If you ever see a boy zipping around Keel & Curley Winery in a golf cart, chances are good that it’s Aidan Keel.
But, the golf cart is nothing compared to his usual ride.
Aidan, 12, is in his fifth year of racing mini-max go-karts, and he’s good. Good enough to earn an invitation to the 2013 Rotax Grand Finals, one of the most prestigious mini-max events in the world.
“This is the event that everybody tries to get to,” Keel’s father, Ryan, says.
Coming off a big win at October’s Pan-American Challenge in New Orleans, Keel has been training for the Grand Finals over the past month. Fortunately, everything about this event will be familiar: He’ll be back in The Big Easy, racing against some of the friends he has made at other competitions.
“I’m friends with a lot of them,” Aidan says. “I keep in touch with them over the phone, on Facebook and on Xbox.”
His training schedule means he may well be one of the busiest 12-year-olds around, but he has plenty of hardware to show for it. Walk into his dad’s office in the back of the winery and check out the trophy racks lined up in front of the desk.
Aidan’s career is simply the story of a family affair that was taken to the next level — and of a torch that was passed on.
THE THIRD GENERATION
Joe Keel, Aidan’s grandfather, was also an avid karter. He raced the same kind of go-kart a decade ago, and the kids loved to watch him compete. Once they got a taste of the action from the driver’s seat, they were hooked.
“The boys were exposed to it from an early age,” Ryan says. “We rented some karts at Andersen for a day, and they loved it.”
Joe’s racing career came to an abrupt end in 2005, when a fire broke out at the winery and destroyed all of his go-karts.
The grandfather then bought some karts for Aidan and his twin brother, Ian, six years ago, and the family began driving at Andersen Racing Team’s home track in Palmetto.
Aidan and Ian both got into competitive racing five years ago, and although Ryan was never into it, he became the mechanic. Ian still competes but at a lower level than his twin. He’ll join the family on this trip to New Orleans, but as a spectator.
ALL RACING, ALL THE TIME
Aidan is a part of Andersen’s six-man mini-max racing team, comprising kids ages 12 to 17. Andersen has one of eight tracks in the state, and that’s where the family trains.
After a day of classes at Williams Middle Magnet School, in Tampa, Aidan and his family head straight for Palmetto. Aidan usually trains once or twice every week and has a race somewhere every other weekend. The average training day consists of 100 to 200 laps around the track, with each averaging about 30 to 90 seconds. After four or five hours, the family heads home to Plant City.
Because his schedule doesn’t allow much room for any other sports, Aidan enjoys playing video games on his Xbox in his free time.
I want to (play other sports), but I’m really busy,” he says.
THE LAST LAP COUNTS
Racing on all levels, Aidan has won about 20 races. Recalling second-place finishes is a little trickier.
“I’m not doubting 100,” Aidan says. “And I’ve probably been in even more races than that.”
But the first-place finish that he’s quick to point to was last month’s race in New Orleans, where he pulled out a victory on the final lap. It was a thrilling finish that Keel happily opens up about.
“I was in second, and they have a really long back straightaway in New Orleans,” he says. “The boy blocked and tried to go to the inside, and I went to the outside. I had a better run and passed him going into the last chicane. He wasn’t able to pass me in the last turn.”
The lead the boy had on Aidan was about six-tenths of a second. His mistake was getting a little too defensive upon taking the inside track.
“It’s pretty cool knowing you just won the biggest race of your career so far,” he says.
Because he’s making a career change after the Grand Finals, moving up to the Juniors class, Aidan wants to come out of this last hurrah with even more bragging rights. It’s always that last lap that wins the race, and Aidan already has proven he can make it count.
Contact Justin Kline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE RACE
The Rotax Grand Finals are coming to America for the first time in 20 years of existence. The finals will take place over the course of four days: Nov. 13 to 16, in New Orleans, La.
It’s considered an international invitational competition, and Aidan Keel will compete against 33 of the world’s best young mini-max karters.
The three mini-max races will be held on Nov. 15 and 16, in this order: qualifier, heat race and final race.