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Kids getting behind the wheel at Shawano County race track

Posted at 3:43 PM, Jun 13, 2024

CECIL, Wis. (NBC 26) — They’re too young to drive on the road, but ready to race on the track.

Each Friday at Little Buckaroo Jr. Motorsports Park in Cecil, kids as young as five-years-old get behind the wheel to learn the ropes of dirt track racing.

“Some of the kids they barely even move around the track the first time they go,” Brian Ambrosius, the manager of Little Buckaroo, said. "By the third time, some of them are winning features and just holding it wide open all the way around the track."

"As soon as they get their trust in it, they just keep excelling in it,” Ambrosius said.

While junior motorsports is nothing new - Little Buckaroo has been around since the 1990s, according to Ambrosius - there has been a spike in recent years.

"I would say since COVID that it’s been on a steady incline,” Ambrosius said.

“It’s an outdoor sport. It’s something different than baseball and football and sports like that,” he added. "But it also takes just as much practice as time.”

“It’s teaching them more of life lessons and life skills on the mechanical end of it,” Ambrosius added.

That’s evident with nine-year-old Anthony Signoretti of De Pere.

His father, John, helped Anthony get on the track in 2022, when he was just seven-years-old.

“It all started out as him taking me to car shows, and I’m like, 'dad… may I try it once?'” Anthony explained. "I got there and I was pretty worried but then right off the bat it got pretty fun.”

“We took a shot, rented a cart for a couple of years and now we’re in,” John, Anthony’s father, said. "We’re in it.”

POV: Around the track at Little Buckaroo Jr. Motorsports Park

Junior drivers at Little Buckaroo can rent carts for $50 a night, but must supply their own safety gear.

After a couple of years of renting, the Signoretti family decided to buy a cart of their own.

“I just saw his enjoyment racing,” John said. “It's still an investment. But if the kids play hockey, baseball, whatever… it’s time and money you’re putting into it.”

To help with the cost, the Signoretti’s found local businesses to sponsor the cart, just like you see in NASCAR.

Anthony even does some part time work around his neighborhood like mowing lawns, snipping tree branches and picking up pine cones.

WATCH: De Pere's Signoretti races at Little Buckaroo track

Of course, for kids with little driving experience, racing does come with some risk.

“My wife couldn’t come to the track a few times in the beginning,” John said. “It’s racing, so there’s going to be some banging."

Nine-year-old Anthony has not been in any major crashes, but said he does occasionally get nervous behind the wheel.

“Only if I see a spinout or if I’m in a spinout,” he said.

And what does he do when that happens?

“I pray that I will still be here after it,” Anthony smiled.

That line gave everyone within earshot a chuckle.

But, safety is no laughing matter; it’s something the track makes a top priority.

“We require they have to have a helmet, a chest protector, a neck brace,” Kelvin Olson, who manages the track’s rental carts, said. "Long sleeve shirts, long pants. Shoes and socks. And if any of them have long hair, that hair has to be tucked in.”

Olson said the “kiddy carts” for racers 5-7 years old top out at around 20 miles per hour. Bigger carts can go closer to 40 miles per hour, he said.

“Some of the parents are apprehensive about it,” Olson said. "They may or may not like their child racing, they don’t know what it’s about it.”

"There are accidents that happen once in a while but most of the time the kids are good enough they can steer around it,” he added. "We try to prevent everything that we can. But it’s just a great feeder program for things to come.”

For many kids, this is just the start of their racing journey.

The young Signoretti, who cited NASCAR’s Chase Elliot as his favorite driver, is chasing big dreams on the track. He hopes to move to a full-size car by 14 or 15 years old.

“I just want to get into something big,” Anthony said. "Not for the money. It’s just, I like doing it. I enjoy it.”

“It’s fun,” John added. "It’s a bonding moment; we get to learn together.”

There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and dreaming big. But at the end of the day, track leaders say this experience is about spending time with family and making memories along the way.

"We as adults can learn a lot from these kids,” Olson said. "They’re at it for the fun of it. And as we become adults we kind of get a little too serious about some of this stuff.”

Candy drop at Little Buckaroo race track

Little Buckaroo holds races each Friday from mid-May to mid-September. Races start at 7:00 p.m.

Some of the area’s top drivers got their start at the track, including NASCAR’s Ty Majewski, who is originally from Seymour.