Lucas Palacio zooms down the pavement at 65 mph, maneuvering tight turns likely better than you can, except he’s 4 feet, 5 inches tall, still seven years shy of getting a driver’s license — and in a go-kart. The Vienna native has driven go-karts since he was 4.
This month, Lucas will race in the GoPro Motorplex Karting Challenge in North Carolina. The 9-year-old races nearly every weekend, traveling to Salt Lake City, Cincinnati, and Houston. When Lucas isn’t on the track, he practices at home on a racing simulator that is outfitted with a steering wheel, pedals, and three large computer screens.
Lucas’ dad, Nick, grew up racing F1600 and F2000 cars and introduced him to the sport. But it wasn’t love at first sight. Lucas says he didn’t like karting, as it’s called, until the second time he tried it.
“My little brother hit the gas and almost ran over my dad. For some reason, that’s when I started liking it,” Lucas says, letting out a giggle as he sits crisscrossed on the sofa.
Lucas started racing competitively in 2019, at age 5. Nick says it was tough since his son lacked size and experience. But during the pandemic, Lucas quickly improved.
Three days a week, the family lived in a hotel in Mooresville, North Carolina, so Lucas could practice karting. In 2021, Lucas captured the GoPro Motorplex Micro Swift Championship at 7 years old, competing against 7- to 10-year-old drivers. That year, he also won the Rotax Trophy East series, earning a bid to race in Bahrain. However, Lucas was one year shy of the race’s minimum age requirement.
In 2022, Nick challenged his 8-year-old son by moving him to the Mini Swift age division, which is made up of 8- to 12-year-olds. Lucas placed fourth in a national competition and was named one to watch by eKartingNews, a kart racing website.
As a second-year Mini Swift driver, he continues to find success. Lucas has won seven of 11 national races, including the United States Pro Kart Series Texas Grand Prix at his favorite track.
“There are so many corners, like a zigzag, and then it goes into a sharp 90-degree corner,” Lucas says.
In April, Lucas raced abroad for the first time, in Italy. As one of only two Americans in the Mini 60 Under 10 division, he secured fourth place in the pre-final.
Lucas’ favorite part of racing is “the last few laps when you get to battle it out.”
This gutsy driving style, his mom, Joyce, says, differs from his “cool as a cucumber” persona off the track. Outside of karting, Lucas enjoys playing soccer, drawing, and math. Last year, he maintained his advanced math and reading levels, despite missing 48 school days while he was traveling. Now in fourth grade, he often does homework on the plane or at the track.
Lucas hopes his hard work will pay off at November’s Superkarts! USA SuperNationals. His goal? “To win it,” he says, beaming from ear to ear.
Feature photo courtesy Nick Palacio