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Updated on December 1, 2016

Karting is a sport in which small motorized vehicles, known as karts, are raced. Similar to midget racing cars in many respects, karts compete on miniature race courses ranging in length from two-tenths to eight-tenths of a mile. In addition to racing, the building and maintenance of homemade karts is a popular hobby. Homemade karts are not usually raced in formal competitions, although informal competitions often result when builders demonstrate their karts at empty parking lots or unpaved oval tracks.

The sport had its beginnings in a parking lot of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. In 1956, Art Ingels, a Los Angeles racing-car builder, demonstrated there a little car he had built, powered with a two-cycle lawn-mower engine. His friends built similar vehicles, and soon the parking lot was filled on Sundays with kart enthusiasts showing off their creations and entering into impromptu races with other hobbyists. Karting caught on nationally, and tracks were built in many areas of the country. A national organization, the Go Kart Club of America, was founded, which has since become the International Kart Federation (IKF). Kart specifications were established, and manufacturers began making commercial karts. Because of their greater safety, their ability to reach higher speeds, and their generally improved maneuverability, commercial vehicles soon dominated organized kart races. However, people continued to build their own karts to compete with other enthusiasts informally.

Racing Karts

Most racing karts are made of lightweight thin-walled steel tubing. They employ such weight-saving devices as wheels, axles, engine mounts, and various chassis components made of aluminum and magnesium alloys. The engines used for racing karts are quite powerful, considering their cubic-inch displacement. Two-cycle engines of the type used for powering chain saws are modified to deliver two or three times the horsepower and revolutions per minute. A small amount of experimentation has been done with the use of the motorcycle engine and the water-cooled outboard boat engine. A variety of fuels are used, from exotic mixtures of alcohol, castor oil, and methane to extremely volatile nitro mixtures.

There are two basic kinds of karting: drag, or short-distance-acceleration, racing and long-distance endurance racing, generally known as enduro racing. Each kind usually requires special modifications of those karts that excel in it. Both drag and enduro racing are divided into several classifications, depending on engine displacement, combined weight of driver and kart, kind of fuel used, and basic selling price of the engine. There are special races for youngsters.

Rules and Regulations

Rules for karting are established by the IKF. In addition to establishing the racing classes, the federation regulates the layout and size of driving courses. The IKF also requires all contestants to wear safety clothing, including helmets, goggles, and protective jackets, trousers, and gloves. Strict rules ensure safe and courteous driving.

Pleasure Karts

Pleasure karts are usually built of mild-steel tubing with a comparatively large diameter, chosen for its strength and durability. Little or no consideration is given to competition, so that handling characteristics are not particularly stressed.

Equipped with large amounts of heavy padding, pleasure karts are designed to accommodate the comfort-conscious driver and his family, and speed is not stressed.

Karts can be purchased from commercial manufacturers, but real karting enthusiasts may prefer to build and customize their own models. Distributors of new and used engine and body parts are located in many states.

Although karts cannot be licensed for operation on public highways and streets, they are easily transported to driving areas in the trunk of a car or with a cartop carrier. Most of the driving and casual competition of pleasure karts is done in parking lots or at unpaved dirt tracks.


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