An animal instinct kicks in when Mason Maggio is behind the wheel and on the track.
“I think the biggest thing I can kind of compare the way I am is to a dog chasing a car,” he says. “Whether that’s one car at a time or the pack, I get really, really locked in. I don’t think. I just do.”
Mason is a Florida high school senior, running down his NASCAR dreams.
In 2022, he finished second in the Carolina Pro Late Model Series, notching three race wins along the way. He made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut with four starts.
The Palm Beach Gardens resident is now on the edge of the biggest race of his life.
On February 17, Mason competes in the NextEra Energy 250, the truck-series event that leads into that weekend’s Daytona 500.
“It’s going to be a dream come true,” he says.
Mason has been racing since about 12, moving through karts, bandoleros, legend cars, pro late models and trucks. He considers himself late to the game.
“When I compare myself against some of the other guys I’m racing, they were 6, 7, 8 years old when they started,” Mason says.
He is part of an ever-growing community of young racers preparing to be next-generation track legends in everything from karts to stock cars and sprint cars to dragsters.
It’s not just the prospect of future fame or fast-and-furious thrills that hook them, junior racers say. Motor sports introduce them to community—peers as well as mentors.
The sport allows them to travel, create and foster networks, and learn the ins and outs of marketing and promotions, financial literacy and caring for their vehicles, from mechanics to maintenance.
“I had some struggles with kids my own age,” Mason says. “I still face that a little bit. Racing was an escape from all those issues. At the same time, the racing community has opened up a ton of avenues for me. I’ve made friends I would consider very, very close to me—people I could call up almost any time.”
Nearly 5,000 miles away, in Palmer, Alaska, 12-year-old bandolero driver Wyatt Flowers is absorbing everything he can about racing and paying it forward, too.
His father, John, was a racer and is teaching his middle child what he knows about the sport and character.
“He has learned so many more skills than just racing,” John says.
In his car adorned to look like a Northern Lights scene in motion, Wyatt is known for the extra laps he practices in his free time to improve. Racing has helped him build confidence that shows in his schoolwork, his dad says.
Seasoned drivers have been so impressed with Wyatt’s clean runs and passion for learning that they have offered him unsolicited sponsorships. Among them was Washington racer-turned-stuntman and world record holder Mike “Mr. Dizzy” Buse.
When an opportunity comes to help new drivers, Wyatt is sure to spread kindness. One
example is the time he spent showing a friend new to the sport how to shave his lap time.
“It’s a life lesson: You invest in people,” John says. “We all need people. We’re giving them the benefit of what we learned when it was hard for us.”
Wyatt’s first season at Alaska Raceway Park was in 2021. The timing couldn’t have been better.
He had already been tearing up a triangular go-kart track at his family’s property. But that year, his appreciation for NASCAR deepened as a fan of the Camping World Truck Series and drivers Hailie Deegan and Keith McGee—the latter reportedly the first Alaskan in NASCAR history to race at a national series event. Wyatt’s hunger to get behind the wheel came just as bandolero racing returned to the motor sports complex.
The family got a line on a car that had competed at the Alaska Raceway Park from when the racing class had been there years before. Wyatt drove it to the championship title in 2021.
In 2022, he logged win after win. The season culminated with his first national race at The Bullring, Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s three-eighths-mile paved oval. He placed fifth.
One day, Wyatt wants to race trucks.
“Specifically, a Ford,” he says.
Classmate Teddy Maynor, 12, competes on the drag strip side of the track that has been a fixture of his life since infancy. His mother, Michelle Lackey Maynor, is manager and majority owner of the property, as well as a racer. His father, Don, also races.
With so much of their family time at the track, it was natural for Teddy to learn the family sport.
“Mom and Dad popped the idea into my head, and I started thinking about it,” he says.
His zombie-fied junior dragster is dubbed “The Racing Dead.” Teddy must change his own oil, help maintain the vehicle and keep it clean.
Teddy says driving at high speeds reminds him of an earthquake. The anticipation
of the light tree and when to take off with its three yellows, one green and one red was part of his learning curve.
As the junior program grows in Alaska, Teddy and Wyatt are part of a racing culture that gives children a place to work and play simultaneously.
“They learn a lot growing up in motor sports,” Michelle says. “The kids are all over the track, running around. Then they’ve got 30 other parents watching them, keeping an eye on them, keeping them out of trouble. It’s really cool watching them grow up.”
Efforts to welcome young people to paved and dirt tracks have only increased in recent years. For instance, a partnership between two of auto racing’s sanctioning bodies—United States Auto Club and NASCAR—introduces a new series this year for racers 5 to 16 years old.
The NASCAR Youth Series includes a nine-race championship schedule of seven quarter midget races on pavement and two on dirt tracks at temporarily constructed venues. It starts late February in California and runs into October in North Carolina. More than 55 clubs across the country, including thousands of children, participate in USAC-sanctioned quarter midget events. The vehicles are so named because they are a quarter of the size of the adult car class known for their high power and tiny size.
Another step in connecting youngsters to the track has been the launch of Youth Racers of America. The nonprofit started in 2019 as a resource for training camps, safety gear, education and pathways to racing industry careers outside of driving.
The hope is to eliminate barriers for young people to enter and excel in racing, says founder and Executive Director McKenna Haase. The sport is expensive and can be difficult to start for those without the familial connections for which the sport is often known, she says.
McKenna, a 25-year-old professional sprint racer, says the road to racing at 12 was still littered with obstacles.
Her racing journey began at about 9 with a brush encounter with a NASCAR racer at a shopping mall. The Des Moines, Iowa, resident noticed a crowd and walked over to see what the fuss was about. She didn’t recognize driver Kasey Kahne. But his energy for racing was so infectious when he spoke to her that she became interested in the sport.
“Now we race each other almost every weekend,” she says.
Getting started was hard. No one in McKenna’s immediate circle knew much about racing. As far as she knew, the nearest track was seven hours from her home. It took six months of online searching to find one 40 minutes away, and another two years to raise enough money for a car.
The race team she started at 13 continues, as do her dreams of being a World of Outlaws sprint car racer.
“(Racing) is the greatest love I’ve ever known in the whole world,” she says.
McKenna says young people are racing’s greatest value proposition. She believes connecting them with resources will only improve the future of the sport.
“Even if you don’t want to be a driver, there are a lot of opportunities,” she says.
When can my child start racing?
Some youngsters start in karts at age 4 or 5. No age is too old.
Is youth racing safe?
There is always the possibility of an accident, but injuries are rare. Racers wear full safety gear: helmets, fire suits, neck restraints, fire-retardant garments under their suits and more. The cars have five-point harnesses. Vehicle seats are customized to children’s sizes.
What does it cost?
Getting started ranges from $3,000 to $15,000. Costs increase as the racer works toward faster vehicles. Many seek help to offset the investment through fundraisers and sponsorships.
What types of vehicles can children race?
There are many youth racing categories, including:
• Go-karts. Kid karts sit low to the ground and are powered by two-stroke engines. They are driven by children until they reach 8 years old.
• Outlaw karts. Similar to go-karts but with a cage on top, they resemble sprint cars. They have a wing, hood, tail, bumpers and nerf bars. Power varies among age groups.
• Junior drags. These are miniature versions of the loud dragsters seen at National Hot Rod Association tracks. Drivers ages 5 to 17 can compete in different divisions down a one-eighth-mile track.
• Bandoleros. These resemble miniature NASCAR-style stock cars. Divisions range depending on ages, either 8 to 11 or 12 and older.
Where can I learn more?