Deaf Sports Stars19th April 2014
Caleb's Story - Round 2 Bambino Tour
Being Deaf does not limit ambition and Round 2 of the Bambino Tour saw 6 year old Caleb continue his karting career
Given the chance to drive a racing go-kart aged 6, I think I would have jumped at the chance. That is exactly what Caleb McDuff is doing this year in entering the Bambino Kart Club Tour. Found to be deaf before he was two as a result of an ear infection, Caleb and his family have set out in determined fashion to make sure that being deaf does not prevent him from having ambitions and taking steps to achieve them.
The Bambino Kart Club Tour is for boys and girls aged 6 to 8 using karts limited to speeds and performance that are suitable for drivers of that age. It is still fast and furious and the boys and girls who drive in the Championship have no small measure of skill behind the wheel, quickly learning racing lines and awareness of other karts on the track.
“It’s supposed to be non-competitive and it is time trials rather than racing so they are not racing from a grid to a chequered flag. They have to set the best lap time they possibly can, allowing them to learn good racing lines and what the karts are capable of,” Darren Beavers, the man behind the Bambino Kart Club, told me.
Set up to encourage youngsters to get involved and with participation and learning being the priority not winning or losing, every driver properly registered for the Tour gets an award for taking part in each round. Unlike older groups in karting who race from a grid position, the Bambino Tour is run in effect as an extension of qualifying, with youngsters whizzing round the track trying to set their best time. The best lap times determines placing at the end of the weekend. Even with the engine limitations of the Bambino Karts, 6 and 7 years olds reach average speeds for a lap in excess of 40mph!
Having travelled all the way to Yorkshire from his home in South Wales for the first round of the Championship, Caleb was one of 24 youngsters taking part. Having taken possession of his new racing kart only two weeks beforehand, Caleb was possibly the youngest on the track and was taking part in his first race. Caleb made steady progress throughout the 3-day race weekend setting faster and faster times and whilst his time was 24th fastest out of the 24 that competed that weekend, he had managed to get his lap time down to within 0.2 seconds of the driver ahead of him.
For the Easter weekend we travelled to the Llandow Circuit in South Wales, for Round 2 of the Bambino Championships, and nothing could have pleased us more than seeing the SLFirst logo proudly displayed on Caleb’s racing overalls along with main sponsor GoCompare. Having met Caleb a few times already, he is a typical 6 year old boy off the track, impish and energetic he loves teasing the adults around him. Being taught orally but with some supporting signs, Caleb has already learned to use his cochlear implants to joke around with the people who want to ask him about his racing experience and ambitions, with the implants taken off and put back on to show when he is ready to chat. I can think of some football managers who would like to have that ability to deal with press enquiries right now too!
A cheeky chappy off the track, the change in Caleb’s demeanour when he takes off his cochlear implants and puts on his racing helmet is quite remarkable. A 6 year old boy disappears and a racing driver emerges, focused and disciplined around the track etiquette and with steely determination to get the most out of his kart. The track limit for the First Round in Yorkshire was 24 karts, but in Llandow the track allowed all Bambino karters who wanted to race the opportunity to race, with 28 karts entered for the weekend. The pit area was a hive of activity with drivers, parents and supporters buzzing around excitedly, getting the karts and the drivers ready for action. With different coloured karts, racing overhauls and sponsor’s logos, the Llandow Circuit was awash with vibrant colour as the karts sped around the track.
The second of seven Tour events, this is officially a 2-day race weekend but just like the stars of motor racing, many of the drivers turned up on Good Friday to get in some practice laps and make this a 3-day race weekend. With Sunday having been forecast with persistent rain, there are mixed emotions about the largely sunny, albeit breezy and cool conditions that were present on Good Friday and Easter Saturday, the conditions doing little to prepare the drivers for the wet conditions that were forecast to sweep across the track on Easter Day. As it was we were lucky to have two dry sessions, one damp, and the heavens only opening for the final session.
For Caleb, the mixed conditions are nothing new, having done many laps at his local G-Force track in wet conditions, but he had limited practice in his new kart in wet conditions and had no prior experience of the Llandow circuit. Having to rely on visual objects to mark the racing line and braking points, rather than the sound of the engine and screeching tyres used by the other drivers, I wondered whether the changing conditions would work against Caleb. We would soon find out.
Speaking to dad Ian about the practice days, he had been pleased with Caleb's progress, "Caleb was doing really well setting faster and faster times," Ian explained, "he had a few small spins showing that he was really pushing the kart, and then he had a big spin, and from that point he's been a little more reserved." Speaking briefly to Caleb before his first session of the day he was in fine fettle, all smiles and looking forward to getting out on track. With cochlear implants nowhere to be seen, Caleb told me he was going to be deaf for the day.
For race day, along with all other classes of karting, Caleb would be taking to the track for four different sessions. For a 6 year old it seemed like quite a punishing schedule, but Caleb just took it all in his stride. With 28 entries in the Bambino class, the drivers were separated into three different groups, ensuring the track was not too busy. Built on an old airforce base, the Llandow Circuit is home to the South Wales Karting Circuit. Measuring 1.1 kms in length the track is a wonderful blend of fast straights, tight turns and sweeping corners, demanding high levels of skill from all the drivers.
In recognition of it's previous life, the Llandow Circuit proudly presents the drivers with the Bomber, Spitfire and Hangar Straights as well as the sweeping Lancaster Curve and who is to say that one of these young speedsters will not go on to fly aeroplanes too.
Under the watchful gaze of the grid marshall Kelly Weaver, these six and seven year old Bambino racers filed onto the course expertly, waiting patiently to be released, showing a maturity behind the wheel which many an adult driver could learn from. Gaze fixed ahead, Caleb sped forward onto the track when beckoned to do so. With so much engine noise, the one good thing about karting is the use of so many hand and arm signals by the drivers and the officials, an issue that helps equalise Caleb's involvement. With the best time in the first qualifying round being set by Jacob Burgess at 1:01.08, Caleb set his best time on his 6th of 8 laps at 1:13.22, reaching an average speed of 33.5 mph. Amazingly, the top four in that first qualification round were separated by just 0.6 of a second.
With conditions slowly getting damp and then wet, none of the Bambino drivers would beat the fastest time set in that qualifying session, the 'finals' being contested in very wet conditions. Wearing his wet gear, Caleb remained as committed in the wet as he did in the dry, culminating in his finishing 26th out of the 28 drivers who competed. In the final laps of the last session everyone on track would have seen Caleb weaving his kart from side to side in sheer pleasure at being out on the track and I'm sure he will learn quickly that the kart wont go quite as fast driven that way.
As Darren Beavers observed, "I watched Caleb in the last race and it was pouring down. He was messing around weaving around and just having the time of his life."
Speaking to dad Ian about race day, I asked about the performance of the kart, Caleb always seeming to be well in control, never spinning off and being passed on the straight by karts that are meant to be equal on performance. "Caleb's kart is new and it takes quite a lot of running before it is properly run in and the engine starts to give out more power. I also need to learn myself about the best way to get the most out of these 2-stroke engines. It's a learning curve for Caleb and myself but I'm confident he will make steady progress throughout the year."
With fantastic sponsors like GoCompare behind him, we also expect Caleb to get faster and faster as his confidence grows along with his competitive spirit. For now, being behind the wheel and having fun on the track is the priority, and who can disagree with that!
With all of the Bambino Class drivers amassing for the presentation event at the end of the day, Caleb had put on his cochlear implants for the first time in the day, and being the youngest there, it is noticeable that he stands back and lets the older racers lark around as we wait for proceedings to start. Caleb's natural exuberance has gone and he is a picture of poise as he waits for his name to be called out. Making his way to the front he has a beaming smile as his medal is placed around his neck and he gets that all important Easter egg!
Feeling tired from the full day track-side myself, Caleb still looks as fresh as a daisy and he gives me a big thumbs up when I ask him if he has enjoyed the day. With all of the other karting classes also competing throughout the day, the paddock was heaving with racing karts, with competitors ranging from small father and son outfits managed in the back of a transit van and a gazebo, to big winnebago based teams with highly liveried canopies and awnings along with living accommodation.
None of this phases Caleb who has taken the weekend as calmly as a seasoned pro. He has revelled in having mum, dad, family and friends coming to watch and support him, including Uncle Richard who has been doing some daredevil sky diving to help fund Caleb's involvement in the Bambino Tour. As he leaves the weekend with further experience under his belt, Caleb's next competition weekend is in May in Gloucestershire.
You can follow Caleb’s racing exploits through Silence Racing on Facebook and Twitter. If you are interested in supporting his racing throughout sposorship you can contact Ian by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Sarah Lawrence
posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Stars
19th April 2014