How to Become a Top Karter


By Sabré Cook June 12 2022
How to Become a Top Karter
How to Become a Top Karter
How to Become a Top Karter

As a professional driver, it's no surprise that karting was my entry point. I began karting just before I turned 8-years-old, and I was extremely blessed to have a family that built and ran their own karting track on the western slope of Colorado in Grand Junction: Grand Junction Motor Speedway. With access to unlimited track time and a family who were passionate about racing, my karting career grew. I drove and won in almost every category of modern karting – Comer 50, Mini-Max, Junior Max, TAG Junior, Senior Max, TAG Senior, Stock Honda- S1, S2, Shifter Elite, Pro Shifter, DD2, and KZ2.

I'm so thankful for the success and experiences during my professional karting career. The lessons I learned in karting built the foundation of who I am as a driver today and helped me in how I approach coaching many aspiring karters and car racers.

I'm going to share with you how I became a top karter- but also how I would have done it better! We all have things we would change in hindsight of our experiences. I hope these tips will help you be one step ahead in your development or give you a place to start if you're just breaking into it.

Learn How You Learn

Life spoiler alert, kids – learning never stops! I know you were banking on being done with it after you graduate school, but it doesn't – and that's a great thing! Learning allows us to grow and find better ways to harness success. No Learning = no Growing = no Change. What a boring life that would be! If you're reading this article and interested in racing, I assume you're not the boring type, so buckle up and let's begin.

Types of learners include visual, auditory, kinesthetic, reading, and writing. So, for example, I'm a visual, kinesthetic, writing learner, but Bob Smith down the street might be an auditory, visual learner.

Why does this matter? Say Bob wants me to coach him in his driving. For one, I need to be able to communicate with him in a tailored way that aligns with his learning style. Secondly, Bob needs to know the best way he learns so that he can adapt any material given to him and absorb it effectively.

So, what type of learner are you?

Build a Solid Foundation

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." – Albert Einstein.

When you're just beginning, it's critical to learn the basics thoroughly and comprehend them. I cannot tell you how many drivers I've worked with that have been driving/racing for years and then come to me for coaching when they can't seem to overcome a performance plateau. One of my first questions is, "Do you know the basics of X, Y, Z?" If they can't give me a clear answer or simply don't know- guess what the first thing I teach them is? THE BASICS!

This oversight happens even to kids who grew up in the sport. But unfortunately, no one took the time to tell them why they do the things they do while driving and the correct way to execute those things. Which brings me to my next point…

How to Become a Top Karter
How to Become a Top Karter

Seat Time is Crucial – but Purposeful Seat Time Builds Champions

"I'm going to go run some laps this weekend." The aspiring driver says… Seat time – that's great! But with what goal in mind? Sure, I understand testing setup changes, but what about testing specific driving techniques? I've seen karters doing this too many times. They mindlessly run laps with no particular skill development aspect in mind. How do I know? Because I made this mistake too!

Going out and running 100 laps in a day for the sake of running 100 laps- what's the point? Did you improve as a driver during these 100 laps? Conditioning-wise, yes, but skill-wise? Probably not. Now, 50 laps with absolute focus on improving a skill you're lacking? That's what develops a successful driver.

Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail

Sharpen your pencils, kids! Let's talk note-taking. I understand certain learning types don't depend on note-taking as much as others, but that's no excuse not to build and record your version of a "driving database." Take notes, draw pictures, record an audio note, take photos or videos, make up an interpretive dance… anything! All that matters is that you do it and choose a method that best suits you.

Building a comprehensive archive of information from each on-track event is essential for many reasons. They could include but are not limited to:

Future self-reference if you return to this track/vehicle

Post-event evaluation of your performance

Self-reflection on what skills you need to work on for better performance in the future

Before each event, the best drivers will set themselves up for success in many ways. They will research the track thoroughly, watch plenty of onboards with good technique, drive the track on the sim if available, and visualize the laps and performance they want!

Visualization

Part of preparation is visualization. In our brains, there's a thing called the Reticular Activating System. This system is programmed to suggest to us things our brain has seen before. This system is excellent if it reminds you from a past experience that you shouldn't touch a hot stove because you'll get burned. But it can be bad if you're at a racetrack trying to "just go faster," and all your brain has seen from experience is the wrong way you keep driving Turn 5 and Turn 9.

Maybe you took some notes after looking at data about what you need to change for those corners, but did you visualize it? You must show your body and brain the correct way. Otherwise, it defaults to what it's seen before – the wrong way!

The Mental Game

Visualization is also part of your mental preparation. One reason we prepare mentally and physically before driving is to put us into the "zone". The best way to create a zone is to find a routine that stimulates you to achieve this consistently. This routine can include a physical warm-up, self-talk, visualization, reviewing goals for that session, listening to music, putting your gear on in a certain way, dancing, petting dogs – anything that works best for you to get into the zone! Whatever you choose, just make sure it's easily repeatable so you can do it no matter the track or the track conditions.

Like the rest of these topics, I could quickly fill an entire book going over the details of mental toughness and abilities. That's why you need to do your research and see what techniques resonate with you. I also highly recommend working with a performance coach to help you manage the many mental challenges you will go through as a competitor.

Understanding Your Vehicle

As I'm also an engineer, I'm a big advocate for a driver to at least understand the basics of the vehicle they are driving. This understanding is beneficial because it will improve the quality of their feedback on setup changes and give the driver a deeper understanding of why they use specific driving techniques.

I know some great drivers don't know how to perform most of the mechanic work on their karts, but in my experience, being able to perform basic mechanical work on your kart is a skill that builds a great all-around driver. It's a great skill for life too! It also helps you appreciate what your mechanic and team do and every aspect it takes to put you on track.

Training & Fuel

Drivers are athletes, and as athletes, the stronger, faster, fitter, and healthier you are, the better you will perform.

Once I started training in the gym regularly at 13, building muscle mass and endurance, my outright speed, and race pace improved. I could also focus on better decision-making in my racecraft because I had trained my system to handle more physical stress and thus left more energy to support mental tasks.

Hand-eye coordination and reaction time were two areas I didn't realize I needed to train until I transitioned to car racing. So, if you do not include this in your training either, learn from my mistake and start now!

Now, let's talk fuel and not the fuel you put in your gas tank. Building a well-performing body is the food or "fuel" you give it. If you put cheap, crappy fuel from the gas station in your engine versus high-quality race fuel, which one will the engine performance be better with? The high-quality one, of course! So why would you approach the fuel you put into your body any differently?

Sponsorship & Your Brand

As we all know, racing is, unfortunately, pay-to-play, and sponsorships are the life force that will keep your career going. So here are some tips on what I've done and things I wish I had known sooner.

1) Build and identify your brand as early as possible.

2) Utilize social media – it's free exposure and a brand-building tool!

3) Build your network by going to races and industry events.

4) Don't go anywhere without a business card on hand.

5) Do your research!

6) Celebrate the no's; they're one step closer to that yes.

7) Figure out precisely what and how you can bring value to a sponsor.

8) Be patient; building relationships and thus sponsorships take time!

9) Keep in contact with each of your connections... a no now doesn't mean a no forever.

10) A great pitch deck is important, but it doesn't need to be perfect! All it needs to do is get you that first face-to-face encounter or phone call. That's when you can make the big play.

Remember, people do business with people. So, in the end, it's about connecting with a company's human side, getting them to fall in love with your story, and showing them how partnering with you satisfies their own personal why – or their company's why.

Build Your Dream Team

Guess what? YOU CAN'T DO THIS ALONE. Trust me, I tried. All these tips for success didn't just pop into my head one day or come solely through trial and error. Instead, I had my wonderful family, friends, mentors, and coaches to support me along the way. Oh, and the best teacher – failure.

Building a team of extraordinary individuals who share the same values, believe in you, and bring a unique skill to the table is vital for success. Whether you're an aspiring professional racer or just getting started in karting, working with the best coaches, mentors, mechanics, teams, etc., will help you get from A to Z much faster... and cheaper!

Please don't make the "cheap" mistakes I made. I get it; racing is extremely expensive, and too many times, I would keep telling myself the story, "Oh I can't afford that I'll just go without or figure out how to do it myself." All that did was take me longer and thus cost me more to get to the same goals.

Never give up

As you can see, so many aspects go into building success. There are thousands of books on all the topics I've covered... hint, hint, go read a few! But consistency is the key to using these skills to achieve your dreams. Keep showing up. Work when others won't. Work when you don't feel like it. Manifest your goals with each choice. And most importantly… never give up!

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