Filip Niemkiewicz, at 9 years old, is on a quest to be a professional race car driver.
However, unlike many of his peers who may say they aspire to the same profession during conversation surrounding the topic, "What do you want to be when you grow up," Filip is well on his way to achieving his goal.
When he was 2 years old, Filip's 6-year-old sister had a Barbie electric car. It was attractive to Filip, and when he jumped into the car, "right away, he started driving like a maniac," said his father, Sebastian Niemkiewicz.
"He was doing full-speed figure 8s around the (parked) cars," he said, adding that Filip drifted the turns naturally.
With two parents who enjoy following Formula One and other speed events, it didn't take long for Filip's mother to encourage her husband to find a way to encourage the Breckenridge youth's driving. After some research, Niemkiewicz saw that the introduction to racing was through go karts, so for Filip's seventh birthday, father and son traveled to Erie to rent karts. Filip had the chance to drive on his own - and he loved it.
"He pushed the gas pedal down all the way, to the point where his kart broke down on the track," after the wire connecting the pedal to the gas snapped, Niemkiewicz said. He explained that, in a way, he's living vicariously through his son. Neimkiewicz's family didn't have the means to support his love for sports cars and fast driving, so it's particularly important to him that Filip gets the chance to pursue racing.
Competition will get tougher as Filip gets older, but for now, the youngster is among the top racers in go kart driving, which typically sees about 14-16 drivers in a race, Niemkiewicz said.
This fall, Filip placed sixth in the Pan American Challenge held at The Track at Centennial, and finished the fastest driver from Colorado. Fellow racers hailed from Utah, New York, Venezuala and South America, said Niemkiewicz.
He then went on to finish first in the final club race in the Pikes Peak Kart Racing Club and in a race at the Grand Junction Motorspeedway. He set a track record this season, breaking the two-year record of 1 minute, 2 seconds and 12 milliseconds with a 1:01.68 time.
"That's a lot with a little engine without a lot of horsepower," Niemkiewicz said.
When Filip took to the track two years ago, he participated almost exclusively in the Colorado Junior Karting Club and finished first overall. This year, by intermingling races outside of the Colorado karting circuit, Filip didn't finish as high, but he's moving on to new aspirations, including a top finish in the Rocky Mountain Challenge circuit as well as a higher finish in the Pan American Challenge next summer.
In the meantime, he'll get back on the track in Arizona in January during the Gatorz Challenge of the Americas Winter Series, which could take him to California in March. His goal this winter is to try to win the series.
To stay sharp, dad and son each have specific roles. Dad focuses on mechanics, primarily on how to keep the kart running in tip-top shape. Speed restrictors and motor guidelines keep the mechanical field largely even, meaning Filip must keep his form to handle the gravitational pull as he rounds corners at 45 mph. He does tae kwon do when he's not on the race track to hone his body and mind, and the father-son duo head to the track every other weekend they're not racing to practice.
Niemkiewicz estimates his son has driven 3,000 miles already in his lifetime, based on a rough calculation of the number of times they've visited the track and the 100 laps they do when there.
When Filip is on the track, he focuses on minimizing drag by tucking his head behind the steering wheel (he's among the tallest drivers in his age class). To get started, he "hops" the car into action.
"It looks like I'm a dog eating from a dog bowl," the youth said.
In the past year, Filip connected with another youth, Derek Deslauriers from Littleton, to form a team, which puts two motors together to propel the cars ahead of the pack - and once in front, leaves the two to duel for first place.
Filip is careful to say "he or she" when he explains how karting works, because there are two girls in his engine and age class, and "they are pretty good," he said.
When Filip turns 11, he'll move up a motor and age class to compete with youth younger than 16 in the mini max group, which is far more competitive with the field nearly doubling to 26 racers on the track at a time.