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August 2, 2013

They’re young, but the ‘Quarter Midgets’ sure know how to race

TERRE HAUTE — Some kids take up baseball. Some choose soccer. Others basketball. But some kids choose racing as a sport even though some are not old enough to drive.

Beneath the warm summer sun, the sound of roaring motors filled the Hulman Mini-Speedway on Thursday as racers aged 5 to 16 drove their Quarter Midget cars in circles around the 1⁄20-mile dirt track, competing  in racing events at The Quarter Midgets of America’s 2013 DIRT Grand Nationals on South 13th Street.

Terre Haute is welcoming hundreds of drivers and their families from all over the country at the week-long event for the sixth time the event has come to town.

“Terre Haute has actually hosted it more than any other club in the country,” said Mick Landes, president of the Terre Haute Quarter Midget Association.

“I think we’ve got such a nice facility, we put on a good show, and got a lot of good [club] members,” who put the event together, he said.

He added the event has also received support from local businesses, with First Financial Bank as the title sponsor again this year.

Hulman Mini Speedway, according to the Terre Haute Quarter Midget Association website, is the oldest continuously operating dirt quarter midget track in the United States and Canada. It has been home to the Terre Haute Quarter Midget Association since 1956.

 The cars these young people drive are called quarter midgets, quarter-sized versions of full-fledged midget racers.

 Drivers at the track Thursday ran an average speed of 35 miles per hour.

 One driver is 15-year-old Brandon Smith, who won the national championship in Sacramento, Calif., last year.

He is determined to defend his title. “That’s what I’m working on,” he said.

His inspiration?

“I’ve always just been really driven to be the best at whatever I do,” said the resident of Christian County in Illinois, who is in his 10th year of racing quarter midgets.

Brandon started racing at 5 when he was encouraged to join by “a kid from my school that raced.”

“He always talked about it,” he said. Afterward, he tried it out, got a car and just found a passion.

“It’s an adrenaline rush. When you do good, you feel really accomplished,” Brandon said.

And he has learned some things along the way.

 “It just builds a great character in a person,” he said.  “It teaches a lot of sportsmanship.”

And he is getting a lot of support from his parents, who accompanied him to the event.

“You just support them. Stand by them. They do their best,” said Brandon’s mother, Lorri Smith.

Smith said her husband initially wanted Brandon to race motorcycles to follow in his footsteps.

“No. Four wheels are better than two,” she apparently told her family.

To which her son added: “Use your head and not do anything that is too wild and crazy to get you hurt. Still, Brandon said, his car has flipped “many times” while on the track.

And these accidents happen when least expected.

“It’s [flipping] always kind of random,” he said adding that drivers all of a sudden ask themselves, “why is everything upside down?”

But safety is not taken lightly by the organizers.

“Safety is our number one concern,” Landes said. Race clothing, helmets, gloves, neck braces and arm restraints are among the list of required safety gear for drivers.

At the track, quarter midgets can go off to the side to resolve equipment issues before a race.

This is one of the reasons driver Wyatt Kennedy likes the Hulman Mini-Speedway.

“They make sure you’re as safe as possible,” he said, calling the staff and organizers “helpful.”

“This is my home track,” said the 13-year-old, who has been racing for eight years.

Wyatt started racing at 5 after he saw a quarter midget at the back of a family friend’s truck. At that time, he was playing baseball and hockey.

It was new and different for him. Just like other drivers, he started novice classes at a nearby track in their home at Palestine, Ill.

And the sport allows him to spend time with his family. His mother and father accompanied him to the event.

“It’s something the family enjoys,” Wyatt said. “It’s fun. I make a lot of new friends from different places.”

One such friend is 15-year-old Skyler Bray of Columbus, Ohio, who stood beside Wyatt as he got his car ready for the next race.

“We try not to hurt each other’s cars,” Skyler said.

He said they are friends off the track, but on the track they are competitors.

“It’s mostly fun. Trying to just win. If you don’t win, you don’t win. You can’t win them all,” he said.

“It’s a fun thing to do. Sometimes, it can be pretty dangerous, though,” said Sklyer, who called himself “a daredevil.”

Daredevils or not, Landes said, “It’s a very competitive sport but it is also family-oriented.”

“The biggest thing they get is good sportsmanship ... and they make friends for a lifetime,” Landes said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or


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