Quarter-midget racing produces speedy laps and family bonding
3:31 pm August 26th, 2013
By Pat Jenkins
Greg Linne, in the white car, and Joshua Gee take some spins around the quarter-midget race track in Graham. (Jim Bryant/The Dispatch)
The way Bryan Gee sees it, some of the most fun a family can have on four wheels is in quarter-midget racing.
Kids, moms and dads form racing teams that compete at the Little Wheels Quarter-Midge Association track in Graham. Just as important is the quality time they spend together.
“It’s a true family activity,” said Gee, the association’s president and the father of three current or past racers “The parents are the coaches. Dads usually work on the cars, and moms are heavily involved. It’s one-on-one with the kids.”
Quarter Midgets of America, which sanctions groups like Little Wheels, is a non-profit organization with more than 2,500 family memberships and about 4,000 drivers in 50 quarter-midget clubs nationwide. Racing is open to 5 to 16-year-olds.
The cars have bodies made from fiberglass and single-cylinder, 2.5-horsepower engines. In some of the car classes, air-cooled 4-cycle engines
The competitors drive to win, but there’s no pressure on them. Gee said parents “don’t force” their children to race.
“They’re doing it because they want to,” he emphasized.
Gee didn’t race quarter-midgets as a child, but he was around racing while growing up in Oregon. After moving to Washington as an adult, he was a driver and a crew manager for a touring sprint car team.
Starting in the 1960s, the Little Wheels club was trackless. Races were staged in parking lots at shopping centers. In the early 1970s, the club built a track at Frontier Park, which is where two races are coming up the next two weekends.
This Saturday, a club race is on the docket.Then on Aug. 31, the club will host a regional event with competitors from thoughout Washington and from parts of Oregon and Canada.
The biggest quarter-midget races annually are Grand Nationals – one each on the east and west coasts (a Little Wheels family participated in the one in California this year), and one on a dirt track at various locations around country.
One of Gee’s children, Elisabeth, won a national title when she was 14. Now 16, she’s retired from racing. But her siblings in the South Hill-area family – Joshua, 11, and Zachary, 14 – are carrying on.
Often, competitors grow out of the sport before they age out. They get too big physically for the cars, or they develop other interests.
And sometimes they go on to bigger and faster things. Kasey Kahne, a NASCAR star from Enumclaw, once raced quarter-midgets. Another former quarter-midget competitor who’s gone on to the professional ranks is Tyler Tanner, who has entered some NASCAR truck races.
To help recruit new drivers and keep their sport growing, Little Wheels members stage a demonstration race at the annual monster truck show at the Tacoma Dome. They follow that up the next weekend by letting first-time drivers take a lap at the Graham track for $5.
Most of the current members are from Pierce County and King County.. One family lives in Mount Vernon.
The sport has potential for injuries, but they’re rare. Gee said the worst are usually broken thumbs, caused by a combination of the way drivers grip the steering wheels and the force of cars hitting the wall around the track. Gee noted that strict safety requirements for the cars and drivers keep the young competitors safe.