Alejandro Jaramillo feels most comfortable sitting an inch off the ground, going 85 mph.
Jaramillo is a kart racer. And we’re not just talking about the go-karts you can buy at a sporting goods store that you see tooling around your neighborhood every weekend. No, we are talking serious karts that move at high speed and are raced all around the world on custom tracks.
Jaramillo, a 9th grader at Dallas International School, says racing is in his blood.
“I’m a third-generation racer in my family,” Jaramillo said. “My grandpa has raced for over 45 years. I’ve gone to races since I was two or three years old. My dad found a local race track for me when I was little and since then, I’ve loved it. It’s been part of my life.”
But c’mon. As a kid who’s never sat behind the wheel of a real car before, not even to just languish in the endless traffic on I-35, zooming around at speeds in excess of 80 mph without a roof or doors has to be scary, right?
“When I first started five years ago, it was a little startling,” Jaramillo said. “When you first jump into it without that much experience, it’s a little scary. But once you get into it, you love the speed and adrenaline and it drives you to go faster and push harder.”
OK. But what about crashes?
“Sometimes crashes are inevitable, but some people try to avoid them at all costs,” Jaramillo said. “I’m aggressive when I pass, but I know how to avoid accidents. I spend a lot of time training physically and mentally to improve my reaction times. The biggest thing for a driver is to have lightning fast reaction times.”
Which, believe me, Jaramillo does. He whips out his phone to show me a video of him at a recent race where he successfully avoided a massive pile-up. Through a GoPro attached to his helmet, you can see the karts all around him smash together, a chain reaction cause by one driver’s errant steering. For what is literally a fraction of a second, an opening between all those wrecking karts appears, and Jaramillo jams down on the accelerator, breezing right through it. I have to watch the video a couple times to see how he did it. It’s that fast.
So it’s no wonder Jaramillo is one of the best racers in his age group on the planet. Last week, he competed in the IAME International Finals in Le Mans, France. It’s a prestigious race in which about 3,000 drivers apply for entry and only 140 get accepted. Jaramillo was one of only three Americans at the race in the Junior category. He travels all around the world for races.
“When I started, we did more local races,” Jaramillo said. “But around 2013 I started going out of Texas. The first place I went was New Orleans, and then I did nationals in North Carolina. Since then I’ve gone all around the country to different tracks. I’ve also been to Italy, Belgium and other places.”
Jaramillo said Dallas International School has helped prepare him for his budding racing career.
“Motorsport is a very unique sport,” he said. “I feel like DIS has helped me keep up with school but still be able to go race. They teach me in multiple languages, so I’m more prepared to go to France. The team I race with is a Belgian team, and they all speak French. So I’m prepared perfectly for that.”
Jaramillo’s ultimate goal is to become a professional racer. But he knows there will be bumps and wrecks along the way. His advice to students, aspiring racers and himself is the same: zoom past the crashes.
“Always keep your head up,” he said. “Every once in a while you’ll have troubles with the kart or the engine. Keep digging, keep practicing, or else you aren’t going to get anywhere. As much as it isn’t easy, you’ll find your way through it and eventually have success.”