, who co-owns Red Apple with Sting Ray’s #1 fan, mom Kimmie Serrano.

“It’s all family time.”

Sting Ray raced at 40 different tracks in 2014, from Chilliwack, B.C., to Lonato, Italy.

Both kids are dedicated to racing, but remain active in other sports. Sting Ray plays Baseball, Basketball, Soccer, golf, and Skis. Stafford plays Rugby for Nakahi, airsoft for AoA, and drums in the Eagle High School Marching band. He also coaches young drivers at Fast Lane. Meet both kids you’ll immediately recognize they are in top shape. They are excellent students as well. This is no coincidence—success in motorsports requires talent, grace under pressure, discipline, and problem solving skills.  

While both teenagers dream of becoming a professional driver, they also have more practical career goals. Ask them about careers and they’ll both say mechanical engineering. All three are dedicated Idahoans, and they are hoping to see the planned Avimore light industrial and motorsports complex to come to life.

“Work and play and stay in Idaho,” Stafford says. “Forget Detroit.”

Both boys will compete in the Rotax CanAm championships in 2014, hoping to secure spots on Team USA for the world championship in Africa this November, as well as a myriad of other local and national events.

You can learn more about karting and sponsor opportunities by contacting by Red Apple Racing’s Larry Robb at 6t6stingray@gmail.com

 

Driver Sting Ray Robb Stafford Smith
School 6th Grade, Blair University in Eagle. Sophomore, Eagle High School
Age 11 15
Height 5’4” 5’8”
Weight 100lbs 145lbs
2013 Titles Champion, Challenge of the Americas (COTA), Champion, RotaxMax Northwest Challenge, Winner, Western Canadian Championship; PanAm Co-Champion;  Rotax “Shoot Out” Winner; Team USA, Qualified 3rd at Rotax World Finals.   Former 3x time IKF Grand National champion. IKF Grand National, Regional Gold Cup, & Club Championships for Junior 2 Animal Class.  Nominee Gold Cup Mechanic of the Year.
Sponsors Red Apple Marketplace, X Fast Lane Indoor Karting, Buda Juice, XXXX

The Karts

Model:                                    Tony Kart EVRR

Engine:                                    Rotax by Black Racing Engines

Power:                                    24hp @ 13,500 rpm

Weight:                                    315lbs with driver

Top Speed                  75mph +

Cornering;                  2gs +