Bruce McKean and his son, Parker, have an uncommon bonding activity: go-kart racing. But the karts aren’t the run-of-the-mill $10 rentals people ride at an amusement park. These karts are fast.
“The sport’s been around since the 1950s,” Bruce said. “Karts were pretty basic back then. They didn’t have any body work or anything on them. They progressed now to, some of the guys at the top level of the sport are going close to 100 mph.
“What we’re driving now at some of the fast tracks probably will go about 80 mph,” he said. “The shifter karts that we drive, the total weight with the driver and everything is just under 400 pounds. They have about 40 horsepower — that would be the equivalent of a car having 400 horsepower, essentially. They’re pretty fast.”
The sport has provided the McKeans a special chance to bond. They train together, travel together, maintain the vehicles together, push each other, and support each other in triumphs and losses.
“I think just being able to work on something together, and finish and maintain something, that’s really cool to do,” said Parker, a 16-year-old student at Gig Harbor High School. “Also, we just help each other out get faster and become better drivers.”
Bruce said they both love motorsports.
“It’s just been great being able to do that together, and to watch each of us improve and grow has been pretty rewarding,” he said.
Bruce’s interest in kart racing can be traced to 1992, when he started to race vintage cars. After that, he started racing karts. Parker started on karts when he was 5.
Parker said the biggest thing he had to learn was how to be competitive.
“I think (the hardest part has been) just learning, getting that fire in you to keep wanting to get better and better, and just be very competitive and almost aggressive to work your way to the top,” he said.
Bruce and Parker race locally and attend several regional races throughout the year in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. They also attend races in California, Arizona, and the biggest race of the year in Las Vegas, called the SuperNationals, held in the parking lot at the Rio.
“It’s the biggest kart racing event in the world,” Bruce said. “It’s a pretty exciting event. We’ve competed at that event I think three times now, just to be part of that is pretty amazing. They bring karters from all over the world -- over 600. These guys that come from Europe are amazing.”
Parker said the SuperNationals event has been the most exciting part of his racing career so far.
“The amount of people there, driving under the lights, and just the competition (is exciting),” he said. “The weekend goes by so fast. Before you know it, it’s the end of the weekend, and it’s just an amazing experience.”
This year’s SuperNationals event will be in November.
Parker is at the young end of the senior category — 16 and older — but his experience has yielded success. He won one of the races at the Rotax Challenge of the Americas, but fell short of the first place overall finish needed to qualify for the world finals. He hopes to get to the world finals next year.
Safety is a concern with high-speed vehicles.
“The sport is pretty safe, but there are times when there have been people that have been killed,” he said. “It can happen, but it’s usually some kind of an odd circumstance — something quite obscure has happened.”
Bruce offered some advice for people who are looking to get involved with kart racing.
“Try to find someone that deals with the karts here in the area, feel like you trust that person, and just start at some of the smaller tracks,” he said. “Get a good feeling for the sport before you go try to do some higher level things, because you’ll probably generally just be disappointed if you try to jump right into a higher-level event.”
Bruce and Parker plan to travel to Medford, Ore., for the final regional race of the year, and then they will prepare for SuperNationals.
In addition to kart racing, Parker is balancing his academic responsibilities, and he commutes daily to Seattle for rowing.