On the second day of the Texas Grand Prix, engines roared. As mechanics tinkered with vehicles, drivers talked strategy with their coaches and tried to memorize the curves of the racetrack at the Speedsportz Racing Park outside Houston. “I picture it in my head,” Mikey Collins said as he waited for his heat to start on the last weekend in April. “I anticipate it and try to do laps.”

Mikey isn’t a professional race car driver yet — he’s only 9 years old. And the vehicle he would soon climb was a go-kart. But for many kids who dream of racing professionally, this is where it all starts: driving go-karts around a twisty track at 60 to 70 miles per hour, flying just inches above the ground.

Like many drivers, Mikey started young, when he was only 5, at his local track in Orlando, Fla. He was hooked. “I like competitive things,” he says. “Anything that has to do with passing and trying to take the lead.” Kids who get serious about the sport go on to national races like the one in Texas: day-long competitions in which dozens of drivers compete in heats against other kids in their age group.

It’s all a lot of time and work. Drivers may participate in dozens of races each year, both national and local, so many are homeschooled. When they’re not running, some work out by lifting weights or doing cardio. Or they could be tests in simulators that mimic the racing experience. And it’s expensive: equipment and travel, but also coaches and mechanics and even sometimes sports psychologists to help the kids deal with the pressures of racing.

You must also have nerves of steel. “There was one time I went for a pass, and I knocked the wind out of me, and I almost flipped,” says Bristol Borneman, 11, who lives in San Diego County and has been racing since she was 7 years old.

But to the drivers, it’s all worth it. Not just for the trophies, or even for the dream of turning professional. It’s a really good time too. “I get to come here and travel the world, get on the track and compete with really good racers,” says Bristol. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Additional reporting by Scott Rossi.

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