Speed Secrets: Why Karting Is More Than Child's Play
By Ross Bentley
April 21, 2016
Every time I hear a driver talk about karting as something that either kids do, or simply a step along the way to "real racing," I get frustrated. If only they understood that karting can be an end in and of itself. There's nothing wrong with karting your entire life! Also, many car drivers make a mistake when they overlook the benefits of karting as a tool to help them improve. And as this week's guest author, Davin Sturdivant, points out, at an affordable cost. -Ross
Let me start out by just saying that I love karting. I really do. I’ve only been in the sport for a few years, and from the moment I turned a wheel, I found myself addicted to it.
You often hear that karting is the sport that gave some of the world's best drivers their start into the larger motorsport world. What gets overlooked is how large the world of karting is on its own, and the fact that it is one of the most accessible forms of grassroots motorsport. The relative affordable cost to purchase packages, availability of track time, and performance capability of a competition kart provides a great opportunity to improve one’s driving skills while having a ton of fun.
Competition karting is some of the purest form of racing that I’ve experienced. Nothing will provide you with such immersive involvement than driving around a race track in a kart. Nothing at all. You’re sitting as one with the machine, as the entire chassis is flexing around you. You feel every camber change and every difference in grip level as it is interacting with your body immediately.
Thanks to its small size and low center of gravity, the performance figures of a racing kart are an exciting proposal. Depending on your class, you can have 0-60 performance times between 3.5 to 6 seconds, experience over 2.5 lateral G, and have braking performance akin to a racing car. Honestly, it is hard to find something that compares to the performance figures of a race kart, next to an open wheel formula car.
Fortunately, there's a range of options when it comes to the available budget of a racer looking to get into a kart. One very popular entry-level option is the Briggs and Stratton 206 package. A 9hp, single speed, four-stroke kart whose entire package can easily be purchased for $2,500 dollars, the 206 is basically becoming the Spec Miata of the karting world.
As you get more comfortable with the sport, you can move into faster karts - all the way to a shifter kart with 40 hp and a six-speed gearbox. Remember, this is 40 horsepower in a machine that weighs less than 400 pounds with a driver, so you can experience formula car speeds for less than it would cost to purchase a Spec Miata.
For the more technically-minded, karting provides endless setup and tuning opportunities. What looks like a simple machine at a glance is immensely complicated once you start working to set it up for the track. You find yourself working with chassis stiffness, axle stiffness, hub size, alignment, seat positioning, weight positioning, and a myriad of other setup possibilities.
A hidden bonus to the sport is the ability to find ample time on the track to practice. When you’re racing cars, track time is normally expensive, and most car-racing tracks typically only have certain times of the year available to practice. Karting tracks typically have longer seasonal calendars in which they stay open, and practice fees are relatively inexpensive compared to even a HPDE track day. You’re looking at between $10 to $60 for a day of practice, compared to over $200 for a session in a car. Most kart tracks are owned by the local clubs, so they don’t charge large rental fees.
For those of you who have competition licenses in race cars, I highly recommend getting into a kart for additional seat time between weekends in the car. We all know that seat time is everything. The performance envelope in a kart will help make the race car feel a bit slower, after moving around a 45-second race track.
A popular misconception is that karting is just for young drivers. There are racers who have spent a lifetime in the sport of karting in classes that run all the way up to the super competitive Masters class for drivers 45+. You can get started in the sport any time you wish to. There is a large online community for karters, who love to share information. For example, sites like KartPulse help bring kart racers together to share their love of the sport and help new people get situated.
I may be biased, but I think that karting is one of the most fun motorsports that you can experience. Even if you decide not to take up racing karts on a regular basis, I highly recommend making sure that you put it on your bucket list to do at least once. You’ll never have a more pure driving experience.