Henry Morse is the fastest 12-year-old in the South Bay and he hasn’t even taken his driver’s test yet.
Morse, a spry, dark-haired middle school student who wears a black, foreboding racing suit on the weekends, was the youngest racer invited to the 2012 World Kart Championship in Essen, Germany. He competes against men decades older than him, and holds his own while sticking tight turns at up to 50 mph.
“It’s cool to see Henry race and win against adults who are in their 20s and 30s” his dad Ben said. “It’s cool the respect my child gets from adults.”
The kart he drives, a 6-foot long Super Series Sport Kart, can complete a two-thirds of a mile lap in a minute. Henry has even competed in hour-long endurance races. The 5 foot 2 inch 6th grader competes against up to 100 other racers, and almost always wins top honors, sharing the podium with men that tower over him. According to Ben, Henry raced three perfect seasons.
“He qualified first based on the best lap time in the teen class and won every race he started,” Ben said. “The last season he won the adult championship and set an all time lap record, three times. No one has gone faster.”
His dad says that Henry’s best qualities are his positive attitude and love of competition. His desire to win is bolstered by his creativity, sheer bravery and clean driving style on the track. He feels his weakness is that he is too kind on the track.
“At first I was worried and shy being just a kid in a crowd of adults,” said Henry.
Henry started racing when he was two. But he didn’t start with four wheels; he began with three. After winning tricycle races, he moved to racing pocket bikes – small motorcycles – when he was five. After his father had an accident on a motorcycle, he was moved to go karts because of safety concerns.
“For my first race I was kind of nervous,” Henry said. “But I had racing experience so I wasn’t completely scared or anxious.”
Henry thinks one of his skills is an intuitive understanding how the other competitors race. He is also possesses a strong feel for how his kart will drive, “because certain karts behave certain ways,” Henry says.
During the races, he concentrates on the maneuvers he’ll have to make ahead of time.
“I see an obstacle and I can’t go through it, I have to go around it,” said Henry. “I have to think of the most strategic way to go around it.”
He can even pinpoint competitors’ weaknesses while taking tight turns and planning his next move.
“I always look at their karts,” said Henry. “Maybe he brakes too early or takes a turn wrong.”
According to his father, when he beats older competitors the most frequent complaint is that he has an aerodynamic advantage because of his size and weight.
“They add weight to his cart so really there’s no advantage,” said Ben. “He’s much younger and weaker and he’s forced to carry all this weight and sit comfortably in the kart – he’s really at a major disadvantage.”
During one particularly close race, his dad said that a competitor popped off his helmet and said, “Henry just doesn’t make any mistakes!”
“When I win a race I feel really, really happy and really excited,” Henry said. “I can’t get the smile off my face. I never win by a million miles, but I lean forward to see if I’m ahead.”
He began racing because of his father’s passion for speed.
“I didn’t really know it existed,” Henry said.
The Morse family has a history of racing. Both his father and grandfather, Steve Morse, raced vintage motorcycles at Daytona Beach – and won, 30 years apart. His grandfather is a collector of European racing cars and motorcycles, and his father began racing big wheel trikes at age three, repeatedly winning the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. Even his grandmother, Bev, and aunt Stacey are lifelong motorcyclists.
But his grandmother said that Henry has a special quality even within the Morse family.
“Henry is the finest, most natural racer of us all,” she said. “He really is a phenomenon.”
Henry doesn’t think his classmates at Chadwick School in Palos Verdes understand that his racing isn’t just a phase.
“My friends think it’s just a hobby,” Henry said. “They can’t really put their minds around it.”
When he goes to local go kart tracks with his friends, he said he thinks the equipment is substandard and the karts are uneven, but he enjoys driving around with others his own age.
According to Ben, Go Kart racing often feeds onto the NASCAR racing field or Formula 1 tracks and at 12, Henry is at a level where sponsors are interested in signing him onto their racing teams.
“He really could be the next Formula 1 champion,” Ben said.
For now, Henry just doesn’t have the keys to a car, but he has a kart and big dreams.
“I absolutely want to continue,” Henry said. “It’s the natural thing.”
And if he does continue, he expects to continue winning at whatever level he races.
“I have high expectations for myself,” Henry said.
In 2013 he will be racing in CalSpeedkart’s Super Series in Fontana in the 12 and up class. He will also be racing in the Los Angeles Kart Club PRD Jr. 2 division competing against 12 –15-year-olds and in the Go Kart World Championship EuroKart Series.
“He still is getting better every time he goes out on the track…,” said Ben. “I constantly have to remind myself that he is only 12.”