When Jack Kent stands on the track at Bill Thomas Raceway at the Forsyth County Fairgrounds, you can hear the pure passion in his voice.
He’s just 11 years old, but even at his young age, he can describe his quarter midget car in great detail – the kind of parts that go into it, what needs to be fixed, where he gets it fixed, and a vivid recollection of the three times his father Jon Kent has accidentally broken something.
Each time that’s happened, though, they’ve fixed his blue car with decals on each side right back up, and heading into their second season competing in the North Georgia Quarter Midget Association, Jack’s excitement about competing again later this year is already as high as ever.
“It’s completely organic on his side,” Jon Kent said. “He either wants to be a space engineer or a race car driver. He can't figure out which.”
Jon’s been fully on board supporting his son’s hobby. Jack’s always been into NASCAR, and before the duo actually tried their hand at racing themselves, they saw races in Atlanta, Talladega and Charlotte together.
In 2018, out of curiosity, Jack’s mother searched Facebook for kids’ racing, and when she found that there were events happening at the track in downtown Cumming, Jon took Jack to a race. His son was hooked immediately and wanted in, but Jon initially had reservations.
“When I first saw it, there were a couple of thoughts,” Jon Kent said. “One, I was terrified because I thought it looked dangerous. The second thing I noticed is that, aside from a little 3-foot kid jumping out of the car, there was everything from a single pickup truck with a little open trailer behind it to some serious racing trailers. There were people with serious money in it, but you don't need to have serious money to get into it.”
Those safety fears were quickly quelled when he met rookie trainer Jon Hill, who became a mentor to him and his son. After doing what’s called an ‘arrive and drive’ and seeing the fireproof suits and five-point harnesses that are used, Kent was more open to letting his son join, and his newfound opinion on the sport’s safety hasn’t changed yet.
“It's safer than football,” Kent said. “I've seen these kids roll these cars and they walk away without a scratch on them. It's pretty amazing.”
Hill is in his second year doing rookie training for the NGQMA, and has had children of his own racing since 2017. Throughout his time doing training, he’s become a key point of contact for families who are brand new to the sport.
“First off, I explain to them that it's OK that they don't know anything,” Hill said. “(When) I started, I had no racing background whatsoever. I didn't know anything.
“When they show up, the only thing I ask of them is to wear tennis shoes, rather than sandals or whatever.”
When the Kents decided on racing, they knew they’d need help from the community to help pay for the expenses. Jack has three sponsorships from local businesses after making his case to each of them with presentations.
Serving as the pit crew for his son, Jon Kent has certainly learned a lot about motor sports, but there’s something else he’s taken from it that is perhaps more important – friendships.
“It's a great group,” Kent said. “Just like with baseball and soccer and other things, there's a camaraderie between the parents, but instead of us standing on the sidelines, we're all there helping each other. If an axle falls out or a wheel goes out or a chain falls off, a handful of parents are rushing in to help you so you can get the car back out on the track. You build relationships and friendships. It's a cool place.”
And for the young racers, the lessons they can take are similar to those that any other youth sport can teach. But along with that, there are also the lessons of communication, as they often have to tell their handlers about how the car feels or about what changes need to be made.
“When you're in a team sport like baseball or football, if you have a bad day, you have other team members to help pick it up,” Hill said. “Here, it's just the driver and the handler. We build communications skills and one of the big things that I've noticed is it teaches kids how to win with grace and more how to lose with grace.
“For the longest time, it's been kind of a secret. With the families that are here now and the families that are on the board, we want to change that. We're trying to get the name out there.”