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One sweet ride

Joseph Lamberth drives his way into a spot in the world karting championships

Posted: September 5, 2013 2:30 p.m.
Updated: September 6, 2013 5:00 a.m.
Photo courtesy of Debbi Appleton/

JOSEPH LAMBERTH (right) and fellow CMP go-kart driver Pauly Massimino hold up their golden tickets. The pair will head to New Orleans in November for the 2013 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, the world championships of karting.

This is one golden ticket which was sweet to have won, but would not give its recipient a trip to the dentist’s chair.
Rather than by the dumb luck of opening a candy bar and, wrapped inside, was a certificate for a trip to a factory where it is produced, Joseph Lamberth earned his spot in the 2013 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals field by being one of the country’s top go-kart drivers.
The 12-year-old Lamberth lives with his parents, Brandy and Chris Lamberth in Statesville, N.C. He is also the  grandson of Paul and Debbi Appleton of Camden.
Lamberth, who is the top-ranked driver in the Mini-Max Class at the Carolina Motorsports Park in Westville, was awarded his golden ticket to the Nov. 13-16 Rotax Max Grand Finals at NOLA Motorsports Park, located outside New Orleans, following his qualifying for the world championships at a race held at CMP on Aug. 24. Along with North Carolina Micro Max racer, Pauly Massimino, the two were the first drivers in the country to earn two of the only 36 coveted spots in the field.
Lamberth was actually tied for the top spot in the series with another driver after the race. Each of the boys had three wins and a trio of seconds after the six races which counted toward determining which driver would earn a berth in the New Orleans event. In the sixth race at CMP, which would determine who would receive the golden ticket, Lamberth led the first of 11 laps before being overtaken and finishing second by his rival.
In order to determine which of the two top drivers would advance to NOLA, officials went back to which driver won the most heat races. Lamberth locked up his berth with four top finishes. And with that, the ticket was his.
The karting program at CMP is only five years old. And, having two of his track’s drivers going to the most prestigious karting event in the world, left the facility’s operations manager, Camden’s David Watkins, nearly at a loss for the right words.
“This has put Carolina Motorsports Park on the map … the karting really has,” said Watkins, who along with Brian Smith oversees the program. “To be one of the young guys in this sport, we’ve made an impression on people across the country. People know who we are, now, because of these kids running in these national events and bringing it to light.”
Ranked second in the nation among Mini-Max drivers (ages 10-13) by eKartingnews.com, Lamberth is a relative newcomer to the sport. It was Christmas 2011 when Paul Appleton purchased a used go-kart for his grandson at CMP. He also bought one for himself as a hobby that both grandson and grandfather could enjoy together.
“It was just a bit of a distraction for him,” said Appleton, who raced motorcycles as a teenager in his native England, about the venture into go karting with his grandson who must behave correctly and maintain good grades in school in order to keep racing.
“We both bought a go kart; lower end models to go to the track with and have some fun. It became apparent, pretty quick, that Joseph was half-decent at it.”
Competing in the Mini-Max class, in which karts are restricted to topping out at 60 miles per hour with the driver a little more than an inch above the road racing surface, Lamberth was first in a group in which included four older, more experienced racers. The older kids shared their experience with Lamberth and he learned by doing. Before long, he was making his way to the podium --- reserved for the top three finishers in a race --- to pick up his award at the end of the event.
While not ready to proclaim Lamberth prepared to drive on the Sprint Cup circuit just yet, Watkins said the young racer was a quick study when it came to getting behind the wheel of a go-kart.
“Joseph has not been in it long,” Watkins said, “but for the short period of time that he has been in it, he’s adapted well. He’s good at telling you and his mechanic what the kart’s doing, which is huge in being able to coach and being able to work on the kart. He’s been exceptional the last couple years. Some of these kids have been at it since they were five years old and he’s only been racing for two years.
“He still has some rough edges, but he’s getting there. A lot of the stuff that he gets, some kids don’t get. I haven’t found the perfect racer, yet. But he’s really good.”
That mechanic whom Watkins refers to is Appleton, who serves in a variety of roles. He is his grandson’s mechanic, crew chief, sponsor --- along with his wife --- and traveling companion when the family heads to races throughout the region in Appleton’s recreational vehicle.
“Looking after Joseph is a full-time job,” Appleton said with a laugh. “We spend a whole day there (at the track) and he spends a little over an hour driving the kart and I’ll spend six or seven hours working on it.”
Once Lamberth displayed his racing prowess and the wins started coming at a fairly regular pace, Appleton said he sought more coaching help from Smith, Watkins and other professional driving coaches. Soon thereafter, some of the rough edges were being smoothed out.
In a sport in which speed plays a key role, Watkins said the top drivers know the way to victory lane is more than who has the fastest car. That, he said, is an area in which Lamberth shines.
“Joseph knows his limits. He knows what he can take at certain speeds,” he said. “He thinks … and, that is a big thing in karting. You need to think real fast. You need to anticipate what’s coming next and Joseph is real good at anticipating what he has to do.
“A good karter, in his mind, will set himself up three turns ahead of him. He’s already thinking of what he’s going to do. To adapt to that and to do that right, it takes an exceptional person.”
Each kart has a data card in which the information is then downloaded into a computer layout of the race course. The information contained on the card shows a driver where he was fastest on the course and in what areas he needs to become better. Lamberth, Watkins said, is good at processing that information, then listening to his coaches before making the necessary adjustments the next time he gets behind the wheel.
“It’s a huge learning experience for them on all kind of grounds,” Watkins said. “Most kids that age are playing video games and things like that, but for these kids, at their age, to be able to look at the data and for one of us to explain to them where they’ve gone wrong … For them to understand that at that age is unreal. It’s a good life lesson for them in the future.”
In a still-young career which he hopes will lead to his dream of racing in the Sprint Cup Series, Lamberth has already competed in a pair of U.S. National championships. In 2012, he raced in the event held in Indiana before competing in the event held in Mooresville, N.C., this year. But the Rotax Max Grand Finals is an entirely different beast. This is the first time the event has been held in the United States and, Watkins said, it may be a long time before it returns here, given the worldwide popularity of karting.
With the Carolina Motorsports Park awaiting word as to its bid of hosting the 2014 U.S. nationals, having success stories such as the one still being written by Joseph Lamberth does not hurt the facility’s chances.
“It’s been huge for our business,” Watkins said of CMP’s karting program and its nationally ranked racers. “I get calls from people from all over the country who want to come here and practice or, just visit the track, if they’re around here. And, that’s from all the attention from these kids’ running in the nationals.”

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