Many of the drivers who are clinching championships at the close of the Riverhead Raceway season got their starts long before they hopped into the cars that ended up in victory lane this year. They began their careers when they were as young as 5 with go-karts.
On Sundays at Riverhead, many began their racing journey. They developed a feel for competing that could translate to unparalleled experience later in their careers.
“You’re getting put in situations, in racing situations, and getting the knowledge of the car — racing is racing,” Dave Brigati said. “[That driver] already has 11 years experience on a guy who has none.”
Brigati, who ran the East End Kart Racing club in Riverhead from 2008-14, is part of a smaller group of drivers who came into the sport differently. He began working on a modified car when he was 16 and worked his way up through the models as a driver. He was in contention for three categories this year and won the modified crate.
“They seem to be really good at a young age now, when back in the day, you used to go from a blunderbust to a truck . . . work your way up the ladder,” Brigati said. “Now it seems like they start in the top division right away. And they are good. You can’t knock them. They are really good.”
Shawn Solomito (modifieds), Jeremy McDermott (late models), Ken Hyde Jr. (figure eight), Vinny Delaney (legends), Jack Handley Jr. (blunderbusts) all are included in that group of go-kart kids and teenagers turned champions. Brigati had a hand in developing some of the skills that they’ve used to get to the top of the heap. Now he’s trying to beat them.
“I would like to see the kids move forward; being 45, I’m past my peak,” Brigati said. “It’s nice to see the young kids have a chance and know you had a part of it.”
Timmy Solomito was one of the go-kart drivers who started when he was 7. He hung out at the racetrack watching the modified drivers, hoping he could be in their place one day. But while he was focused on the go-karts, he still was working to put himself in that position. “I got a lot of sponsorship from guys that raced stock cars at Riverhead,” Solomito said. “I walked around on a Saturday night asking guys for a sponsorship.”
While the rise of go-karts has been a relatively recent development, many of the same concerns that come up with youth sports appear here, especially safety. But Brigati said developments in technology have made racing much safer than it was 20 years ago.
And while 5-10 years old might seem too young to commit to anything, many of this year’s champions show the rewards that can come to some of the kids who fall in love with the sport early.
“The experience, the seed time, it’s everything by the time they’re 20 years old,” Brigati said. “The ability to race a go-kart at a young age, it’s priceless.”