There must be oil coursing through the veins of the Kelso family — engine oil.
It’s in their blood and permanently on the hands of Maurice, the 60-year-old St. Albert father and two of his three grown daughters, Val and Donna. Together, they race some small but mighty machines at high speeds.
The trio has been involved in the burgeoning race kart circuit for the Edmonton and District Kart Racing Association (EDKRA) for almost a decade. Sometimes they win and sometimes they crash. Regardless of the outcome, they’re all in it together. Even mother and wife Pearl is involved on the sidelines as the assistant treasurer and other duties.
Hooked on a feeling
The family moved to Canada from Northern Ireland where Maurice raced stock cars for several years. It seems crossing the pond didn’t change anything — he still had the need: the need for speed.
Rather than get right back into it himself, he encouraged Donna to give it a try.
“One day he said, ‘Do you want to go-kart race?’ and I didn’t know anything about it,” she admitted. “We went to a street race in downtown Edmonton and that was that. I started racing. I think he put me into it so he could get into it.”
Once that happened, Maurice himself followed suit. Val, however, took a little longer. A few years older than Donna, Val only has three seasons to her credit. She would have gotten involved earlier if she could have.
“As soon as I could start racing I did.”
It seems that growing up with Dad always involved in the world of racing — either doing it himself or watching it on TV — made it a common fixture and topic of conversation. They still say that they grew up as regular girls and never really felt the pressure to get into the sport, but that doesn’t change the fact they’re both in it now and they’re in it together.
“It wasn’t really that prevalent when we were kids. Up until we actually got into go-karting it was on TV but we were away doing our own things,” Val remembered.
The extended family of sport
Maurice, Val and Donna have made names for themselves in the EDKRA. One time they even populated the entire podium for first, second and third place finishes. There is another daughter in the family, yet she has no interest.
Her daughters do, however. Although they are still too young to meet the age limit of eight before they can get behind the wheel themselves, they are ardent supporters and avid fans. They are frequent fixtures at the league’s track in Warburg, 90 minutes southwest of St. Albert.
Karting has an infectious enthusiasm that permeates through even the youngest or newest person to come across it. The Kelsos, like all regular racers, are competitive but not at the expense of acceptance and community.
Donna admits the influx of novice racers this year does mean a bit more trouble.
“There’s a lot of new people this year that cause accidents. A lot of the rookies … they don’t know engines and they don’t have all the tools and equipment,” she related. “Everybody’s helping them. They’re very, very friendly and open to helping each other.”
“It’s a very family-oriented thing,” Maurice added. “Somebody’s motor blew up last weekend. We lent him a motor. That’s the way it is. He’ll do a favour for me somewhere down the road.”
They all profess that, even though these road hugging, “nerve-wracking” mini race cars have an intrinsic element of danger, the accidents are rarely bad. Each admits to scrapes and bruises but the worst accident they’ve seen was a broken collarbone. The driver still walked to the waiting ambulance.
With casual coolness, Val related an amusing anecdote about her early trials.
“My first accident … she hit me,” she laughed, indicating her sister.
How to get ahead
Maurice can’t say enough about how the great benefits of the kart lifestyle outweigh the risks. Time and again he will say that a kart can take you up to 150 km/h but it’s an overwhelmingly safe sport that is still young but becoming increasingly more popular.
Most importantly, he says, it’s great for kids. There are lessons lying in the rules of racing, learning about motors as well as smelling tire rubber and gas fumes. Val says she and her sister are acquiring the slow knowledge of expert kart maintenance.
“When it comes to rebuilding engines and taking them apart, that’s all him. We do gears and certain things. We have our tasks.”
“We learn more as we go,” Donna said.
Maurice explains that self-control is the major benefit.
“It learns ’em a lot in driving. If they stop watching [the road and traffic], they’re in the grass or they’re off the track,” he stated with the casual air of a sports promoter. “It learns ’em to concentrate a lot and become a better driver. You’re two inches from the bumper of the car in front of you if you’re competitive, so your concentration has to be there.”
After all of his years of racing, he said he has developed excellent concentration.
Both daughters laughed.
“He’s in the grass all the time,” Val said, adding that she suspects it might be one way to improve the attention span of young schoolchildren.
Donna admitted that he had a point.
“You learn to concentrate. You teach yourself and it will spill out into other areas.”
Her focus has become so keen that it has even enhanced her regular road driving. No cellphones or radios will ever distract her.
“I notice it … especially after a race when you’re driving home. You just feel like you’re in a go-kart. You still get that adrenalin. Focusing on the road – 10 and 2.”
The next Danica Patrick?
For whatever reason, the sport of car racing has been predominantly seen as a masculine event. While entry might seem daunting to some, Donna has relished the opportunity. Known as a strong finisher, she remembered one particular moment of reckoning for her and her competitors. While most other racers don’t make an issue out of it, there is always room to grow.
“It’s kind of funny being the girl. We went to Calgary [for a race]and I was the only girl there and I got first place. The guys were … not too happy. It surprised some people, I guess. There was only one person that really had issues but that makes it all the more sweet.
“If anything we get more credit, than the guys.”
Both daughters still give credit to one important guy: dear old Dad. They said that keeping busy with the go-kart lifestyle of maintenance and racing is actually the glue that helps the tight Kelso family unit stay strong.
“You’re spending time as a family and you’re out in the middle of nowhere. You don’t have the distractions. It’s good,” Val stated.
To learn more about the league, visit www.edkra.ca. There are classes for kids and beginners. The next races will be held next Saturday and Sunday starting at 1 p.m. each day. The race hotline is 780-732-3572.