KEY LARGO — Ashton Chilton zooms at speeds near 80 mph and he doesn’t even have a license; he’s not old enough. He has no real need to carry a wallet yet, but what Ashton does carry is a profound love of pedal-to-the-metal go kart racing, and his goal is to one day become a NASCAR racer.
The pint-sized racer entered the arena four years ago, and now the 11-year-old boy has become a serious contender. He has won five local championships, one state championship and he took first and second place in the two-race World Karting Association Winter Cup National Series held late December at the Daytona International Speedway. Ashton was named the event champion. This is the second time he has entered the WKA national race series, and it’s a stark difference from the first go-round when he wrecked at the first turn in the first lap.
“He’s definitely found his groove,” said Matt Chilton, Ashton’s father, coach and tuner (mechanic).
Ashton’s go kart sits an inch off the ground and weighs roughly 105 pounds. He’s less than 5 feet tall and weighs 75 pounds. Ergonomically and evenly distributed in his kart are small weights adding approximately 30 pounds. Ashton needs the added weight to qualify to race as a “cadet mini” as the kart and driver must total 245 pounds. This August, he will be a 12-year-old and will join the ranks of the junior division. This means that his kart, while he is seated in it, must meet a minimum of 330 pounds.
The WKA is by industry standards “NASCAR’s Little League.” According to the Chiltons, a lot of competitors in the WKA begin training and racing at about the age of 4, and they’re often the offspring of heavyweight race car professionals or the affluent. Largely, these tots are corporately sponsored and are coached by industry big wigs like manufacturer BENIK Kart’s race team. For instance, BENIK Kart’s two-day race coaching fees are approximately $3,500. It buys a data coach, a coach, a tuner and more so these young kids are well groomed to become professionals.
Despite the leg-up that these kids have, the Chilton family team has beaten the odds. Ashton is one of the only racers that picks up his own kart.
“We are up against the multimillion-dollar teams, just as a dad and son,” Matt said. “You can buy just about anything to help get ahead, but you can’t buy heart and natural talent, which is what Ashton has.”
Ashton’s mother, Sabine, added, “It’s an official business where everything is so technical, and we are just like everybody else; we want to support our son’s dreams. So for our little team and his talent to win the last seven races is huge.”
She went on to say that for Ashton to move up a division without sponsorship will be costly. Her fear is that his dreams could be stymied due to lack of finances.
Matt works in the construction business and Sabine is in sales. It’s a concerted effort for the whole family on top of full-time employment. Matt and Ashton put in more than 20 hours per week fixing, fine-tuning and preparing the kart for races while Sabine maintains their website, posts to social media, makes travel arrangements and seeks sponsorships. She averages 10 hours a week. On race days, it’s at least a 12-hour day so they do put hard work into this. The Chiltons also have traveled as far as Indiana to compete.
“Racing has taught Ashton so many responsibilities and about respect,” Matt said. “He knows how serious it would be to hit another driver at 60 mph.”
He said that Ashton’s competitors are his friends and comrades, the same as in any sport. Sabine said she’s amazed at her son’s laser focus during race days and his attention to detail and ability to factor in technical variables.
While Ashton isn’t on the track, he is an honor roll student at Key Largo School, does CrossFit training and loves to fish. When asked if he ever felt that he was going too fast or felt scared, Ashton replied, “No, I’d go faster if I could.”
The next race event Ashton hopes to win is the ROK Cup USA Series Florida Winter Tour in Homestead, set for Jan. 13 to 15. If he wins, it will guarantee him a place in the championship race in Italy. Subsequently, his roster has him racing about twice a month throughout Florida and the U.S. during the summer. Visit ashtonchiltonracing.com for more information.