January 23, 2022

Microd club makes racing accessible

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Julia Parker of Groton on the night of her first race, ever, on Aug. 13, 2021, at Little Wheels Speedways in Dryden.

Alex “A.J.” Burgess said he’s won three microd races in his eight seasons competing.

“I have never been one of those guys that had to be the winner,” the 65-year-old said. It was about being involved.

Burgess is the president of the Finger Lakes Microd Club, based at Little Wheels Speedways, a microd track in Dryden.

Burgess is a school bus aide and for 25 years he was a salesman of cardboard boxes.

“That’s where I made the money to build the track,” he said.

His track is one tenth of a mile off Peruville Road. He’s got several containers to store the microds, a concession stand and a scorer’s box.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

An aerial shot of Little Wheels Speedways in Dryden.

“We have something we call our doctrine. Everyone that joins the club has to sign it. Basically, the idea was to be different from other microd clubs,” Burgess said. “They are all about winning.”
The Finger Lakes Microd Club is geared for children ages 5 to 17, sometimes older, with several goals:

  • For kids to be successful.
  • For the sport to be accessible to all, whether able bodied or not.
  • For everyone to have the same equipment.
  • For the sport to be affordable.

“I’m paying it forward for when I was a child,” Burgess said, who had epileptic seizures as a child. “I had a lot of them.”

When he tried out for baseball, his father insisted on telling the coach. He was denied access.

“Not in our league!” the coach said. He heard the same from the football coach.

“When you can’t do anything, you begin to wonder what you are here for,” Burgess said.

He and his dad once traveled to Auburn and saw a microd race.

“I saw them and got excited. I wanted to do this,” Burgess said.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Alex “A.J.” Burgess of Freeville at his microd track.

“I think you will be safe doing this,” his father said.

But Burgess didn’t want his father to ask race officials if he could do the sport.

“Can’t we just buy a car and race it? Do we have to tell them?” he said to his father.

“Yes, we have to tell them.”

“To my surprise, they didn’t have a problem with it,” Burgess said. “It gave me a chance to be normal at something. It saved my life. Winning wasn’t important to my father. Learning something was.”

The Finger Lakes Microd Club started in 1983.

“We used the McLean track for the first five years. It belongs to the Cortland County Microd Club. In 1988, I built Little Wheels.”

A microd has an engine like a gas-powered lawn mower and was meant to be easily constructed by a youth.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Every week, microd engines are removed from microd frames and switched too other frames to even the playing field among the youth drivers. Owner A.J. Burgess keeps track of when each engine went into service. He uses heavy duty oil to keep them in good shape.

Burgess has three-horsepower engines for little children up to six-horsepower engines for older kids. He’s got a slew of engines he switches from car to car every week so no one can tweak an engine for the race.

“I’m no motor expert,” Burgess said. “Dick White, the pit steward, does that.”

“We put heavy oil in to prevent (damage),” Burgess added. “That’s why we get 30 years out of it. I think we have lost six motors in 39 years.”

He’s got 47 cars available for rivers. People can buy a car to use at the track, but they must buy it from Burgess.

“All cars are set up exactly the same, with the same parts. The whole idea is to make it even. So when a driver wins, it’s because of the driver, not daddy’s ability to buy parts.”

“Right now we have about 26 drivers, five own their own car,” Burgess said. “We are the only club that offers rental of microds. A lot of people can’t afford their own car. And a lot don’t know if their kid will like it.”

Children and their families gather to race 10:30 a.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. two Fridays a month.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Kids race Aug. 13 at Little Wheels Speedways. Two Fridays a month, more than 20 microd racers from all around Central New York take to the track

Allison Morsey of Whitney Point brings her 11-year-old son, Victor, to the track every week. “Victor’s been doing this since he was 5,” she said. “I think it’s good. It teaches the kids teamwork.”

“At first it’s pretty scary,” Victor said. Now it’s normal. His goal is to win at least one race.

“This is really the only time I have to do this, on the weekend,” said Victor.

“He doesn’t do sports,” said Allison Morsey.

“I don’t want to do sports,” Victor added.

“We rent from A.J.,” said Bob Wagner of Chenango Bridge. “I have been doing this for 12 years, coming out with several different kids. I have a foster home. I bring in foster kids.”

Emily Parker was stressing about her 7-year-old daughter, Julia’s car, watching her race for the first time Aug. 13. Julia’s microd was lagging during the race and then kicked into gear.

Parker, of Groton, said she used to race as a child, too, but horses. She felt the same excitement at the track she had as a child.

The all-volunteer park has its own board of directors.

“Two years of the club, they made me permanent president,” Burgess said. “Later on, I took on the role of treasurer.”

Microding started in 1954, Burgess said when Bob Robinson built a car in Skaneateles for a A Fresh Air Fund kid. He made the car 36 inches wide, the width of a sidewalk.

“A bunch of kids liked it. They wanted him to build them a car,” Burgess said. Six cars were built over the winter, but the town didn’t want kids driving all over the place, so officials gave them a place to ride in a park.

Microd clubs started taking off in upstate cities in the next five years.

Burgess will be out on the track and notice a child having a problem. He’ll know what to do to correct it.

He doesn’t say a word to the child. He tells the child’s dad, who works it out with the kid.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Bob Wagner of Chenango Bridge makes an adjustment on a car while Bruce Leader of Auburn looks on. In the background is Wagner’s grandson, Ryan McIntyre.