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 Columns & Editorials

June 29, 2004

Kart Racer Overcomes the Odds

A Story of Hope, Desire and Success At East Bay Raceway Park


by Bill Green

Tampa, FL (June 18th, 2004) - Carlos J. Rodriguez is not your ordinary Go-Kart racer. He's not your ordinary rookie racer, by far. Carlos is different. Carlos cannot use his legs.

Young racers come from all walks of life, but most of them can walk. But when the younger Rodriguez began to show an interest in cars and the racing that his Father, Carlos A., was watching on TV, mom had an idea.

When the family moved from Massachusetts to Florida, she used the opportunity to try some parental psychology. Jannette Rodriguez made a deal with the want-a-be-driver. He would have to learn more of the normal day-to-day caring for himself. In return she promised him, his own Go-Kart.

"At the time, I was not thinking racing. I was thinking something for the yard, not trying to out run others." Jannette explained with her deep Spanish accent.

So the young driver worked hard to fulfill his end of the bargain. He brushed his teeth, learned personal hygiene and began the difficult road to self-sufficiency. As mom and dad looked on, Carlos really started to change. Little tasks that most of us take for granted, Carleto (Car-lee-toe), as his parents call him, had to work hard to master. But, he did and mom kept her promise.

Dad soon started watching the small trade papers and newspapers around their home in Gibsonton, Florida, for karts for sale. Finally a $1000 dollar Kart appeared in the paper. Carlos, Sr., was skeptical, but mom said at least we can look and see what it looks like to compare to others. So the Rodriguez family paid a visit to the Butch Rubb racing family.

They learned quickly that not only was it a cool looking Kart, but it was a very safe racing Champ Kart. As the Rodriguez's explained their story to Butch Rubb, he explained the safety of the extra roll cage and the local learner classes that were available at Ambassador Racing to teach young Carlos more about driving and competing. As Jannette explained the next part of the story, I choked up. You would have too. "Bill," she said, "Mr. Butch gave Carlos the Kart. He is an angel. He would not take any money and he has been there every step of the way as we began the racing."

After a full set of training days at the Ambassador Racing School in Balm, Florida, Carlos arrived at East Bay Raceway Park for his first night of racing. Even though it was a Champ chassis with special built hand controls, he entered the rookie beginner class. For the first 10 weeks he started at the back of the heat and feature lineups, but I think after recent events, he may take his rightful place among the pack in the near future.

Yyou have to understand that to compete at all makes Carlos the victor. Two events back he tested his parents nerve when he opted to go full speed into the exit lane fence, in order to miss the flagman standing outside turn 4. The sudden stop on the fence post stopped every heart that witnessed it. Carlos was OK and he was rolled into the pits with major front-end damage, everyone applauded his grit. The next week he would not just stop hearts, he scared the heck out of us all. Especially Mom.



As the race started Carlos kept pace with the others. Using hand controls is awkward to say the least. You're always a little slower to react, but as Carlos has gained experience, he has gained in car control. As he was near others on the track someone began to spin ahead of him. Someone behind bumped him. Suddenly Carlos J. Rodriguez was rolling. Tumbling over other racers. Landing back on his wheels in a sudden jolt. Think about it! You're eleven years old, you've just started racing and you've done everything to build your confidence and ability in a few short weeks. Last week you survived your first wreck and now, in your first real side-by-side racing, you get upside down.

When his father arrived, he was smiling. When his mother arrived, she wanted to stop. But, when Carlos' father ask how he felt, his reply was, "Fine." Medics quickly assessed the young driver and found no problems. So his father asked more questions. Where you scared? "A little bit, but I liked it!" Do you want to stop? "No, I want to race!"

As the helmet went back on and the engine fired, there erupted such a roar from the spectators that tears came to many eyes. The little boy, that mom thought would find life hard and cold as he learned simple tasks, was making friends at every event. Plus, after finishing third in a heat recently, he got lots of high-fives and good wishes, from his new found racing family. His self-esteem has grown and his parents now know that young Carlos can handle himself out in the world. On and off the track.

The story has been told before. Others have over come great odds to go racing, but reading it is not like living it.

Come to East Bay Raceway Park and meet the boy that won no races, just the admiration of all who watch him run in his Rookie Year. You'll be glad you came and your children will be glad you brought them, too!

You can meet Carlos Rodriguez, plus his bold and supportive parents on any given Friday Night during East Bay Raceway Park's "Friday Night Under-The-Lights" Go-Kart racing.

We'll See You At The Races!
William C. "Bill" Green


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