- Associated Press - Sunday, August 24, 2014

ASH TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The Sunday morning air was crisp as members of the Thunderbird Kart Club began to arrive at Flat Rock Speedway. Before long, families, children and parents began preparing go-karts for the day’s races.

Originally founded in 1959 at the Ford Motor Co. headquarters in Dearborn, the club has operated at the Flat Rock Speedway since 1963. Today the club serves as a sister organization to the Michigan Karting Club and convenes for anywhere between 12 and 14 races a week, including appearances at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

“It’s been continuous, but run by different people,” said Dave Williams of Brownstown Township, a member of the club since 1962.

Williams’ son, Rod, currently serves as club president, a position he’s held since 2005. A racer since age 8, the younger Williams continues to participate with the club to this day. At one point, according to the elder Williams, the club once attracted 200 racers a week, filling up all of the pit areas at the speedway. But, due to the recent economic decline, that number has fallen off to roughly 20 participants a week, the Monroe News (https://bit.ly/1l6qwWt ) reported.

“It’s at a low now,” said the elder Williams. “But it’s building back up.”

The age of racers varies from anywhere between 6 and 75.

Matthew Gibson of Woodhaven, 10, began racing with the club when he was only 7, earning the club’s rookie of the year honor.

“I just know that I’ve always loved racing,” Gibson said. “My mom called me downstairs and asked me if I wanted to race go-karts. Right away I said, ‘Yes!’” Matthew had enthusiasm, but the Gibson family didn’t have any history of auto racing.

“We were not a racing family at all. But he quickly converted us,” said Mark Gibson, Matthew’s father, with a laugh.

Others, such as the Terris family of Taylor, have racing roots that run deep.

“It’s an addiction,” said Anthony Terris, with his son and fellow racer, Anthony Jr., at his side. “You think about it all week.”

No one is excluded from racing; it’s an open invitation to all who want to give it a try.

“It’s not just the best that get to participate,” said Frank Perry of Gibraltar, the club’s vice president.

“Everybody races, no matter what.”

As with any sport, there is a competitive edge involved with all who participate.

“It’s competitive, but not dirty,” said Robert O’Dell of Riverview, 15, the winner of Sunday’s senior unrestricted class. “We know when enough is enough and when we can push it.”

In the pits entire families work on their karts, preparing them for the next race.

“Racing isn’t a sport like football or basketball where the parent just sits in the stands and watch,” says Tim O’Dell, Robert’s father, as he works on his son’s kart. “In racing the parents can affect the outcome of the competition.”

There is an emphasis on family, as they serve as a pit crew to their sons.

“It’s important that we work together as a team,” O’Dell continues. “It strengthens the family.”

Amid all of the competition, all of the repairs, there is one prevailing goal among all of the families.

“We all make sure that we have fun,” O’Dell said.

In the pits, while karts are being prepared, there is an obvious sense of camaraderie. Parents joke with each other as their children laugh and talk trash with one another leading up to the next race. In times when a quick repair is needed families work together on one kart to make sure it’s ready to go.

And, in some cases, father and son get prepare to race each other.

“I get to race against my kid,” Terris says, laughing. “I enjoy this club more than racing with the adults on Saturdays.”

The Thunderbird Kart Club will hold an exhibition race on Aug. 23, and then will host its normal racing card the next day. Both will be held at Flat Rock Speedway.


Information from: Monroe News, https://www.monroenews.com

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