Written By Tim Benz | Wednesday, July 24, 2019 6:15 a.m.
It could’ve been really bad.
A blow to the face after a Little League game. Right around the eye. He got knocked out.
“I was walking home, drinking my apple juice,” said Franklin Park’s Luca Mars, describing the worst injury of his life. “And a girl on the swings with cleats hit me right in the eye.”
The 13-year-old kart-racing champ lists that as his biggest mishap. Not one of his three racing-related ambulance trips, including the time he flew out of his car at high speed on the final turn and skidded across the pavement.
“I don’t know if my dad freaked out,” Mars said of his parents’ reactions to the spill. “My mom wasn’t there. But another time I crashed when my mom was there, and she flipped out.
Mars wasn’t rattled by the wreck. He was just mad he didn’t finish the race.
Cleated girls on swing sets at Little League fields? Different story
“So I guess that’s the justification,” laughed Brett Mars, Luca’s father.
Justifying — or embracing — the inherent dangers connected with auto racing is what has made Mars one of the fast-rising stars of the sport.
About to enter the eighth grade at Ingomar Middle School, Mars is making a name for himself in the racing community.
He won the 2017 Florida Winter Tour (Mini ROK), both the ROK and the SKUSA (Super Kart USA) Winter Series titles this February and the 2019 Florida Winter Tour Championship in Ocala last March.
Mars drives for Speed Concepts Racing. Mike Speed — whose son, Scott, raced on the Formula 1 circuit — formed the group. And he could tell Mars’ talent was special.
“A lot of these kids with talent, they are born with it,” Speed said. “He was one that you could tell. We just provide him with really good solid equipment and let him learn what he needs to do.”
Mars will race in the Rotax “Stars and Stripes Open” Aug. 2-4 at Wampum’s Pittsburgh International Race Complex.
“If he’s not one of the guys to beat, then we are doing something wrong with the equipment,” Speed said. “I do believe he is going to be one of the guys up front.”
If Mars’ car wins there, a ticket will be punched for him to participate in the ROK Cup Superfinal in October in Italy.
Mars finished sixth in that event last year in Brazil.
“I’ve been testing the car lately. I’ve been doing really good laps. I’ve learned a lot,” Mars said.
Mars’ father — who raced competitively as an adult — says his son’s consistency is what has allowed him to climb through the junior ranks.
“He finished in the top 3 about 88% of the time,” Brett Mars said. “It’s not about winning races. It’s about being consistent and not tearing up cars. So that’s the focus we put on. And it’s starting to reward.”
Mars has been driving since he was 6. He won the first race he entered. So he had some polish heading into the kart junior division, which is for 13- to 15-year-olds.
Having not yet hit his 14th birthday, Mars is already making waves against older drivers. And that hasn’t gone over so well. At times, he says, some older kids may have tried to wreck him out of spite.
“It doesn’t go over too well,” Mars said. “My first junior race, I was winning, and I got crashed.”
It’s not all track wars, trophies and globetrotting to exotic destinations for Mars. He admits missing up to 50 days of school isn’t as much fun as it sounds.
He’s relegated to playing a lot of catch-up for his assignments online and not getting to hang out with his friends as much as most 13-year-olds.
That balance could be even more difficult to strike as he moves up into the senior division, which corresponds with a more demanding high school course load.
Brett Mars says Luca’s career arc and the ability to mesh that with North Allegheny’s educational requirements will dictate whether he stays in the public school system. Or, he could go the private-school or home-school route.
But, pfft! C’mon! Details, details.
He gets to win money (sometimes) while driving 75 mph without a harness in 320-pound speed machines.
At 13 years old.
That’s three years before he can even approach 45 mph on McKnight Road as a regular licensed driver. That has to result in lots of street cred with your friends, right?
“It’s really cool, really fun,” Mars admitted.
A victory in Wampum in two weeks will give him bragging rights well beyond the halls of Ingomar Middle School.
He could boast all the way to Italy.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at email@example.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.
Luca Mars and his team on their practice sessions that took place Monday for the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Brazil!
November 26, 2018 ·
So finally we get to the action today! We rolled through the gates at 6:30 (easy to do here with a 4:30 sunrise!) for three rounds of practice - 15 minute recon session followed by two 8 minute sessions. Not a lot of time to learn a brand new track and a new kart plus get back in touch with an engine package that Luca hasn’t driven since summer - but we were ready for the challenge!
The initial session was very good with Luca starting in the back of the pack and picking off 15 or so racers and looking really comfortable & aggressive. Our tactics rarely change and giving Luca the green light to hunt is always the best way to gauge his comfort level and pace. He was solidly in the top five most of the session but the last few laps had him cutting through traffic so we never really got a flier once the track came in.
A few twists were thrown at us as the day wore on including wildly varying weather where it ranged from sprinkles to raging sunshine (I swear you can touch the sun from here if you jump high enough...) to deluges to cloudy/windy. You really never knew what you were going to get when you pushed off for grid and Mother Nature rarely skipped surprises. We had a light rain as we were sitting on grid for round two and then a downpour two groups before ours for round three. Shockingly the track dried amazingly fast both times and within a few laps the drivers were at full speed.
The second session saw Luca finish P9 and looking really solid but the third session we dropped way down the charts after trying something outside the box on the kart. As we always say - when testing it doesn’t matter if your changes work or not, only that you learn something from it. We learned that change kinda stunk...
A few interesting technical tidbits from the day - the first of which is rain tires and the fact that you only get one set of a very soft tire for the entire week of practice and racing. Definitely an exercise in judgement as we weighed the what-ifs and decided to run full dry setups with dry tires regardless of the circumstances so Luca could experience the track as the rain changed the surface or the surface dried during a race.
The other curveball was that the technical regulations changed on us midday. After testing and then preparing a kart utilizing all the awesome tuning tools that Praga gives you, we were told we were unable to change steering column & spindle pick up points or front & rear ride heights. Certainly not the end of the world but it did require a change of plan & direction on the fly.
These twists and turns are the hook that keeps us coming back for more though and we have a solid plan for tomorrow after some time with Andy’s nose in the laptop! We’ll be ready for three more rounds of practice starting at 8:00 tomorrow - remember, we are two hours ahead if you are following on Live Timing.
Sorry for the lack of travel/culture notes today but in the end this is what we came to do. No matter if it’s in the middle of an Indiana cornfield or a continent away a few steps from the sun, once we are on track it becomes a bit all consuming!
If you’d like to see Luca’s perspective on the event follow the Pittsburgh International Race Complex Instagram feed where they’ve allowed Luca to stage a takeover of their account! Thanks to the staff at our home town track for their support of Luca - very cool.
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