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Racers start their engines in Palmetto

PALMETTO -- Jayden Larson first got behind the wheel at 3 years old.

Yes, only 3.

That’s when the soft-spoken boy began racing go-karts.

Now 5, Jayden has dreams of becoming a NASCAR driver and just might be well on his way. He came in first place Saturday at the Kid Karts competition at the Florida Karting Championship Series at Andersen RacePark.

“What I like the best about racing is that it’s like battling,” said Jayden, of Minnesota, whose dad used to race as well. “When I’m behind the wheel I feel happy.”

He’s a good sport, too.

Even though he came in first, Jayden made a point to congratulate his competitors after the race.

“You did a good job,” Jayden said as he shook their hands.

This is the second straight year the three-day racing event has taken place in Manatee.

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has partnered with the 18-acre park in hopes to make the area a hot-spot for motorsports enthusiasts.

“I think it’s been successful so far. We are looking to expand and do more with the local hotels. It was a bigger turnout than last year,” said Eddie Kish, director of karting operations at RacePark. “It was a big success. For the three-day weekend, we’ll have over 1,000 people go through the gates.”

The race drew first-timer Mike Donoghue, 44, who cheered on a friend’s grandchild on the sidelines with about 50 other bystanders in the Rotax Micro Max race.

“It’s been fun. I don’t know a lot about it, but I’m learning,” he said.

Kish said some of the appeal of racing is that it is a family sport.

Jackson Rohner, 5, and his father, Damon Rohner, 40, of Tampa, also competed. Jackson, who has been racing for a few months, said he does it for one reason: He likes to go fast.

“We go really fast,” said Jackson, whose kart can go about 40 mph. “My dad tells me to stay focused and to do a good job.”

Damon Rohner will compete in the Shifters competition today along with Seldon Whispell, the oldest person involved at the race.

“Well, I started on my 62nd birthday and I’ll be 74 in May,” said Seldon Whispell, of St. Petersburg, who used to work on high-end sports cars as a mechanic and now finds himself going about 120 mph during Shifters races. “Speed don’t hurt ya.”

The park is at 10101 U.S. 41 N. Gates open today at 7 a.m. Track activity begins at 8 a.m. Admission is $10. Children 4 and younger are free. The events will go on rain or shine. For more information, call 723-3900 or visit