She is a first grader at Osceola Magnet School in Vero Beach. She likes Disney princesses and horses. Her favorite color is pink, she likes reading, and her favorite subject in school is art. Oh—and she is a race car driver who has driven at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the famed Brickyard.
When Lily Lampp was just 3 1/2 years old, her mom, Lauren, received a cute photo in a text from her brother; he and his daughter were at the Grant Seafood Festival and happened upon a booth belonging to the Space Coast Quarter Midget Racing Association (SCQMRA). Lily’s young cousin sat in one of the cars on display, and her uncle snapped a photo.
“I thinked it was cool,” Lily says of her first impression of the sport. Lauren and Bryant, Lily’s dad, were cautious but intrigued. Lily was still too young to participate, but she showed an interest and her parents began to investigate. Bryant, an assistant at a CPA’s office, found a used quarter midget car on Craigslist and bought the parts needed to rebuild
it. The project unfolded over the next year, with everyone pitching in: grandparents; uncles; Lauren, who works as a physical therapist; and even little Lily herself, who has always taken a keen interest in the mechanics of it all.
Quarter midget racing dates back many decades. It is so named because the vehicles are approximately 1/4 the size of a “midget” car—a small, powerful car that spawned its own racing circuit in the 1930s.
Youngsters aged 5 through 16 can participate in quarter midget racing, divided into 15 classes based on age, weight, and engine specifications. Lily is in the Junior Honda class. Her car weighs just 265 pounds, 45 pounds of which is Lily herself.
Headquartered at the Valkaria Airport in southern Brevard County, where a 1/20-mile track has been set up on the old runway, SCQMRA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit sanctioned by the United States Auto Club (USAC) and is part of the NASCAR Youth Series.
Lily started training at 4 1/2. Neighbors must have been amused to see Bryant waving green, yellow, red, white, and checkered flags as Lily rode her bicycle past. They also practiced with Matchbox cars.
Lily graduated to the real thing and drove in her first race at age 5. Lauren admits to being a nervous wreck; but who wouldn’t be while watching her child, barely old enough to ride a bicycle without training wheels, drive 35 miles an hour, and competitively at that? But the sport is not really any more dangerous than other children’s sports. Indeed, SCQMRA’s website states that since its inception, quarter midget racing “has had one of the finest safety records in all of organized youth sports.”
The sanctioning bodies impose strict safety requirements, and SCQMRA adheres to them rigorously, as Lauren discovered when she “interrogated” the club president and his wife.
Prior to each race, club officials conduct a safety check on the brakes, steering wheel, belts, arm restraints, and helmet strap—and this after the triple-check routine most parents, including the Lampps, have already performed. Lily even wears a HANS (head and neck support) device just like the pros. Safety belts are replaced every two years, even if they appear intact, due to the possibility of microtears that, while not visible to the naked eye, can compromise the integrity of the belts. Perhaps the most prominent safety precaution is the roll cage that ensconces each driver.
The track itself is not without its own safety measures: The wall is constructed of two layers of wood with several inches of rubber in between. An EMT is on hand for every race, and parents stand ready at each of the four turns in order to be able to run onto the track in the event of a mishap, directing drivers and reorienting wayward cars.
Of course, even with all the attention to safety, injuries do occur. As with a number of other sports, concussion is the predominant risk. Lily has already had one, sustained when she got into the wall at about 25 mph during practice. But the Lampps have had multiple conversations with their pediatrician and are confident that she is at no more risk than if she were engaged in, say, horseback riding or gymnastics.
“The recent conversations being had in the sporting communities surrounding the concussion risk are compelling,” says Bryant. “I think these conversations are healthy and need to be had throughout all sports, most importantly youth sports.”
But the conversation about risks tells only part of the story; like other youth sports, racing brings many benefits. A strong emphasis is placed on sportsmanship, playing by the rules, and behaving graciously in both victory and defeat.
The Lampps note that racing is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)-based sport. Lily takes an active role in the maintenance of her car and exhibits an impressive grasp of the tools and mechanical processes involved.
It is a very family-oriented sport, with several generations often participating in a driver’s team. One charming example is the “Special thanks—Mamaw & Papaw, Mimi & Papa” printed on one SCQMRA driver’s car. It is also common to see the parents of competitors jumping in and helping one another out.
Demonstrating self-awareness beyond her years, Lily assesses the personal growth racing has brought her. “It gets me more tougher and also helps me pay attention better,” she observes. Both Lily and her parents have noticed an improvement in her reading as a result of this enhanced ability to focus. She also values the many friendships she has acquired in SCQMRA.
Even so, Bryant and Lauren state unequivocally that they would pull their daughter out of the sport in a second if they thought they were putting her in serious danger. “We are always navigating these risks in life,” says Bryant. “This kid already makes me feel like the luckiest dad in the world, regardless of what extracurricular activities she may participate in.”
To the Lampps’ knowledge, Lily is the only Vero Beach child involved in quarter midget racing. What do her classmates think about it? “Some don’t believe me and some think it’s cool,” she reports.
Lily has logged some 5,000 laps on her home track; her most memorable lap, however, took place on an oval more than 1,000 miles away when young drivers from clubs all over the United States converged on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Battle at the Brickyard and made a parade lap on the 2.5-mile main track the first night of the multiday event. Lily was just 6 years old at the time.
It is a track well known to her favorite driver, Hélio Castroneves, who has won the Indy 500 a record four times. Following in his tire tracks was a thrill, though the single circuit that Hélio makes in about 40 seconds took Lily and her peers nearly five minutes. She recalls thinking, “Wow—my car’s going so slow!” as she tackled a track 50-times longer than what she is accustomed to. And the 9-degree banking in the turns made her feel as if she were going to flip over. But she didn’t get scared.
In fact, the related questions “Do you get nervous before races?” and “Has anything ever made you scared during a race?” likewise meet with a sweet but decisive “No.”
Having crashed during qualifying for her Brickyard race, run on the much-smaller quarter midget track in the infield, Lily had to start last. But her competitive spirit and Bryant’s careful repairs paid off. “I knew I was going fast enough,” Lily reflects. “I knew I had to pass all those cars.” The spunky little redhead took third place, a podium finish, and earned a prized possession: a brick inscribed with her achievement.
Quarter midget racing is definitely an up-and-coming sport. The USAC started its “.25 Series” in 2009 with five clubs; now there are nearly 60 tracks spread throughout the United States. The USAC-NASCAR partnership is new, announced in late 2022 and implemented this year, making Lily a member of the inaugural class of NASCAR Youth Series drivers.
The Lampps have an open mind regarding Lily’s future in the sport. If she stays on track, so to speak, she will advance to the Senior Honda class when she turns 9. But school will always come first, and Bryant and Lauren are not seeking attention or sponsorships.
As for Lily, she exudes an endearing balance of innocence and playfulness on one hand and confidence and fearlessness on the other. She wants to be an artist when she grows up and is already thinking about selling art supplies to fund her creative endeavors.
But for now, racing agrees with her. She is having lots of fun, building self-confidence, and developing skills that will last a lifetime. “My favorite thing,” she says with youthful exuberance, “is that you can go fast and get trophies.”