When most people think of go-kart racing, they probably think back to a mom-and-pop amusement park when they were kids: Edge of town, arcade with pinball machines, maybe one of those Pong consoles. Coin-operated batting cages, Skee-Ball. Lots of coin-operated stuff. And a primitive go-kart track carved from the weeds out back.
Lots of little kids. Maybe one big kid with a pack of Camels rolled up in his T-shirt sleeve, terrorizing the little kids.
That's one form of go-kart racing. Slice of Americana, that kind. If you were nice to Gus, the grease monkey with the oily hair who worked on the go-karts - and the place wasn't too busy - maybe he'd let you take an extra lap, for free.
The other kind of go-kart racing is the kind that Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher and all those Formula One champions and a lot of IndyCar drivers did when they were kids. Serious kart racing. No Skee-Ball. No Pong. No Gus with the oily hair.
In this kind of kart racing, it costs around $6,000 for a European kart racing engine, or a Honda.
This was the kind of kart racing they had in the Rio parking lot over the weekend. Lots of money, lots of technology. Fine meats and cheeses in the hospitality tents. Loads of young men with a need for speed; loads of young women with tight chassis and impressive aerodynamics - and big sunglasses - watching them.
They called it the Superkarts! USA SuperNats, short for Super Nationals. This was the Indy 500 of American Go-Kart Racing. The ultimate test of (young) man and (tightly wound little) machine.
(You could tell by the exclamation point.)
These kids were fast.
Some, like Max Verstappen, son of Jos Verstappen, the flying Dutchman who drove in 106 Formula One Grand Prix races, came from solid racing stock. Young Verstappen is only 15.
A lot of these kids had last names that ended in "I." Torsellini. Gazzurelli. Piccini. Ortolani. A lot of these kids had the Italian flag painted on their helmets.
One of these kids was a little older. Maybe a little wiser. Definitely a whole lot bigger.
One of these "kids" was 47-year-old Todd Olcott of Henderson, who stands 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 243 pounds.
Big kid, this Olcott. No Camels in the T-shirt sleeve, though.
But being the big kid isn't advantageous in the Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher style of kart racing. Being big creates drag, and drag slows you.
So does not having a ton of money to spend on one's go-kart.
A lot of these kids with the European surnames and the famous bloodlines have tons of money. Tons of sponsors. They have pit crews with matching uniforms.
Todd Olcott owns a swimming pool business. His father did not drive in Formula One. His crew was one guy named Patrick who had a small oil stain on his T-shirt.
Before a lot of these kids played Nintendo, Olcott played tennis at Bonanza High. He said kart racing is a little more intense than high school tennis, except, perhaps, when Bonanza played Valley. Olcott said Valley was serious about high school tennis. Valley even had ball girls.
Olcott is semi-serious about kart racing. He says the fast kids put about $15,000 into their karts; he has put about half that into his.
One of only eight Americans in the SuperPro/KZ2 class - which is as high as it gets - Olcott qualified 31st in a 33-kart field. He finished 22nd. He passed a couple of the young whippersnappers and moved up when some of the less patient ones crashed.
He finished one spot behind Max Verstappen, who blew his $6,000 European custom go-kart motor into tiny bits.
The race paid $10,000 to win. It paid nothing to finish 22nd.
Olcott figured the weekend cost him about $3,000. When you add in the racing thrills, he said he came out ahead.
In a couple of weeks, he'll race his kart at Sonoma Raceway in California, on the same track the NASCAR drivers pretend to be road racers. He has raced at Laguna Seca, on the world-class road circuit. He has barreled down the famous Corkscrew with his butt no more than an inch off the pavement.
You should try it some time, he says. It's exhilarating. He has been clocked at 101 mph, also with his butt no more than an inch off the pavement, at Willow Springs in California. That was exhilarating, too. He didn't say I should try that, though.
Getting lapped by the fast kids in their fast karts, their European surnames obscured by sponsor decals, was hardly a disgrace for the big kid from Henderson with the swimming pool business.
Michael Schumacher, himself, drove in this race - in this class - in 2008.
He finished seventh.
On Sunday, AJ Allmendinger, a former IndyCar rookie of the year who won the 24 Hours of Daytona this year, finished 11th in one of the preliminary races and seemed happy about it.
These kids are fast. Ask Schumy. Ask The Dinger.
One of these kids is 47. He said he learned a lot from the younger kids, and their crews with the matching uniforms. And also from watching the driving line of the 29-year-old Italian guy who won.
Next year, when he is 48, Todd Olcott says he'll be a little faster.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.