At age 8, Luke Giglio isn’t old enough to stay at home by himself, but he is old enough to drive. A competitive karter with multiple trophies under his belt, you might even say he’s better at driving than most people multiple times his age. That’s thanks in no small part to his father, Mike, and Mike Giessen, who’s Luke’s coach.
Listing off the benefits its had on Luke’s academic, social, and home life, the dedicated dad says he would wholeheartedly recommend youth kart racing to other parents. Whether it’s as a part-time hobby to get their energy out, or a full-time commitment towards climbing their way up the competitive ladder, children (and adults) of all ages have lots to gain from committing to karting.
Learning to Lead (Laps) at Young Age
Luke Giglio currently races in the SKUSA and USPKS (US Pro Karting Series) series in a Micro Swift 2-stroke class and chassis kart body made by Birel ART. Despite his tender young age, he’s amassed quite a list of accomplishments, becoming more and more competitive at the national level.
Luke recently finished in the Top 5 at the SKUSA pro series in New Orleans, and also captured his first Top 3 qualifying. The lad also boasts regular wins and podiums at a local level, including kart races held at Atlanta Motorsports Park and GoPro Motorplex in North Carolina.
Looking at how rapidly he’s improved, one might describe Luke as “a natural” when it comes to kart racing. Much of this skill can be chalked up to diligent practice. Luke comes to the AMP track most weeks to train when he is not on the road, and his father takes a highly methodical, data-backed approach to coaching. Even still, Luke possesses an undeniable inclination towards competitive motorsports.
“When Luke was even younger, we went through your normal rotation of ‘ball sports’: baseball, football, etc.” reflects Luke’s father, Mike, “but I just never saw the connection or what I’ll call the ‘click’ that I had aimed to find for him until he got behind the wheel.”
Since that first transformative experience sitting in a kart, Luke has excelled. Mike says his son has improved his skills, his lap times, and his competitiveness by leaps and bounds. Not only that, but the focus, determination, and lightning-fast decision-making he develops on the track have been put good use in other areas of his life.
“Luke has become a much more responsible and confident person,” Mike assures. “Racing is very important to him, and it influences his performance at school and at home.”
Basically, Mike says, Luke is highly motivated to get back to the track. Any responsibilities like chores or homework become a short hurdle for him to clear on his path towards getting more seat time. Luke’s teachers have also emphasized his growth and improved confidence at school since he started racing.
Mike first encouraged his son to dip his toes into the world of karting as part of a search all parents can relate to: a way he could keep his son from staring at a screen all day. However, it has since blossomed into a full-blown passion. That passion has infused Luke with a sense of purpose, while teaching him valuable skills that help him become a more well-rounded person.
Part of the benefits obtained include an undeniable cool factor. Being “the kid at school who races karts,” makes Luke stand out among his peers and gives him a unique way to engage others. But going beyond that, racing has also helped to develop into a more well-rounded and responsible person. In an era where many employers bemoan the lack of soft skills like communication, problem solving, or getting projects to completion among younger recruits, activities like kart racing go beyond mere hobbies. They also help people — especially young people — develop into individuals who have a wider range of skills, talents, and experiences that can be applied to their professional and personal lives.
Many Track Days Start With Data
Mike and Luke have waded into motorsports in the midst of a wave of new technologies and techniques. Whereas 20 years ago, data-focused decisions might be limited to looking at lap times or wheel tuning, data now infuses every aspect of the course, the kart, and the consciousness of the driving team.
When the dad/lad duo and his coach, Mike Giessen hit the track these days, they start with a few warm up laps. These not only help Luke ease back into the swing of things, but they also gather valuable benchmark data that can help them tweak their approach.
“We’ll basically see what the track is doing that day and how the kart is reacting to it,” Mike explains. Telemetrics, onboard cameras, and other sensors all combine to give precise readings for every tire in every turn. The informed gleaned allows the team to visually see racing lines as well as acceleration and braking points.
Reviewing this data in detail is key to answering burning questions, like: why are we losing time on these laps today? It can also reveal hints as to what’s happening with the kart itself. Perhaps the back is loose, or the front is understeering. Mike can then work on the kart to make the appropriate fixes, sometimes with the help of AMP’s trackside support team.
Part of this data-first approach comes from Mike’s own inclinations. Strategy is his forte, he tells us, which builds off his experiences in IT consulting. He enjoys building karts and seeing his work pay off, but the real dopamine rush comes from finding the perfect solution to a nagging problem — discovering the proverbial needle in the haystack
But even if you aren’t a natural-born data detective, looking at telemetry and video data still matters. You really don’t want to make assumptions about what to adjust driving-wise or kart-wise without it, Mike warns. Without the right feedback signals, you could be changing something that doesn’t need to be changed, sometimes even making things worse
Back at the garage, reviewing the data in obsessive detail helps the Giglio team prepare in earnest for any competitions that lay ahead. They may also take into account data captured from runs on other courses, which informs them of what adjustments to make to the kart or driving technique.
Different teams may also share data with one another. Mike is particularly keen to help out teams that ask for assistance, and he is happy to help them interpret their data or get to a point where they’re logging quality data signals of their own. This level of focus keeps things purposeful with every track visit in between races.
“Today, our practice and prep is always prioritized,” says Mike. “Every time we go on the track, we focus on something we need to improve. We use data and video to look at where we are making mistakes or falling behind and use our practice sessions to correct those issues.”
Taking Care of the Kid in the Kart
While practices have a lot of diligent work focus, race weekends are another story. There’s a focus on executing the things identified in practice through data and video.
At the same time, though, Mike puts concerted efforts into ensuring that Luke is never feeling too anxious, tired, or burnt out to execute.
“Diet, sleep, and focus are all main concerns for us on race day,” Mike asserts. He aims for Luke to have intentionally nutritional meals, lots of hydration, and a good night’s sleep before every competition. These things don’t just make the boy more competitive, but they also play a role in safety. With such a grueling schedule, and so much tension in the air, kids can easily get hurt if they don’t take their own health and wellness seriously, Mike cautions.
Having the right food in your stomach and enough sleep under your belt is key to staying focused and avoiding costly — sometimes dangerous — mistakes. Just like any athlete, Luke has to take care of himself if he wants his body and his mind to perform as he expects it without pushing the boundaries of health and safety.
Getting Your Own Wee One (or Yourself!) Into Karting
When asked if he would recommend karting to other parents, Mike says that without hesitation his answer would be “yes!”
At the same time, he advises parents to know what to expect and what their getting into.
His Rule #1 is to “Be Smart.”
“Learn basic safety rules as well as track etiquette,” he says. “Make sure kids are taught what they’re supposed to do; when they’re supposed to do it.”
Mike raises the possibility of a flag coming up that the kid doesn’t recognize in the heat of a tense lap; if it was a caution flag because a racer is stuck somewhere, then unprepared kids won’t be ready to recognize it, which could easily make a risky situation worse.
Another key tip: “pace yourself,” Mike says. “We all want to be competitive as soon as possible, but need to recognize the steps necessary to compete safely. Learn how to drive, emphasize safety including trackside flags, what is expected of a driver, etc.”
Mike also cautions that parents shouldn’t be so hasty to sink a bunch of money into chasing after the absolute best equipment. Good equipment is important, Mike assures(especially at a national level), “but driver execution is the biggest component for success.”
Instead of sinking enough money to buy a nice car into a kart setup, he suggests that the most valuable investment teams can bring is to show up to the track with a practice plan. Focus on goals like reduced lap times or faster average speeds.
“If you are not identifying the things you need to fix, you are only developing bad habits. The analogy I use is – you can go to the driving range and hit 500 balls. If you hit them wrong every time, you are still not doing it right and you are making the incorrect swing harder to correct.”
In the same vein, every driver should approach their goals as a problem to solve: closing the gap between where they are now and where they want to be. Seat time is important, ultimately, but you have to recognize and correct how you are driving.
Further, Mike encourages parents to not just know what they’re getting into but also what they want to get out of it. If casual enjoyment is the main intention, then parents and their kids can have a great time coming to track days or informal community racing events, even with a rented kart or a barebones racing setup. If they want to go further, they can set their sights locally, regionally, or nationally. The more you advance, the more focusing on data, improvement, and equipment matters.
“Decide what you are hoping to accomplish and establish a plan to do it,” Mike asserts.
One final bit of advice Mike provides: Talk to the community. Do not be afraid to ask for advice from your fellow karters.
“There are a lot of people willing to help,” says Mike, including himself. “People find themselves spending money unnecessarily and doing the wrong things because they do not ask questions.”
Have Fun Refining Fine Motor Skills at AMP’s Karting Track Near Atlanta
At the end of the day, Luke and Mike’s biggest motivators aren’t to carry home a massive trophy or to beat the pants off the other kids. Rather, it’s all about fun. Yes, fun with the angle of giving it your all and self improving, but it has to be inherently motivating for kids and parents to get the most out of it.
Mike says that his golden rule is: “If I want it more than him we’ve already failed”
Ultimately, when it comes to why Luke keeps coming back, Mike says Luke “loves the speed and racing. He just loves the feeling of being on the track racing with everyone.”
Luke has also made many friends all over the country, on and off the track through his adventures. Mike notes how Luke and some of the other kids will often finish practice and then go play soccer in the parking lot. “They race one minute then play together the next.”
Come find your kids’ next passion at AMP’s karting track, or learn the ropes in our karting school (for kids 12 & up). The next adventure of their lifetime could be waiting!