A PROUD mother has hailed her go-kart driver son who keeps on defying his age to bag a hat full of track trophies.
Two years ago the Leader told the story of Joe Willoughby’s extraordinary talent behind the wheel.
Despite only being six at the time, Joe, from Buckley, had already established a reputation on the track and since then he has gone from strength to strength, winning trophies and setting lap records despite being one of the youngest in his class.
He has moved up to the MSA (Motor Sport Association) cadet class, a category for eight to 13-year-olds normally dominated by the older ones in this age group.
But that hasn’t quite happened this year as in Joe’s very first of being in the class he won the Cheshire Championship and the Manchester and Buxton (Wigan) Championship, both with two rounds to spare.
He also holds the lap record at Hooton Park Circuit and Three Sisters Race Circuit.
Joe now has nearly 50 trophies and more will be added when he attends the presentation evenings for both championships in January.
Mum Abby said: “Normally the older boys dominate but Joe has surprised us all. He dreams karting, his world is karting.”
Joe’s racing career began when dad Neil bought a racing kart for his son after seeing a young racer in action at a corporate karting event. Although Abby was initially reticent, her mind was put at ease when she saw the amount of safety equipment such as the helmets and rib and neck protectors that racers wear and the medical help on hand during races.
Regardless of the safety, as Joe’s mum she still worries: “At the end of the day it is a dangerous sport.”
There have been mishaps along the way. As well as the expected bumps and bruises, Joe flipped his kart 15 feet into the air in a recent race. The kart landed on him and when it rolled again Joe was sent flying.
Abby said: “He was very badly concussed but four weeks later he was back to racing and he was faster than ever.
“We’d invested in the helmet and all the safety equipment.”
Joe’s racing is very much a family affair. Neil, a technician at Audi, spends his evenings in the garage working on the kart, while Abby sorts out travel arrangements and paperwork, making sure everything is washed and packed ready for race days. There are 10 championships between February and November, each one a weekend event with practice on the Saturday and race day on Sunday. With both Neil and Abby working full time it’s a large commitment, but one that both proud parents are happy to make.
There is of course a financial perspective to consider but, says Abby, by spending wisely it is possible to cut costs: “We buy a second hand kart every 12 months or so.
“Some people spend £100,000 trying to get the attention of big teams but we do it as a family, they call it a ‘lad and dad’ team. People talk about how much it costs but we’ve not done it with big budgets, we do it as a family, we can enjoy it without spending lots of money.
“Some people have coaches, but we can’t afford that. Nobody’s trained Joe.
“Joe and his dad go down to the track and will see what they can improve between them.
“It’s all that’s talked about in our house. He didn’t have any training, he went straight into it. Two weeks later won the first race he competed in.”
As for the races, they are very competitive. The karts have transponders that record lap-times. “It’s basically just like F1, you’re trying to find a tenth of a second.”
Joe’s school, Mountain Lane in Buckley, has been very supportive, giving him Friday afternoons off so he can attend races.
As for the future? Joe of course wants to be an F1 driver but Abby said: “His dad and I are happy for him to have some kind of career in racing, whether that’s as a driver or a mechanic.”