Sandy Hook resident Ryan Tani, 11, is driven. The third generation go-kart driver won’t let hair-raising speeds of 60 miles per hour, road rash inducing crashes or lack of racing budget raise a red flag on his racing career. Ryan has been able to avoid the pitfalls and obstacles with the help of his family and family friends, and is excelling this season at Oakland Valley Speedway in Cuddebackville, N.Y., where he currently sits at second place in the Junior Stock division.
Inheriting the passion for motorsports from his father, and grandfather, who both raced and built go-karts, Ryan not only represents the Tani name, but his go-kart’s new color scheme proudly honors Sandy Hook. After 12/14 Ryan changed the number on his kart from 43, his number in football, to 26, in memory of the 26 victims that lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He also painted his vehicle green and white, the colors of Sandy Hook School.
Despite the fact that green is considered an unlucky paint scheme in racing, both Ryan and his father, Jim Tani, are unfazed by the superstition, and have no reservations about their decision to use their go-kart to venerate Sandy Hook School, where Ryan’s mother works as an educational assistant.
“I didn’t even think twice about it,” Mr Tani said. “There was a tragic thing that happened in Newtown, I thought it was great the kid wanted to do that. His mother was in the school so it kind of hit him. He saw the hurt.”
Ryan added that his positive results disprove the cautionary racing legend.
“This is my first time in a new class, I’m doing awesome, I’m second in points, it’s not bad luck at all,” said the young driver.
The confidence needed to defy a long held racing myth is not only demonstrated off the track but in Ryan’s demeanor on the track. Racing competitively for three years, Ryan recently entered in a new class eight weeks ago, with faster karts, and subsequently more wrecks. In his first race in the new division Ryan ran into a wall and his 150 pound go-kart landed on his 140 pound body.
“My knees got roadburn, they were kind of messed up,” Ryan said. “When I flipped, the steering column bolt cut into my leg and my leg has a scar from it.”
While the crash initially unnerved the brave racer, Ryan has come to view the accident as a positive experience in the long term.
“After I flipped I was really, really nervous about racing so I didn’t really feel safe in the kart, but flipping is the worst crash and wreck you can have,” Ryan said. Flipping in the first race of the season was good, he said, adding, “I got a really bad wreck out of the way, so when I get bumped into the wall it’s nothing.”
Ryan’s father admitted he is concerned about the risks of go-kart racing, but due to safety equipment and precautions finds the sport relatively safe.
“He was playing football, I would think he has more of a risk getting hurt playing football,” Mr Tani said. “There is a lot of safety equipment out there. He always wears his safety equipment and we’re constantly exploring new ways to get new and better safety equipment.”
Unfortunately, the safety equipment does come with a price, and is one of the reasons go-karting has become an expensive sport. Mr Tani estimates that registration and regular maintenance alone costs about $200 a week, a steep price for the money-conscience family.
“My family has always been ‘use what you have’, we don’t have a lot of money,” Mr Tani said. “Most people say they’re a low budget team, we’re a no budget team. We go from week to week whether we’re going to be at the racetrack or not.”
Mr Tani hopes to land sponsorship for his son, to put his racing team on even footing with the more financially secure opposition, which he estimates have up to three times the funding available for their racing endeavors. Even though the sport is economically taxing, Mr Tani believes it’s time and money well spent, and takes comfort knowing his son is engaged in a healthy, productive activity. (Prospective sponsors can contact Mr Tani through the team’s email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“There are a lot of other things my kid could be doing,” Mr Tani said. “If he’s racing he’s most likely going to stay away from all the bad stuff. So far so good.”
Mr Tani’s efforts have paid off as evidenced by Ryan’s maturity, which is not only reflected in his success on the racetrack, but in his understanding of the importance of decision making away from competition.
“During a race you have to keep calm, your adrenaline could drive the kart and then you can spin out and lose the lead and lose the race,” Ryan said. “You have to make smart decisions on and off the track.”
The precocious Ryan has his sights set on first prize in his division, and is thoroughly enjoying the process of racing, even the laborious parts of engine construction and maintenance others may have not have the patience for.
“It’s really fun sport in my opinion,” Ryan said. “You meet new friends up there and get to run around. It does take some work, if they don’t like work oh well, I like work.”
Mr Tani hopes racing plays a part in his son’s future and sees exciting opportunities for Ryan down the road.
“I would love to see him eventually see him move up in the ranks,” Mr Tani said. “We actually have a sprint car given to us, so eventually he may be in that. In general, I would definitely like to see him continue with what he’s doing.”