WATERLOO | The souped-up go-carts zipped around the cement track, their engines whining.
The driver of the shiny blue cart sped ahead, lapping the competition several times.
After about a dozen laps, the drivers pulled over and climbed out of their vehicles. As the dominant driver removed a protective helmet, a blonde braid fell out.
Meet 11-year-old Amy Thomas.
Amy, the daughter of Brian and Kelly Thomas of Brandon, just finished her first practice run at McElroy Auditorium on Friday in preparation for a race the next day.
The event, dubbed Mayhem at McElroy, is a series of indoor syrup flat track races featuring go-carts, motocross bikes, 4-wheelers, outlaw 3-wheelers and modified racing golf carts. Promoter Brandon Simon expected the event to draw between 100 and 120 racers.
In this form of racing, pop syrup is sprayed on the track, giving the racers more traction.
Amy, who is in her second year of racing, normally drives the dirt tracks in Delaware, Marshalltown and Cresco. This is the sixth-grader’s first experience with syrup.
"It’s kind of hard to turn,” she said. "It’s tight.”
Though Amy is outfitted in safety gear from head to toe, including shoes, chest protector, head restraint, gloves, jacket and helmet, her mom was a little anxious.
"Tonight is really the first time I was nervous,” Kelly Thomas said. "This is on concrete.”
Amy competes in races a couple times a week in the summer and is in about eight races over the winter. She finished the season at the Delaware track fourth in point totals and is currently third at the Marshalltown track with one race left.
As the practice continues, the smell of exhaust permeates the air. A group of racers on bikes jockey for position on the tight track.
Near an entrance, Neil Miller and Scott Thomas, both of Waterloo, tend to a modified golf cart with an electrical problem. The cart, nearly irrecognizable in its current form, has been fitted with a roll cage.
Miller has been racing for about 15 years.
"We should have about eight golf carts racing tomorrow, unless the other guys chicken out,” he said with a grin.
Scott Thomas, who is Amy’s cousin, started out racing go-carts at McElroy when he was a kid and has been racing modified cars for the last seven years.
"This is just for fun,” he said of the golf cart.
"This is where I started, and it’s nice to see (Amy) out there giving it a try,” he said. "I try to give her some tips.”
In the first hour of Friday’s open practice, about a dozen racers took turns checking out the track.
"We’ll get a lot more over the next couple of hours,” Simon said. “This is the calm before the storm.”
Mayhem at McElroy will feature 25 different classes, with racers competing for cash and trophies.
"We have racers of all ages, from 4-year-olds through some in their 60s,” Simon said. “Beginners to professionals.”