Willy Axton, an eighth-grader from Ensign Intermediate School and a Costa Mesa resident, recently became International Karting Federation Grand National Champion. (Courtesy of Jeff Axton / November 20, 2013)

Willy Axton, an eighth-grader from Ensign Intermediate School and a Costa Mesa resident, recently became International Karting Federation Grand National Champion after winning the Grand Nationals.

Axton won the IKF Grand Nationals held at the Buttonwillow International Raceway Park just north of Bakersfield. He built on momentum from last year, after winning the 2012 United States Southwest Regional Karting Title.

As IKF Grand National Champion, Axton follows in the footsteps of past winners of the prestigious title, including Kevin Harvick, Scott Speed, Danica Patrick, Colin Fleming and Joey Hand.

Axton races go-karts that are capable of speeds well over 80 mph. The kart sits just over one inch off the ground weighing in at 320 pounds with the driver, and a 32 horsepower motor. That's about one horsepower for every 10 pounds.

"This power-to-weight ratio is what makes these karts so incredibly quick", said Axton's father, Jeff. "All the tracks we race on are approximately one mile in length with 14 turns."

Axton's season last year was impressive with three consecutive wins as he approached the final race of the year and won the 2012 championship.

As he prepared to get the 2013 season underway he knew most of the field had their sights on him as the one they had to beat.

The race day got off to a rough start. In the morning practice, Axton was 1.2 seconds off the pace. After some quick work by his mechanic in the pits the kart was placed on the grid for qualifying. With a huge performance pick-up, he was able to put his No. 24 Kart off-pole, the second-best time in the field, and would line up on the front row for the start of the heat race.

Buttonwillow is a 14-turn course and approximately nine-tenths of a mile in length. Axton's qualifying time was 49.601 seconds, averaging 57 mph around the track, and a top speed, down the 1,000 foot straightaway, of 78 mph.

In the heat race, Axton had a troubled start in the outside line, the less desired line. The karts took a rolling start, some call it a running start, to the green flag. He dropped back two spots and started to work his way forward. With no chance to catch the leader Axton climbed his way back to a second-place finish.

At the start of the main event, Axton and two other karts made contact and lost a bunch of ground to the leaders. The third, fourth and fifth racers had a five-second gap to make up on the leaders who were nose-to-tail and fast. The race went 22 laps so there was plenty of time to catch them.

Axton took the lead of the group and began the process of trying to close the gap. With five laps to go Axton and the fourth-place racer were within a half-second of the leaders.

Axton displaced second place and hunted down the leader. With two laps to go Axton was on the leader's bumper. After a nail-biting white flag lap, the last lap, Axton completed the pass and went on to win the 2013 IKF Grand Nationals.

"My fellow racers are some of the best in the country and I can learn a lot from these guys," Axton said. "They have been in this class a lot longer than I have and I want to earn their respect. I have had some incredibly talented people around me this year, as well as in my earlier years, and I owe them all a ton of gratitude.

Axton also thanked his parents, sponsors, team and coaches, saying, "without them I wouldn't stand a chance."

Axton is now racing with kids from the high school ranks and has proven he has what it takes to keep pace with some of the best talent in the country.

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