Nine-year-old Massie Ralston is a third grader at Crozet Elementary School and a phenom on go-kart racetracks throughout Virginia and the Carolinas. His winning skills appear so promising that he has earned a sponsorship—and mentorship—by one of the top gurus of the sport, go-kart engine builder Tod Miller.
Massie got the racing bug from his uncle, Clay Dudley, who raced go-karts at Eastside Speedway in Waynesboro. Ralston picked number 23 for his carts because that is his uncle’s number, too.
“My uncle was doing it and I wanted to try it. And then I really liked it and I got into it,” he explained with an abashed youthful reticence. “I like to go fast and I like racing.” He started at age five and now has three years of racing experience under his belt.
Racing on both dirt and asphalt tracks, Ralston has reached a top speed of 72 miles per hour. The average top speed in his class and age group is 68 mph, explained Ralston’s father Danny. Go-carts use resistor plates to restrict airflow to the engine and thereby limit their top speed. Ralston’s typical speed during a race is between 35 to 40 mph and races, depending on the particular course, are 20, 25 or 30 laps long. They usually last about 20 minutes, but there are two days of qualifying first and drivers normally bring two go-karts with them.
Racers wear special helmets, chest protection, a fireproof jacket, racing shoes and a Hahn’s 360 device that provides neck support. Races charge entry fees and the typical prize is $1,500. Ralston has raced for an $80,000 purse.
Ralston has won on tracks of different lengths and on tracks he’s never been on before. So far he’s won nearly 100 races.
“You’ve got to race yourself,” said Massie. He’s won the Purple Plate, the youngest class, making him the champ at Eastside Speedway. He was named Driver of the Year there.
At Margarettsville Speedway in Margarettsville, North Carolina, he said, “I was beating them in the Purple Plate, so they moved me up to Blue Plate,” typically the class for kids 12 to 15 years old.
Then he won 18 races in a row. Now he’s the Blue Plate champ too.
He’s also won every race he’s entered at the King George Speedway in King George.
The biggest race he’s won is the Maxxis (named for a tire maker) at Providence Raceway in Martinsville. Part of the mid-Atlantic series, that’s an invitation-only event.
At the Maxxis Nationals at Thunder Valley Motorplex in Neeses, South Carolina, he went up against 1,350 other racers from 48 states.
Since he’s been jumping into higher classes, Massie said he plans for when he turns 13: moving into a full-size car.
When they started buying motors from him, Tod Miller told the Ralstons to keep him updated on Massie’s progress. Massie went on winning.
His goal now is to be the Blue Plate state champion.
“I’d race every weekend,” said Massie, and he just about is racing, somewhere, every weekend during the March through October go-kart season.
“I think I win because the [go-kart] set-ups are good,” Massie theorized.
“He carries his winning very well,” said his dad, standing in when Massie’s laconic nature took over. “When he gets his helmet on he goes into a zone.” (Massie said he likes to listen to country music to get into the right frame of mind.)
“If he does as well in full-bodied cars as he has in go-karts, he’s pretty much guaranteed to make it to NASCAR,” said Danny. “He studies the proper line to run on the track.”
“Yeah. I want to make it to NASCAR,” Massie said. He named Kyle Busch as his favorite driver.
“He wants to win, but that does not get the best of him,” said Danny. “He shakes everybody’s hand and he’s a good sportsman. He’s a smart driver. He studies the lines closely and he can describe the performance of his kart.”
“My life goal is to win at Daytona,” said Massie tranquilly.