Driver Training: Toyota KartStart
Driver Training: Toyota KartStart. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Simon Hill

Intuitively, we all know that if you want to become truly adept at a complicated skill – be it playing an instrument, performing acrobatics, ski racing or what-have-you – you need to start young. NHL players don’t just simply pick up a hockey stick at 18 and sign up with a team, and even something as basic as swimming can be tough to learn as an adult. Yet despite living in an automobile-oriented society, we generally put off any sort of driving lessons or experience for our kids until the day they turn 16.

It’s an approach that ultimately doesn’t really make sense. So when karting enthusiast Russ Bond was attending a Toyota press event a few years ago and listening to the manufacturer promote its STAR safety system, he had an “Ah-ha” moment: Toyota’s STAR safety system is designed to make cars safer and easier to control in emergencies, thanks to a suite of safety technology encompassing anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, vehicle stability control, and Smart Stop technology. “But what about the drivers?” thought Bond, “If they had the right skills they’d be able to avoid most trouble before it occurs.”

Bond should know – he currently works as a motorsport and automotive journalist but has more than 20 years of motorsport experience under his belt, having started karting when he was about 11 years old and working up through the ranks to become a professional race car driver. He remains active in the karting scene, operating the Canadian Karting League, and he proposed to Toyota the idea of complementing the company’s STAR safety system with a kart-based early education program aimed at teaching youngsters aged eight and up the basics of automobile dynamics and car control. Toyota bought in enthusiastically and KartStart was born.

KartStart launched in Ontario in the summer of 2011, and went national this year. I attended the inaugural west coast event with my son Ian in mid-July.

Driver Training: Toyota KartStartDriver Training: Toyota KartStart
Driver Training: Toyota KartStart. Click image to enlarge

As we arrived at the Greg Moore Raceway in Chilliwack, the place was a hive of activity. Unlike the entertainment-based roadside go-kart tracks you find dotted along the nation’s highways, the KartStart program employs a large number instructors and support personnel. The karts themselves are different too, much quicker and closer in character to the types of karts that are raced in the big leagues.

We checked in and registered, after which the KartStart crew fitted us with protective track suits, helmets, and gloves. My son was then given an opportunity to pose with one of the karts for a souvenir photo. Once all the participants had arrived and had their photo taken, Russ took the young drivers-to-be through the basics of the kart – steering, brakes, throttle, and safety precautions (I was mildly amused to note that despite their importance in the real world, seat belts and rollover protection aren’t part of the safety precautions in the karts, but I suppose they’re hardly necessary given that the karts weight about as much as a motorized bicycle and are as flatly stable as a bicycle that’s already fallen over). We were then broken into groups based on age and experience, and led out to the track.

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