Jesse Yarmon, Paynesville, had no idea what he was doing his first year of go-cart racing. "I just hopped in and learned with each race," he said.
A freshman at Paynesville Area High School, Jesse started go-cart racing at a track near Atwater in 1999. He started in mid-season with a used go-cart.
"I didn't know how to make turns. I would hit the brakes and was afraid to go fast in the curve," Jesse said.
Jesse, 15, competes in the Junior II Caged Class (12 to 16-year-olds) at Atwater. There are seven different classes: starting with five-year-olds racing in go-carts to the adult classes.
"The 1999 season wasn't good. I was being lapped all the time. The go-cart was too slow," Jesse said.
Yarmon's go-cart (car #2) has a five-horse Briggs and Stratton engine. After the first season, Stan Yarmon, Jesse's dad, heard about a mechanic at Alexandria who improves engines so they can go faster.
Before the 2000 season started, he had the engine revamped, put better tires on the go-cart, and had a new paint job. His go-cart can now go faster than his four-wheeler. His go-cart has been clocked at 50 miles per hour on a straightaway.
By the end of the 2000 season, he had won a first place trophy, a second place trophy, and three third place trophies, accumulating 5,308 points for the season, enough for third place in the point standings.
At each race, drivers draw numbers for their starting position. If they start at pole position, or in the lead, they will be in the back of the pack for the second race. There are usually three to four races each night.
The races are held on Fridays from May to September, and sometimes on Sundays.
Jesse says he finds go-cart racing fun, fast paced, and exciting. "There have been a couple of times where I've done dumb things and spun out, but I haven't had an accident yet," he said.
His spin outs are getting fewer and fewer as he learns to race.
The rule at the track is if a car gets bumped by another car, it gets its spot back in the lineup. The racer doing the bumping is placed at the back of the pack.
Before each race, the go-cart is weighed in (with Jesse behind the wheel). Jesse and his go-cart weigh 325 pounds. Officials also check the cage and cylinder on the motor.
Track rules require the drivers to wear a helmet, seat belt, and neck brace. A lot of the younger drivers are also required to wear wrist and leg restraints. This prevents their arms and legs from flying out of the go-cart in an accident.
"I tried wrist restraints once. I felt they made it harder to turn the steering wheel," Jesse said.
Stan and Tim Adams are on hand at each race to provide him with driving tips and mechanical help. They also repair the go-cart between the weekly races. "Dad gives me advice but I don't always listen. I learn by trial and error," Jesse said.
Despite their preparations for the races, Jesse blew a brake line during one and didn't have any brakes to stop. He just kept driving until the fuel was gone.
Father and son don't always see eye to eye during the race.
In a humorous banter between father and son, Jesse recalls that in one race the gears his dad picked for the car put him in last place. Stan laughs about the situation now.
Jesse's go-cart burns alcohol for fuel. Different tracks require different fuels. Jesse has used gas at another track, but mostly uses alcohol at Atwater.
His parents, Stan and Joanne, enjoy watching and helping Jesse race. Joanne can be found on the sidelines videotaping the races, while Stan is helping at track side, in the pits, or as a flagman.
"I wouldn't miss a race. It's almost as much fun watching and not being involved," Stan said, "I feel every turn with Jesse."
"I didn't think we'd get quite this involved," Joanne said. "It is exciting to see father and son work together on something they both enjoy."
Jesse is already making plans for next year. He wants to have the engine improved, a new, more comfortable seat, new tires and tire rims, and maybe a new paint job.
Stan feels the go-cart is very economical considering where Jesse wants to go in the future. He has hinted about stock car racing to his parents as he gets older.
When not racing, Jesse can be found playing football and basketball on the ninth grade teams, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.
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