MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
A lot of parents, this one included, have spent part of this weekend cheering on kids on the field or in a studio or a gym. We're going to meet a family now that does a lot of cheering at racetracks. Aaron Schachter of member station WGBH takes us into the world of high-performance go-kart racing.
AARON SCHACHTER, BYLINE: Blake Lothian and his coach at CF Motorsports fiddle with what is essentially a juiced-up lawnmower engine attached to a small, low-slung metal frame. It looks just like the go-karts you ride at the beach or an amusement park but goes a heck of a lot faster.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Choke is up, right? Choke is...
SCHACHTER: Lothian is a tall, gangly high school freshman. He's also a go-kart phenom.
BLAKE LOTHIAN: I did baseball. I did soccer. I did some other sports. (Laughter) I'm not good at them, but I tried them. And all of a sudden, racing came up. It's like, ooh (ph), I'm good at this. This is good.
SCHACHTER: He isn't just good. Last year, at 14, Lothian was the best racer in his class, beating kids and adults. Cindy Lothian is Blake's mom.
CINDY LOTHIAN: With Blake, it wasn't that he just wanted to do it. It was that when he did it, from the time he was 5, he was really, really good at it where people noticed.
SCHACHTER: Blake Lothian is a rarity in his wealthy Boston suburb where good grades, sports and other extracurricular activities are the ticket to college. For the Lothians, go-kart racing is Blake's ticket to NASCAR. They've got it all planned out. College, Cindy Lothian says, can wait.
LOTHIAN: You don't have to start college when you're 18. There's no law that says you have to, you know?
SCHACHTER: And this is the way it works. Most NASCAR drivers began as kids racing karts.
(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE REVVING)
SCHACHTER: After blowing away the field last year, Lothian is racing in a new category with a new kart that goes way faster - about 65, 70 miles an hour. And the competition is rough. The drivers, mostly men well into adulthood, have acquired the nickname hooligans because they're not always so nice on the track.
(SOUNDBITE OF GO-KART RACE)
SCHACHTER: Lothian does a lot of his races here at a go-kart track outside the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, a mecca for regional NASCAR fans. Everyone here knows Lothian and what he did last year, and the entire field wants to make sure he doesn't do it again.
BLAKE: Well, today I'm expecting just a solid top 10 performance because, you know, first time in this engine, first time just with all this new equipment, just not sure what to expect.
SCHACHTER: The competition is a series of three races, the first two determining where you start in the final. Lothian does fine in the first race, but in the second...
BLAKE: Someone spun out going backwards, basically just grazed me.
SCHACHTER: He was left stranded on the grass in the middle of the course. It was an ignominious beginning and meant he'd start at the back of the pack for the final race. But Lothian saw that as a challenge.
BLAKE: You want to go in there thinking, like, this is just another chance to pass more karts - just make it look cooler.
SCHACHTER: And in the final, in the last lap at the last turn in the last race of the day, it looked like Lothian had pulled ahead. And when the results came out, he was in third place.
LOTHIAN: Way to go.
BLAKE: I got third?
I just started from, like, second to last, and I made up to third. Oh, man.
SCHACHTER: Blake's parents are ecstatic. It's confirmation that their family's dream may be on track that within the next two years, Blake will be out of the go-kart and on to the main stage - that oval NASCAR track he can see just over the hill from the third-place podium. For NPR News, I'm Aaron Schachter.
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