Catch him if you can

Parker Thompson is ready for his close up.

Parker Thompson of Red Deer has quickly become one of the top young kart drivers in North America

Parker Thompson of Red Deer has quickly become one of the top young kart drivers in North America

Parker Thompson is ready for his close up.

The Red Deer pre-teen has tore up tracks from Edmonton all through the American Southwest but he is now set to show the motorsports world what he can really do.

Thompson has dominated the kart calendar this year, winning most of the races he has entered and all that’s left for him is what’s regarded as the Super Bowl of the kart world — Supernationals in Las Vegas from Nov. 17 to 20.

With each win his name has grown and he will enter the race as one of the North American favourites.

“Supernats is pretty much the biggest race in the world for go-karting,“ said Thompson. “You get all the F1 drivers out and then all the Europeans — and Europe is really the base of the sport. So if you can win against any of those type of people and show your dominance, it could be big. It could lead to testing out a full size car, it could lead to a whole bunch of things if you win that. It would be huge.”

Last year’s race included an entry by Michael Schumacher, in a different division of course.

Supernationals are raced in a parking lot of two Vegas hotels on the strip. It is a whole different animal than anything else they have seen throughout the year.

“Even though it is in a parking lot there are going to be grip levels that are unexplainable,” said Thompson who got his first taste of the event last year. “Your going to have huge grip so it’s going to be really hard to turn the car in the main and there’s 30-lap main (events) — most of our mains right now are 15 laps so it’s double what we’re used to doing so it’s going to be stressful on the body.”

Thompson, 12, has come out of relative obscurity to become one of the best young drivers in North America.

He started racing as a nine year-old in Calgary under the Overdrive Motorsports banner — following in the footsteps of his dad Doug Thompson who raced motorcycles as a hobby. It didn’t take him long to rise to the top.

“We just kind of raced out of our truck. We went out, put on our top and brought out a couple of tool boxes and within a few years we were club champion,” said Parker. “It was looking strong for us, everyone thought we had potential. So we moved on to the Western Canadian Championships . . . and we finished up second in that which was real good for where we were with our experience.”

People did take notice.

The 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice was looking for a cadet level driver to fill out his Tony/Kart West racing team, and word trickled down to him about this young kid from Canada.

A tryout later and Thompson was signed up. Rice is now his driving coach as well as team owner.

Thompson’s first year was a bit of a struggle out on the track as they found themselves fighting in the middle of the pack in most races. But towards the end of the summer he started to hit his grove, winning the final two races in one of his circuits and placing in the top 10.

“We didn’t start off amazing, winning in the U.S.,” said Thompson. “We weren’t technically an eyesore, but we weren’t in the Top 10 always. But we’re dealing with 40-car fields and we were always in 18th or 19th. Our first year we finished up in points in one of the four circuits and we did a top 10 finish which everyone was super impressed with.”

That momentum has carried over to this year.

Racing in the U.S. IKF Region 7 — California, Arizona, Nevada — Thompson was entered in four circuits — KPV1 which is run twice, Yamaha and Comer — he took the overall title in three of them. The one circuit he missed in was the Yamaha, but he was in a three-way battle for the title until the final main when his air box came off and cost him the title.

“It was a mechanical glitch — a $5 part broke — so we didn’t finish there but he still finished up in third in points,” said Doug Thompson.

That was just the first three months of the year.

Since then he has only added to his trophy haul while competing in as many as 40 races on both sides of the border — with the Apollo Motorsports team in Canada — also winning in Edmonton and Monte Tremblant, Que.

He narrowly missed out on another circuit title, finishing second in the Challenge of Americas after a 75-point lead collapsed in the final race when he got tangled up with a driver who was not in contention for the title.

In Fontana, Calif., two weeks ago he battled his way through the pack all weekend to win Sunday’s main event on the final turn of the final lap of the weekend.

It is with that race the sport really started to take notice.

This past weekend at the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix, the city of Lancaster, Calif., shuts down for the street race. For Saturday’s races more than 8,000 spectators turned out. On Sunday 10,000 lined the track.

Thompson not only was a focus of media attention — doing network interviews for Versus and ABC — he also won both mains he was entered in.

Despite all of the attention he is doing his best to not get too wrapped up in it.

“Basically I can’t let it get to my head. That’s what I think,” said Thompson. “Still I’m young, I have to keep going at my pace. I have to train. For every me there’s another 100 kids out there doing better than me. So I have to keep my training up and eating right.

“It’s about staying ready and prepared. I have to know my tracks, and on new tracks I have to learn them fast because we are coming from Canada and they’re from the U.S. It’s easier for them to drive a few miles to their home track than us to fly a few thousand miles to get there. It takes a lot, but I’m glad we’re doing it. I’m really a fortunate kid. I basically have to keep working at it to be successful.”

Kart racing isn’t like the go-karts or bumper cars at carnivals.

While the units are similar, Thompson will reach speeds as fast as 120 kilometres an hour racing in 80, 100 and 125 cc karts. He has one more season at this level and then they take the restrictors off for juniors.

While his dad has been there every step of the way, he insists it’s Parker that is calling the shots now.

“I leave it up to him as long as he likes to do it,” said Doug. “He loves it, he thrives on it. You see lots of times where kids want to move on to something else, but I don’t see that in him. But if it happens it happens.”

Kart racing has launched the careers of many of the world’s top racers including Canadian legends Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy, Greg Moore, and Alex Tagliani.

It is their footsteps Parker wants to follow in.

“I really want to take it to it’s fullest potential,” he said. “I want to be one of the best in Canada.

“My goal is to get to Formula 1 but at the same time that is very hard — you have to be the best of the best. You look at the Formula 1 grid and there’s 24 drivers. Alone in Canada there’s like 100 drivers that are decent and that’s just Canada. Then you look at the U.S. and there’s a lot of drivers that are decent. Then you look at Europe and that’s where the sport really grows — there’s millions of drivers there that could go to F1. So F1 there’s potential but I would take anything that paid — and not only to get paid, but just to get a ride in so I could strut my stuff and see what I could do.”

jaldrich@bprda.wpengine.com