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Last weekend at Rissy, we spent a lot of time with a new novice. We’d seen him touring around two weeks ago at Shenington with Will and, while I spoke to his mum at Shenington - just a few words before the final, that it would be OK to go on the grid to wish him good luck - it got me back to thinking of all the novices I’d seen in the previous year, and indeed our first experience with Henry at M4 Karting.
Your child will not win their first race
I won’t lie, when we started cadet karting it was on the back of doing hire karts at Buckmore Park, where William had won several races and Henry bagged “rookie of the year”. So I knew our kids weren’t slow. I went into our first race at Clay with William expecting at least a novice trophy - after all, it’s not like he couldn’t drive. So it was a bit of a shock when he finished second to last.
I was disappointed and equally surprised to hear TP say he’d done really well. I was more surprised to find out that one of our team’s Super One drivers was lapped in his first race. Will wasn’t. But even so I was wondering if we’d made the jump too early, even if it was the right thing to do.
Henry, who I’d had higher expectations for, faired similarly. One TP I heard bemoaning his cadet’s dad at Camberley for unrealistic expectations. I said “he’ll soon learn”!
There are miles between hire karts - particularly those for kids - and proper karts. And those at the front have been doing it for longer, and probably also have bigger budgets. New set of tyres each meeting? We’re still running some from August. That we bought used.
That’s not to say it can’t happen. I’ve seen a novice running in the top 2 at Rissington. Once. But he was “special” (see * below).
But remember that a novice is someone who hasn’t had their licence upgraded. It’s not necessarily their first race - it could be their 6th. Or their 10th if they’ve not handed the forms in.
Whilst your child may have their own goals, as a parent it helps to set your own - possibly more lenient - goals. The novice I mentioned was lapped 3 times, I think, at Shenington At Rissy he was not lapped. His mum - and anyone else who saw him - recognised that it was a huge achievement. He was only 3-4s off the pace of the leaders compared with 7-8s at Shenington.
I’m not sure what goals his mum had set him, but when he finished the final - in tears - she reassured him that he’d met every single one of them. His personal goal was probably to walk away with the novice cup and he was upset about that, but still, no novice cup in your second meeting isn’t unusual.
I really liked the way his mum dealt with his upset. It would be nice to see more of that.
Trust your child’s judgement
Take a step back for a minute and think what a cadet kart is, and what it can do. It’s a metal frame, a few mm above tarmac that can hit over 60mph. If you’re someone who has only ever raced hire karts - like me - take your kids to somewhere like Clay on an open test day and go on with them. See the difference. They WILL be faster than you. Even if you can go flat from the Horseshoe to Billy’s - which took me several sessions - they will still be faster.
And then think. It was hard for me - someone who has been driving for years - to take that corner flat and to overtake another hire kart. How difficult is it actually for your 9 year old child?
We put a video on Will’s kart for a test day at Shenington - we got some cracking footage - but from the sidelines it looked several times like he’d “done” another kart into the kink before Wilkins. So why did he back out? Watching the video, and going on track with him - sitting down at his level - then imagining doing 50-60mph at that point, then considering his age? Yeah, I can see why he backed out.
The fact is - as a spectator - you do not have all the information. You may think the kart can grip and handle the overtake but it’s not your bum in the seat, and if your kid isn’t sure it can, they quite rightly will leave it for another time.
So, what’s realistic?
I wanted them to get novice cups on their first race. I want them to get a trophy for position now they’re on yellow plates. I want it for them and I want to for me so that I can be justify the last year.
Read that last sentence again. And see where it’s wrong.
Karting is expensive, but it is a sport. And I should not be putting undue pressure on my kids to satisfy me. If they want trophies, that should be their goal. And, as a parent, I have to be realistic and set expectations. My job is to keep them enjoying their sport, to support them and not hold them responsible for my personal vanity.
So, what is sensible? You know what? I’ve very rarely set goals. I can see that my kids have set their own. They are both gunning for top 10 finishes now—Henry did that last time. It will happen for Will but it’ll be harder because the grids are so much bigger at Shenington.
When they were novices, they wanted a novice trophy. I would have made sure that goal was met - up to a point - by keeping them on novice plates until they won one, but they wouldn’t have been eternal novices. As it was, they won them on race 5 (Henry) and race 6 (William) so a couple of extra novice races were unnecessary.
Then it was finish in the top half (their goal). Now it’s finish in the top 10 (their goal). There are lap times they want to meet - consistently in the 52s for Will at Shenington, and in the 49s for Henry at Rissy.
There are other goals too - like overtaking decisively but safely - particularly for Henry. Because most meetings have similar drivers, they are encouraged to beat a drive who is a couple of tenths quicker than them. That can be over several races. The same driver is soon going to be overtaken by both Team Forber drivers at different circuits because, unfortunately for him, he’s next in line for both of them!
I make a point to high 5 our kids - any anyone else in our team - who has done well and met a goal. I high-fived the Rissy novice when he got into the 52s just because I could see he was really chuffed with it.
So, goals are progressive. They’re intended to help both boys reach their aim - which of course is that elusive first place trophy - and make it appear like it’s not quite so distant and they are making good progress.
Reward success. Failure doesn’t happen—mistakes do, but they’re part of learning.
Race ‘n’ Respect
I love that motto from the MSA. It can be applied so many ways. As a parent, I have to respect that they are - undoubtedly - trying their best. And I should not be trying to push them so hard that they end up dreading the sport that they love. Progress takes time. Unfortunately it also takes money, but it takes predominately time. If they’re enjoying it, they will come good.