When you think of a "Go-kart", you'll likely think of the little karts that are parked in clusters at your local weekend attractions. With lawn mower engines limited to speeds slower than a suburban neighborhood. You might think of the faster ones at a nearby arrive and drive track. Or if you're educated enough you might think of the ones that run at purpose built sprint tracks, where aspiring racing drivers run. But I'm not here to tell you about those. No, I'm going to tell you about the fastest ones. The karts that are built to cut through the wind and break the 100 MPH mark, literally an inch off the ground. The ones that race on some of the most famous road courses in the United States. This is Road Racing.
Enduro "Laydown" karts at Daytona Speedway. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Before I go any further, yes. This is an article written to recruit new racers. To spur your interest and get the word out to more people. I'm speaking on behalf the Woodbridge Kart Club and the World Karting Association. Karting is already a small market in the states and the road racing crowd is even smaller. Many members are up there in their years, and we need the younger guys to keep the racing alive. Road Racing is very different from the fast paced sprint tracks. Everyone is very welcoming and glad to help new faces. No one here is trying to become an F1 driver, so the racing is close but polite.
There's something that makes a road race special. I mean, any race is special when you're the one racing but it's different from say a sprint track. The environment is something special. You never want to leave, but tomorrow you have to go back to work. Because it's Sunday, and you're broke because you're racing. The small sprint tracks the size of Wal-Mart parking lots are replaced with long, sweeping corners, not to mention some of the most famous corners in American road courses depending on where you're racing at. The short, 10-15 minute sprint races are replaced with 30 or 45 minute endurance races. And the quick sprints up to your kart's top speed are replaced with 100 MPH speeds, with some reaching 140+. But enough with the pep talk, of course I'm going to say it's the greatest thing since Breaking Bad, I'm here to convince you to get out there too also.
"Sprint-enduro" karts leaving the pit lane at Virginia International Raceway. Photo Credit: Carol Davis
Road Racing is run in a multi-class format, much like the LMP and GT racing we all love. A confusing part of road racing is just how many different and not so different classes there are. Different engines, exhausts, weights, and kart types. Of course, with all the classes they aren't run as one big race. Usually 6 individual races or so. Races are 30 minutes for "sprint" karts, and 45 minutes for "enduro" karts. That being said, let's break down the different types of karts you'll see at a road race.
Stock Honda (shifter) sprint karts in the turn 2 at ViR. Photo Credit: Carol Davis
Also known as CIK karts, these are the standard racing karts you're used to, and you can still find them at road races. Albeit with longer gearing of course to reach those top speeds. The two primary sprint kart classes are TAG, or "Touch and Go", due to their onboard starters. TAGs run water-cooled 2-cycle 125cc engines. The 2nd class is the shifter karts, with the most common engine being the CR125, or Stock Honda. These karts are among the fastest karts that run, with speeds pushing over 100MPH. Of course, all sprint karts are at a disadvantage due to the driver and bodywork sitting higher in the air, causing drag at high speeds. But they'll still pull you around quickly, especially in the turns.
Me, in my Sprint-enduro kart with my goofy yellow gloves at Summit Point Raceway.
The next step up on the road racing ladder are the sprint-enduro karts, or "sprinter" karts. They serve as an intermediate between sprint karts and enduro karts. With a different frame construction, aerodynamic fiberglass bodywork, and a laid back seat, you'll find no shortage of speed with these karts. Engines vary, but you'll either see them running 2-cycle 100cc engines or 4-cycle 200cc. Top speeds are usually around 90-95MPH, but a good draft can get you over the 100 mark. You can identify a sprint enduro from the peculiar front nose. But hey, function, not formality.
Enduro kart at Grattan Raceway. Photo Credit: World Karting Association
Known also as Laydowns, for obvious reasons, these karts are only found at road races and they deliver the ultimate road racing experience. If it's speed you desire, get one of these. Even with the least powerful engine (KT100), they'll still break 100 mph. With 45 minute races you'll get plenty of track time. Engines still vary, with 2-cycle 100cc engines being the standard issue. However things get even better, and faster in the "B-Stock" or unlimited class. These karts have not one, but two engines on each side of the driver. In a draft, they can reach speeds of 140MPH. Crazy? Very.
Vintage laydown at Summit Point's Shenandoah Circuit. Photo taken by me.
Here's another group very unique to road racing, the vintage karts. Easily identifiable with their lack of bodywork, and fuel tanks on their sides, this class brings in the older guys who have been dedicated to the sport all their lives. Engines and chassis date back to the 70s and 80s.
Superkart at Grattan Raceway. Photo Credit: World Karting Association
Another kart type worth mentioning is the Superkart. Though they are somewhat of a niche in the United States, these karts are powered by 250cc 2-strokes with 6 speed sequential gearboxes. They are about as close you can get to a F1 car on a budget. Run exclusively at road courses, they can set the fastest lap times of any kart class, though twin engine laydowns can still be faster. Race Karts don't get much better than these.
So now that you know all the types of karts, where do you start road racing?
Well start with whatever region of the U.S you are in. In my case, I'm in Virginia so I would fall under WKA sanction, along with the rest of the east coast. I have no easy answer for those out west, but I do know of KART, CES, and the IKF. Your regional organization is the only way to go road racing also.
Next is your budget. I have no easy answer here either. $3000 is a good place to start, it can cover a used kart with engine, racing gear, kart stand, gas, and a few races worth of entry fees. Right now is a good time to build a budget, as winter is approaching and the racing stops until Spring. In the end the expenses will keep adding up though. But still, road racing (and karting) is a very cost effective way to go racing.
Now what kart and engine do you start with. A good way to start would be to get a sprint-enduro with either a Yamaha KT100 (2-cycle) or a Briggs Animal engine (4-cycle). You'll get plenty of speed out of either. From then you can move up and get into a faster class such as TAG or Laydown enduro.
That about covers it. There's probably more I could detail but my fingers are tired. If you have any questions, or want me to elaborate something, please do ask in the comments. I'm on Jalopnik most of the time. Or maybe not most of the time, pretty much all the time.
Maybe I'll see you out there in 2015.
Top photo credit: Carol Davis