Spotlight: Local 7-year-old a go-cart champion

BY JON FRANK | MAY 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Gunmetal black with deep blue brackets and a golden Hawkeye logo emblazoned on the front bumper, the Kendigs' 50cc go-kart does not always sit idly in the family's garage.

On many weekends it has ripped up the asphalt paths of several raceways, thanks in large part to its driver: a local 7-year-old boy.

Austin Kendig, a first grader at Penn Elementary in North Liberty, has proved his racing skills with numerous victories. Under his family team name Kendig Motorsports, Austin will compete in at least 20 races throughout the 2011 season.

In the first race of the season on April 30, Austin took first place in the Kid Kart division at the 61 Kartway track in Delmar, Iowa. He has also competed in Tulsa, Okla., and St. Louis for the Kid Kart Nationals.

Austin's father Tysen Kendig, the University of Iowa vice president for Strategic Communication, said they entered the 2010 St. Louis race just hoping not to place last. Surprisingly, Austin took home the first-place national trophy.

"When I won, [the trophy] was a little bigger than me," Austin said.

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Only eight days from the season-opening drive, Tysen stood beside the kart and tugged the rip cord. The child-sized engine revved furiously; smog shot from the tailpipe. The deafening sound was comparable to four lawnmowers running simultaneously. Austin put his gloved hands to his head to muffle the noise.

"It's a little smoky because it hasn't run much," Tysen said.

Austin's interest in go-karts sprouted from a coloring book his dad bought him at the Indy 500. He began racing in 2009, when he was 5.

He saw an advertisement for Kid Karts racing, a go-kart league for children 5 to 8. The brown-haired little boy became interested immediately.

"Those kids don't look any bigger than me," he recalled saying when he saw the advertisement.

Shortly after, Austin's father bought a solid blue jumpsuit and a used kart. Within a few weeks, Austin lined up for his first race in Tulsa, Okla. He finished third.

The results didn't matter, though. The Kendig family found a fun activity that occupied their Saturdays for several months to come.

When the weather permits, Saturdays are dedicated to go-kart racing. The Kids Karts racers start practice laps at 10 a.m. Once all the racers are ranked, they move on to the Feature Race — a 10- to 12-lap series in which the competitors jockey for position.

Of course, racing is not without its dangers. High velocity and hairpin turns cause wrecks, a truth Austin's mother, Leslie Kendig, is coming to terms with.

"It's better now, but I had serious issues taking my 5-year-old out of a car seat and putting him into a go-kart," she said.

Despite the competition attached to the sport, Austin considers his competitors teammates and friends. And he can't wait to spend his Saturdays lapping the Delmar tracks.

"[I'm looking forward to] just trying my best and having fun," he said. "[I'm] looking forward to having a team and we get to be together."

This is the second in a five-part series on interesting local youth. Check back Wednesday for a profile on a 15-year-old West High student who is raising money for Japanese relief efforts.

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