They look cute, almost toy-like . . . tiny wheels, small engines, little steering wheels and frames that reach somewhere around knee-height.
On the race track they are cute, but certainly not toys. They are race cars at the simplest level. Go-karts to some; karting to the more informed. Auto racing by all definitions . . . stripped-down chassis, four- and two-cycle engines, brakes, seat, four tires and steering wheel.Step on the accelerator and they go. The speed record is more than 140 miles per hour, but 60 or 70 tops is more realistic at the new Wasatch Race Park in Lindon. But, sitting inches from the ground makes any speed seem fast.
Karting is, certainly, not new. The sanctioning body, the International Kart Federation, has been around for 35 years. Here in Utah it was confined to shopping-center parking lots and out-of-state travel until last year.
That's when Scott Roberts, a hooked-on-karting racer, along with partners Con Eskelson and Bruce Black, found a piece of land in Lindon and built what is being acclaimed as one of the finest karting tracks in the country. It is 3,150 feet long, has 12 turns, a 580 feet straightaway, and a design that offers any number of track configurations for unlimited variety. There is also a pit area, concession stand and announcer's tower.
Roberts said a lot of planning and work went into making the ideal track, "and from what some of the top drivers in the country tell us, we have one of the best."
Karting is where many of the top names in auto racing today got in their very first turns on a race track, and understandably so. This is a sport made for the young and the young-at-heart.
Eight is the minimum age for drivers. And even then they race with restrictors on the engines to limit speed. The idea is to make drivers of young racers, not necessarily speed demons.
"When all the karts go about the same speed, then the race rests on driving skills. Some of these kids get to be pretty good drivers before they move up," Roberts added.
The fastest class at Wasatch is the unlimited 135 cubic inch reed-valve. Aside from the looks of the engine, there appears to be little difference between this and lesser classes. On the track, however, it's very noticeable. Speeds through the turns are faster and out of the turns full-throttle comes almost instantly. Racers get the checkered flag a lot more quickly. Then this is where you'll see the cars hit up to 70 mph in the straights.
He pointed out, however, that there is still a faster class in karting.
"It's called the `Shifter.' We don't shift gears. We stay in one gear and keep the RPMs up. Karts in the Shifter class do shift gears and go faster. I think before long you'll see some of these cars here."
Karts have come a long way since the early years, when welded frames held lawn-mower engines and brakes rubbed on the tires.
Engines are more efficient, chassis are designed for racing, and all four wheels sport disc brakes.
The excitement of the karts, though, hasn't changed so much. The low profile allows them to turn sharper, faster and flatter.
But true racing is learning to run in a crowd - wheel-to-wheel, side-by-side. That's where driving skills come into play.
Another reason for the popularity of karting is the cost. A used kart with four-cycle engine and restrictor will run about $800, new about $2,000 . . . a far cry from the $7,000 to $10,000 it cost to put a race car on the track or the million it costs for an Indy car. Even the unlimited cars cost only about $4,500.
Safety equipment includes a helmet, long pants, high-top shoes, gloves, face shields or goggles, jackets and neck collars. All are mandatory.
The Lindon track is located about a mile north of Geneva. Races are held there about every two weeks. The next race is Sept. 12, followed by Sept. 18 and 26, Oct. 10 and 24 and Nov. 7.
New drivers are required to go through an orientation class. Veteran drivers simply show up and race in their class.
They say karting is big-time racing on a mini budget. In truth, it's big-time racing on a mini budget in a mini car on a mini track at what to the novice can be pretty fast speeds.