The young folks hanging around Banke Racing Works the past week didn't look the part of racing drivers.
But the half-dozen kids from Colorado, ages 13 to 23, are spending today behind the wheels of 120-mph shifter karts at the Desert Park Raceway in Lemmon Valley, competing on the Superkarts USA ProMoto Tour.
At 23, A.J. Noud of Loveland, Colo., is the veteran of the groups. He 's been racing four years in the shifters and last year took the 125-cc S-2 class title at the Supernationals in Las Vegas last year.
A.J. is teamed up this season with veteran Ron White, who is 17th in points total after the first event of the five-race series. Brother Shane Noud, 18, is hoping for the same attention from sponsors as he competes in his rookie season this year.
With father Bill Noud, who owns a machine company back home, accompanying his boys on the tour, shifter kart racing runs through the family. But what goes for the Nouds goes even more so for the Richards clan from Boulder, Colo.
Scott Richards, 21, is in his second season on the shifter tour after six years in the single gear carts. It's also the second season on the shifter circuit for Laura, 17, who raced the gocarts for five years. Sister Dana, 19, is in her rookie season in the smaller 80-cc shifters. And brother Allan, 13, is another shifter rookie, moving up from two years competing in gocarts.
The youth of the racers is no exception in kart racing - the youngest class is for drivers ages 8 through11.
The Nouds and Richardses were at Banke Racing Works getting their shifter karts optimized for this weekend's races by George Banke
"We come here a lot, helping George with R&D," A.J. said. After Banke performs his latest tweaks on the little water-cooled two-strokers, the karts are put on the dynomometer and their power curves are charted, so the racers know just when to shift to gain the most from the modifications.
Shifter kart racing isn't a weekend hobby for racers like A.J. and Scott. Racing team scouts from the Indy and CART circuits show up at the events, looking for talented drivers to recruit for their stables, A.J. said. The kart teams are becoming the farm clubs for professional auto racing, he said.
Memo Gidley is among the many CART racers who started his career in a kart.
That's because nearly all the technology used in the multi-million-dollar Indy and CART cars is present on the 200-pound shifter karts, Banke said. Kart racers can change their suspension setups and flexibility, alter their gear setups and monitor it all with electronics that record every variable during a run.
Banke takes his Racing Works trailer to shifter kart events every weekend all season long and works the pits, providing advice and assistance to the racers running his engines.
Banke sells his modified engines and the exhaust systems he designs for RLV Manufacturing. But his expertise extends to all the mechanic and technology of racing and he's as likely to be advising on suspension geometry as air/fuel ratios. After all, anything that helps a Banke-powered racer win is good for Banke Racing Works.
Banke and A.J. both say the kart courses, usually .5-.7 miles long with turns and banks that mimic larger courses, are more challenging than what racers face at Daytona and Indianapolis. The shifter karts running at 100-120 mph encounter turns more quickly, with just as much g-force and with even more acceleration.
"We do 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and run through five or six gears in that time," A.J. said.
When Indy drivers use shifter karts for practice, as many do, the full-sized racers seem less challenging.
"I've driven a lot of Fords (stock car racers) since I started this and they're much easier," Scott Richards said.
Scott and A.J. both expect that within a few years they'll be in the starting line ups at Daytona, Road America, Sears Point or Indianapolis.