Go-kart racing has been family affair for Mills

Motor Sports

April 21, 1996|By Stanley Dillon | Stanley Dillon,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many of the top professional drivers got their start in go-kart racing at an early age. Fifteen-year-old Ryan Mills of Mt. Airy has been racing karts for nearly three years. Last week, he started the new season with a win at the Sandy Hook Raceway near Belair, in northeast Maryland.

When the Monrovia Raceway reopened five years ago, Ryan and his father would go to the track to watch the races. The visits became more frequent, and finally the young teen-ager began to hint about wanting to race himself. Three years ago, Ryan and his father, Robert, couldn't resist giving it a try.

"It was my wife's idea," said Robert Mills. "Ryan had talked about it and finally we said we would. It was all new to me, so we brought a used kart to get started."

Ryan started racing in a special class for young drivers, the junior restricted division. While the kart has the same 5-horsepower Briggs & Stratton motor that most karts have in the faster divisions, Ryan's engine had a restrictor plate on it. The plate serves the same purpose in kart racing that it does in NASCAR racing, reducing speed.

This year, Ryan has advanced to the stock light division. Although he will be using the same motor, his speeds will be much faster without the restrictor plate.

Ryan has been successful in his brief career. Last year, he finished second in points at Sandy Hook Raceway and third at Monrovia. In the Maryland Series -- a series of events held at three Maryland tracks, Monrovia, Sandy Hook and Chestertown -- Ryan finished sixth out of 33 drivers.

Midway through last season, the Millses purchased a new kart, a Trick 095 chassis. They immediately noticed the difference in improved handling. With the new kart, Ryan and his father were looking forward to the new season. It didn't take Ryan long to put the new kart in the winner's circle.

Kart racing is an economical way to go racing, regardless of age. For the younger drivers, kart racing is like Little League, the place where dreams of a professional career begin. Many of the top Indy car drivers got their start in kart racing. For the older drivers, it is a cheap and safe way to go racing.

A lot of beginners get into kart racing the way the Millses did, by purchasing a used kart. Once they get a little experience, they trade for a new kart. But if someone would like to go all out and buy everything new from the start, they can expect to be about $2,200 lighter in the wallet. It's very inexpensive compared to the rest of the sport.

Go-kart racing is like every other form of motorsports, there are tricks of the trade. Different chassis setups are used at each track and for the beginner, the right combination usually comes from trial and error. The gear ratio is also different at each track and the tire pressure requires careful monitoring with changes in temperature. Mills also freshens his motor every eight races, which costs about $175.

Racing isn't new to the Mills family. In the 1970s, Ryan's father was involved with sprint car racing as a crew member with Harry Fletcher of Olney when legendary Johnny Grum was the driver. Robert is still close to Fletcher and does sheet metal work for him.

With the season off to a good start, Ryan plans to race regularly at Sandy Hook because the Monrovia track will be idle this year. He also plans to compete in the Maryland Series again and the Gold Cup Nationals at Chestertown in July.

While Ryan hopes some day to move on to the micro-sprints and the super sprints, his father likely will be involved in kart racing for a while to come. Ryan's 10-year-old brother may start racing the older kart later this year. It looks like the Mills family will be around racing for many years to come.

Weekend results:

In racing last weekend, Cris Eash of Woodbine finished fourth in the super sprint feature at the Lincoln Speedway. Jesse Wentz of Manchester was 12th. In the Armaclad sprint kars main event, Judd Shepard of Finksburg finished fourth. Don Zechman of Westminster placed third in the semi-late feature, with his son Randy finishing seventh. Another son, Mickey, was fourth in the thundercar feature and Fred Cullum of Hampstead was 10th.

In the micro-sprint feature at Trail-Way Speedway, Westminster's Brad McClelland edged Steve Owings of Westminster for second and David Parrish of Westminster was ninth. Mark Shorb of Westminster was fourth in the 8-cylinder feature, with Hampstead's Allen Cullum eighth and Bill Brown of Westminster 10th. Jason Smith of Westminster was fourth in the street stock main event.

At the Hagerstown Speedway, Mike Walls of Taneytown scored his first win in the 4-cylinder pure-stock feature. Butch Harvey of Westminster was fifth. Gary Stuhler of Westminster finished fourth in the late-model feature and Charlie Schaffer of Hampstead was 15th. Kenny Dillon of Owings Mills was fourth in the pure-stock feature.

In drag racing, Roger Jorss of Westminster won Class II. Larry Hoff of Westminster and Chris Hruska of Mt. Airy each went three rounds. Malcolm Ford won the motorcycle class. Luke Dempsey of Westminster placed fifth in the quarter-midget feature at Honeybrook, Pa.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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