Life’s on track for 8-year-old racer and family

By Greg Hart
Sports Editor

You hold your breath as your son drives away for the first time. Excited, but anxious and nervous too, you’re happy as he takes yet another step toward independence. Your heart beats with a mixture of pride and fear as he picks up speed. It’s white knuckle time — yours not his – as he circles back, accelerating as he approaches. He zips out and passes not one, but two cars. As he zooms by, you can hardly find the breath to cheer, but you manage. Your son is a little younger than most who start driving. Well, a lot younger. He is 5 years old and he has just begun racing karts that reach 35 miles per hour.

The Macko-Bradley family: From left, Katie, Darin and Charlie, the 8-year-old Kart racer. He’ll be graduating to a more powerful Bandolero car this year with a new number — 99./Home photos by Cynthia Prairie. All others, including the cover, were provided by the family.


Seven years ago, Katie Macko and her little son Charlie moved to Chester, VT, from Arizona.

Within a year, Katie met Darin Bradley – both are physician’s assistants – and the three have been a team since, enjoying snow sports, sailing, camping and cultural outings like visiting the Statue of Liberty and a winter trek to Washington, D.C.

Charlie also participates in the usual activities offered to children in and around Chester — baseball, soccer and ice hockey – oh, and his pogo stick. “I just set a new record, 106,” he says.

He also likes playing with his stepbrother Jake, also 8 and Darin’s youngest child who is with the Macko-Bradley family about half of his time. And like most 8-year-olds, Charlie likes TV and video games.

While many aspects of Charlie and his family’s life are typical, racing makes it anything but, turning a portion of their homelife into a cottage industry, now known as Charlie Macko Racing, which you can Like on Facebook. It’s a sport that demands vast resources of time, labor and money, of which Darin and Katie provide the majority. Darin has a background as a pit crew member for his cousin at Bear Ridge Raceway and at Devil’s Bowl, both in Vermont, while Katie also applies her more recent – but nonetheless deep – love of the sport also in the garage and in the pit.

Stepbrother Jake often pitches in on race weekends, helping to maintain the car’s spiffy appearance. Darin’s three older children and Charlie’s father Bill Ackley catch a race when able. “It’s our family time” says Katie.

Charlie Macko in his race car simulator, which connects him to racers all over the world.

Even Charlie’s love of video games can take a decidedly racing bent.  He owns a driving simulator with an integrated racing seat, steering wheel, gas and brake pedals all with realistic feel and feedback. With it, Charlie is able to race in real time against fellow enthusiasts of all ages from around the world. It helps Charlie hone his reflexes and stay sharp when he can’t get to the track, especially over the winter months.

During racing season, which runs May to November, races are held almost every weekend. Darin puts in 8 to 10 hours each week tuning and prepping the car for the race ahead and, with Charlie’s help, weighs and balances the car to regulations. Until this past summer, Charlie raced mostly at Twin State Speedway’s 1/8-mile track in Claremont, NH. Looking for new challenges led CMR to tracks in Loudon and Concord, NH, as well as a few in Connecticut.

After shop time and travel time, it’s finally track time. Darin says, “It’s often an 8-hour stretch from start to finish. We get to the track about an hour and a half before qualifying heats … (we) sign in, do safety and technical checks and get some practice laps in.” Then come the heats, usually 20 laps and the “feature” race, or finals, that are typically 30 laps. The Top 5 finishers are subject to a post-race technical check to make sure no one has sought too much of a competitive advantage.

For CMR, the travel time, which had been hefty, promises to increase even more this year, with Charlie’s move to “Bandolero” cars in a nationally regulated point series that could take them to tracks as far away as North Carolina if they choose.

The travel time, which had been hefty, promises to increase even more this year, with Charlie’s move to “Bandolero” cars in a series that could take them to tracks as far away as North Carolina.

And then there is the money. Karts cost $2,000 to $3,000 and the new Bandolero car Charlie will be driving this summer will be a $6,000 investment. Additionally, there is safety gear, registration fees, fuel, maintenance, travel expenses and more, most paid out-of-pocket by Katie and Darin.

Charlie’s safety gear is similar to those at the highest levels of racing including a full Nomex fire resistant racing suit with boots and gloves, helmet with visor, full roll cage on the car, specialized racing seat with 5-point harness and a neck brace. In the new Bandolero, Charlie, who stands 4 feet tall and weighs in at 50 pounds, will race with a Full Containment Seat and HANS, a head and neck restraint system.


“It all started on a family summer vacation in Arizona. We were at an amusement park that had go-carts and somehow Charlie made the height requirement,” Katie recalls. “That’s all it took, he couldn’t get enough.”

Katie, Charlie and Darin at home on a recent Friday evening.

About three months later, the family arranged for some solo track time so Charlie could get a feel for the Tiger Cub as well as an actual racetrack. Darin remembers, “Charlie came in from that session and said ‘Let me back out there.’” Most kids do love it. But for most kids, it doesn’t go beyond the amusement park.

Katie remembers thinking, “What am I doing? Do people really do this, sending their 5-year-old kids out here to race?” And Darin? “I could not watch. I was really, really nervous.”

Charlie doesn’t remember being nervous. “I just took off, I felt good because I didn’t spin out or go into the wall.” The anxiety for Darin and Katie ebbs and flows: With each level of Charlie’s progression comes a renewal of those initial worries that then fade as he adapts to the new challenges.

Charlie started racing entry level Tiger Cubs (a 215 to 240 lb. car can reach speeds of 35 mph), graduating at age 6 to Tiger “B” (275 lbs. at 40 mph). By the end of his third season, Charlie was racing a 300 lb. Tiger “A” Wild Thing at speeds sometimes reaching 50 mph, usually against kids several years older.

When asked what his favorite part of racing is, Charlie says, “That nervous feeling I get before a race, and then it just goes away when we start racing.” What about becoming a pro driver when he grows up? The answer is a qualified yes, “Four years in the Army first, then I’ll come out and be a NASCAR driver.”

The anxiety for Darin and Katie ebbs and flows: With each level of Charlie’s progression comes a renewal of those initial worries that then fade as he adapts to the new challenges.

No matter the sport, Charlie is a nonstop ball of energy, using his natural athleticism to insert himself into the play. Katie says that Charlie “can be … running around like crazy, but when he puts the suit on and gets in the car, he brings it right down and focuses.” Impressive for any 8-year-old, but more so for a child with Attention Deficit Disorder, as Charlie was diagnosed in 2011.


Charlie has been in a number of minor spin-outs and accidents, and only one resulted in injury, albeit minor. “I was holding the steering wheel wrong,” he says, demonstrating that he had looped his thumbs in the steering wheel, when they should have been free while his fingers gripped the wheel.

Charlie with some of his sports trophies, including ones for racing.

Two other incidents left him a bit uneasy. During the first, a fellow racer and friend got too aggressive and ended up flipping his car right in front of Charlie. “At first I thought he just spun out, but when I saw him flip, I screamed. I was worried.” The other scare came when Charlie was entering the track down a steep ramp. His brakes failed, and he narrowly avoided several other cars, ultimately stopping by scrubbing his Kart against the outer wall of the track.

Clearly safety is a priority for CMR and this is where the CMR family tree extends its branches. It starts with Charlie’s grandmother who sponsors much of Charlie’s safety equipment. And just like the big boys, additional expenses are covered in part by sponsors. CMR is sponsored by Killarney Irish Pub in Ludlow, PinnacleView Equipment in Walpole, NH, and the Springfield Firefighters Union.

Just like the pro racers, Charlie and CMR have obligations to their sponsors including personal appearances, photo ops and advertising space on the car and trailer plus mentions in any print material and press releases from the team.

Beyond the immediate family, how does one procure sponsors for an 8-year-old’s kart racing? Like most ventures at any level it’s all about networking and connections.

Killarney Irish Pub is owned by Chester residents Mark Verespy and his wife Judy, who was Charlie’s preschool teacher. Mike Snide, owner of PinnacleView equipment, was one of Charlie’s hockey coaches. With Darin’s work in the ER came connections with firefighters and EMTs so the Springfield Firefighters Union was approached as a logical sponsor for Charlie’s fire suit.

The CMR logo

Just like the pro racers, Charlie and CMR have obligations to their sponsors including personal appearances, photo ops and advertising space on the car and trailer plus mentions in any print material and press releases from the team.

Behind its bar, Killarney displays several of Charlie’s trophies and racing photos. “Charlie is an awesome kid, well-mannered and enthusiastic,” says Mark Verespy. “His family is down-to-earth, straight shooting and up front with our dealings. … I consider them friends.”


When Charlie, Katie and Darin talk about family, they not only mean each other, they also mean their extended family — in the racing community. “Charlie has made some great friends in racing that he wouldn’t have found otherwise. And we’ve found that most of the other families are just great people, we love the camaraderie. … most are really supportive of each other,” says Katie.

She recalls that, “Sometimes we’re in the pit looking for a part or an extra set of hands to help us out and sometimes it’s Darin offering his help on someone else’s car. We all just want to get the kids out there racing and having fun.”

It’s a decidedly small extended family that CMR belongs to. Archie Archambault, race director of Karting at Twin State Speedway, said 50 to 75 drivers under the age of 10 race at his track. The sluggish economy plus the built-in costs involved in the sport pushed those numbers down from a 150 to 200 drivers five to 10 years ago. Nationally, participation numbers in Karting vary widely. The World Karting Association, the largest of numerous Karting organizations, estimates 3,000 to 5,000 racers (no age breakdown), yet National Kart News estimates more than 80,000 racers nationally, about 25% of which are 10 to 25 years old.

Charlie’s first Cub Kart, bearing the number 17./Courtesy photo

As with all sports, lessons can be learned. And sportsmanship is one that has not been lost on Charlie. Katie says, “Charlie races clean and he’s known at the track for his good sportsmanship. He’s always quick to offer a handshake and ‘Good race’ greeting to other drivers after the race.”

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes you wreck.”
Charlie Macko

Sportsmanship and clean racing are sometimes learned the hard way. In one of his very first races Charlie was black flagged – immediately disqualified — for making an inside pass on a corner but taking it a little too hard inside and onto the infield grass. One “DQ” was all it took for Charlie to get the message; in fact for a while he drove a little too hesitantly and it took a while before he found the balance of being aggressive enough without crossing the line.

With more than 100 races under his belt, Charlie has had 35 podium or Top 3 finishes and 10 “feature” wins. And beyond, who knows? While Charlie, Katie and Darin all love speed, they are in no hurry for Charlie to grow up. And although Charlie is as competitive as they come, he doesn’t take it too seriously as evidenced by one of his favorite sayings about racing, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes you wreck.”

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About the Author: Chester native Greg Hart is a 1985 graduate of Green Mountain Union High School. He earned his bachelor of Science at the University of Vermont and returned to the Chester area in 1994 to start a business and a family. He lives in Chester, owns Blue Sky Trading Co. in Ludlow and is the proud father of three. He can be reached at

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  1. Sue Pollard says:

    Keep up the great work, Charlie! A kid with your enthusiasm and focus will surely succeed in whatever you choose to do!
    Thanks, Greg, for writing such an interesting article!
    Sue P