EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 22, 2008

Teen on track for pro racing career

By Margo Sullivan , Staff writer

PELHAM - At 16, Tyler Guilbeault already knows he wants to be a professional race-car driver and travel the country racing.

"I'd rather be up and around and seeing other states," the Pelham High School student said. "I don't really want to be sitting behind a desk."

"It's a dream," said his father, Don Guilbeault.

But it's a dream on the way to reality. Tyler is taking the same track many professional race-car drivers have followed - driving a go-kart.

All kinds of people, including hobbyists, delve into karting, according to Mike Traylor, editor of the World Karting Association's magazine, WKA's Karting Scene.

But the sport definitely attracts people who aspire to become a motor sports pro, he said. Traylor didn't have the exact statistics in front of him, but recalled that 92 percent of professional drivers - including Nextel's Jamie McMurray - started out driving go-karts.

Traylor said go-kart is really a misnomer. The racers call the sport karting.

"A go-kart is really something you ride around in the yard," he said. "But karts are built strictly for racing, and a lot of technology and precision goes into the engineering for high performance."

People of all ages can drive karts. The youngest group is 5 to 7, and some professional kart drivers are in their 60s, Traylor said.

Cindy Guilbeault, Tyler's mother, said karting is something father and son can do together, and that's part of their motivation. They build the karts together. She said they actually break the kart down after every race and rebuild it.

Tyler has driven a kart at Daytona International Speedway - twice. The first time was two years ago.

"It was pretty cool, racing on the Daytona Speedway," he said. "It was definitely different. Faster than anyplace I raced before."

In November, he won two national championships in the juniors division. When he turned 16, he moved up to the adult class and went back to Daytona.

This time, Tyler didn't win but finished fifth and seventh in his first two seniors races.

"He was a little intimidated on the track," his father said. "They took him to school in the last few laps."

But he's gained experience, and there's no looking back. They're committed to the Dunlop Tire Road Racing series - eight raceways in 11 months. Besides Daytona last December, Tyler will race at Loudon and at tracks in the Midwest and South.

Someday, father and son may even race against each other, they said. For now, Don Guilbeault, who races a kart with a bigger engine, wants his son to gain experience before steaming into a corner at high speeds.

Tyler said the kart's top speed is about 90 mph. He's not afraid to go that fast, and he relies on his experience to know what he can try on the track.

"I haven't crashed into anything yet," he said.

But he has spun out a few times. When that happens, he keeps going.

"You just try to see where you're going and keep in the race," he said.

Because the karts need a hand-held starter, the driver who stalls or stops has lost the race.

Tyler said he focuses on winning races and doesn't pay attention to the heat, the wind or the bumps in the track. Sometimes, he's gotten the wind knocked out of him. That can happen if he hits a bump the wrong way because a kart lacks a suspension to cushion the impact.

"It's exciting," he said. "Definitely."

The kart has a steel chassis and fiberglass body.

Tyler started racing when he was about 6, said his father, who used to work on race cars for the Dion brothers, Winston Cup winners. He gave it up to do something the family could all do together, he said. Tyler decided he wanted to focus on racing as a competitive sport when he was 12.

Asked what he'd tell another youngster about racing, Tyler shrugged.

"You just got to do it to understand it," he said. "It's just an adrenaline rush" when you win.