There are estimates that nearly 35 million people in the United States participate in some type of go kart racing every year. This ranges from the casual amusement park rides to high-performance indoor karting to 125cc shifter kart racing at triple-digit speeds. The arrive & drive format, which allows customers to show up at the track and compete in a professionally prepared kart, has really helped bring the sport to the masses. The average racer’s age at an indoor karting center is around 30 years, which is why this has become a legitimate form of family entertainment. Go karting is no longer just for kids!
The popularity of indoor racing dramatically increased with the creation of the electric kart around the start of the new millennium. Engineers working on hundred-million-dollar electric-vehicle projects for the automotive industry had figured out how to make more power out of compact motors. Simultaneously, battery packs were getting smaller and more potent, and the electronics were getting more high-tech and durable. The early days of indoor go kart racing were hampered by exhaust from the four-stroke engines that powered what was otherwise a well-built chassis. The carbon-monoxide output in a confined space basically limited the audience to mostly teenagers and young men. The rest of the family typically stayed away from the tracks because the exhaust is impossible to eliminate.
Let’s face it – only a rare breed tolerates the odor and doesn’t mind being subjected to the potential health concerns. Indoor tracks that use gas-powered go karts are normally required by law to use giant fans to vent out the unhealthy air; this generally makes it next to impossible to incorporate creature comforts for the participants such as air-conditioning and heating. It is the introduction of these comfort elements that has made go kart racing incredibly popular with corporate team-building events and private parties.
The first-ever go kart was created in Los Angeles by Art Ingels and his neighbor Lou Borelli in 1956. It featured a surplus McCulloch West-Bend 750 lawnmower engine and a chassis that rested just a few inches off the ground.
At the time, Ingels was working for the Kurtis Kraft Company in southern California building hot rods and race cars. But a few years earlier Ingels was an airman stationed in Europe and had built crude prototypes in Britain as a way to pass time during World Ward II. The first official organized race took place with several dozen of home-built machines in 1957 in the parking lot of the famed Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Now, it has been estimated that over 1.6 billion people world wide have raced go karts at some level (amusement parks, indoor kart tracks and organized professional races) in the last half century.
Ingels’ one-off two-stroke creation was the inspiration for Duffy Livingstone and Roy Desbrow to start the Go Kart Manufacturing, Co., Inc in 1958. The pair created their own versions of the go kart and then found inexpensive engines from the failed West Bend rotary lawn mower venture. As an interesting fact, the first go karts sold for $159!
The evolution has produced a wide range of karts including 100cc air-cooled classes, 125cc two-stroke shifter karts (capable of 115mph) and SuperKarts (capable of 160mph). All modern day Formula One racers grew up racing karts including Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, as well as NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya.