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Ottawa’s go-karting whiz-kid has a need for speed

by | Jan 18, 2021 | Driver Profiles

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For Bronson Hetherington, whizzing around curves at more than 85 km/h is par for the course. Or rather, par for the track.

The 10-year-old first stepped into a go-kart three years ago and promptly fell in love. He recently finished his best season ever, winning 11 races including three local championships, and placing in the top five in his age category at the prestigious Coupe de Montreal.

“I think I’ve done really well this year because I practised with my coaches and spent a lot of time in my go-kart,’ Hetherington explained.

Coach Martin Laplante says there are 60-100 go-kart racers in the Ottawa area, ages seven to adult, who have the option of competing in races every weekend between May and October if they’re willing to travel to Montreal or Toronto. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

COVID-19 driving sport’s popularity

Back in the spring, when the karting season starts and the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, Bronson and his dad/mechanic Scott Hetherington wondered if they’d get a chance to race at all this year.

But Scott said go-karting is one of the few sports left relatively unaffected by the pandemic. Because kids bring their own vehicles and helmets, and race individually, precautions were limited to sanitizing certain surfaces and keeping distance in the stands.

In fact, Bronson’s coach Martin Laplante said the sport experienced a surge in popularity this year.

“We thought we were going to see numbers drop … but this year has been one of the biggest years in many, many years,” said Laplante, who runs Premier Karting academy at a track in Gatineau, Que., with his brother.

“I guess people maybe are at home and want to do something outdoors more,” he suggested, adding that Canadian F1 star Lance Stroll might also be driving interest in the sport.

Bronson Hetherington plans to spend the off-season practising at the indoor track in Gatineau and teaching younger kids how to race go-karts. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Young and fast

Laplante raced until 15 years ago, when he decided to focus on coaching. He said he’s impressed by what kids like Bronson can do at their age.

“They get wise well beyond their years. You look at them and you wouldn’t think that they’re kids driving these cars going 100 km/h almost. They’re bumper to bumper, not afraid.” 

“I was kind of nervous for my first time here,” Bronson admitted. That’s when he was seven. Now, he said he’s too busy concentrating on the race, “trying to pass people and have fun.” 

Scott Hetherington is 10-year-old Bronson’s dad, and also his mechanic. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Now it’s his mom’s turn to be worried.

“My mom is afraid to come to my races because she thinks that I’m going to get hurt,” he said.

Scott Hetherington said he keeps an eye on the first curve of the race to make sure all goes well, but relaxes once the drivers settle into their positions.

“The thing is, with these guys, they’re all good drivers. They’re trained. I would trust some of these kids at nine years old driving a car more than I would trust some other people I know driving a car,” he joked.

Scott Hetherington says go-karting has provided a way for him to spend one-on-one time with his son. (Submitted by Scott Hetherington)

Track time together

Because of COVID-19, there will be no travel south this winter to compete in Florida. Instead, Bronson plans to spend his weekends at the track with his dad, coaching younger kids and training for his eventual goal of becoming an F1 driver.

For both father and son, the highlight of each race is the moment Bronson crosses the finish line, where he traditionally does a fist pump.

“That’s a pretty proud moment for a dad there. It’s very exciting,” said Scott.

At 10, Bronson Hetherington is coming off his best season yet, winning 11 races including three local championships, all despite COVID-19. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

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