Distributed by The Sports Xchange
On a recent visit to the race track, Juan Pablo Montoya was more nervous than he'd ever been before -- and Montoya wasn't even driving.
No, Montoya was experiencing the delicious agony of watching his son Sebastian compete in a go-kart race.
"One part of it is really, really cool to see, but it's stressful," Montoya told the NASCAR Wire Service during a conversation at Martinsville Speedway. "I used to laugh about my mom getting nervous about me racing -- now you get it."
Sebastian, who turns 8 this week, began racing late last summer and has been competing in about one event per month. Montoya, whose father Pablo encouraged his first forays into karting, has been careful not to push his son into racing.
"He always liked it," the Colombian driver said before NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at the Virginia short track. "We gave him (a go-kart) years ago, but we had it very limited, just for him to do some laps -- they call them 'baby karts.' For his birthday last year, we gave him the go-kart, and it's hard... the transition. He was doing probably 20 miles an hour, and now he does 60-something."
Montoya already can see potential in Sebastian's driving.
"The progression has been incredible. I'm not pushing him at all. I want to make sure it's a hobby for him. For me it was that way. I think, since Tiger Woods came out, every parent thinks they've got to go and do it every day. You don't have to do that.
"Because the day they turn 13 or 14, they look at a girl... if you're forcing them (in any sport), they don't want to do it again. It's got to be something fun for him. If he wants to go, we go. If he doesn't, we don't. Everything's about go-karting for him right now, because it's fun."
Even before his birthday, Sebastian has been racing in the 8-10-year-old classification against drivers who have been competing for two or three years, Montoya says.
"The first few times you get really nervous about him, and then you get more worried about him doing well," Montoya said. "You want to have really good equipment for him, but at the same time, you want him to learn. The better equipment you give him, the less he's going to push himself.
"The problem is that, when you go to the nationals, the good kids have the best equipment as well. When we started, in the first race (in Florida's winter series), he was last and miles off the pace in local races. Three weeks ago, he finished second.
"In local races, he's doing really well, and in national races, he's getting a lot better, but he still has a way to go, I think."
Montoya, who is based in Miami during the racing season, helps make sure Sebastian learns during occasional visits to the go-kart track at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"I push him a little when we practice together to learn to pass, and when he puts himself in a bad situation, I'll make him pay," Montoya said. "I run my go-kart, and he runs his, and I'll drive him off the race track.
"If he's right behind me before braking, he's got to go. If I'm behind him, and he lifts a little early, I'll dive-bomb him as well. If he tries to pass me on the outside, I'll drive him off the race track -- I do, I do. I'm not going to put him into the tire barriers or anything, but there's curbs at the exits, and I'll make sure he runs over the curb to the other side, so he learns that, if you go there, it's not going to work.
"But he loves it. We laugh about it, and it makes for a fun day."
Because of his schedule in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, Montoya hasn't seen Sebastian compete since January. In fact, Montoya's wife Connie has taken on extra duty, driving Sebastian to his events in Florida. From a social standpoint, both parents have seen an enormous change in their son.
"He's a very shy kid, but at the race track, he's a different kid," Montoya said. "He's learned to socialize, play around with all the kids, have a good time. It changed him as a person completely."