Go Karting: The Need for Speed

What is faster: your driving speed or your excuses? Are you the fastest driver in town? Go-karting is not only an exciting means of entertainment for the novice or the expert but for the more serious aficionados, a more affordable entry level to get into proper racing by understanding the ability of racing techniques. Otherwise, go-karting is perfect for kart clubbers, building team spirit, birthdays, fundraising, bachelor parties, sports teams and leagues, and a slew of other excuses to feel like Lewis Hamilton for a period of time. Go-karting started in California in 1957. Since then, it has grown each year and has developed from a leisure activity to a legitimate global professional sport.

After the perfunctory flag and driving instructions by a staff member, I’m fitted into blue overalls and I’m assigned a kart. I squeeze myself into a seat that makes an electric chair feel comfortable. Noises are muffled, stifled by my racing helmet. Though stationary in pit lane, I rev the metallic throttle. Immediately the kart vibrates angrily. I can feel the tension in the vehicle wanting to be released. It sounds like a lawnmower on steroids. I can feel my heart beating and I’m anxious to begin. We are directed to take one preliminary lap to get a sense of the circuit and then the green light goes… On. I stab the throttle and a burst of speed courses through my body. I need to concentrate 100 percent for the slightest mistake otherwise I lose my advantage.

The only similarity that I’ve experienced between an automobile and a kart is having driven a hot rod, only the hot rod had suspension and a kart doesn’t. A kart is designed with a solid wheel axle and stiff steering. It reacts as quickly as a knee bolting upright after the doctor knocks it with his reflex hammer.  At high speed, which simply takes a split second to reach, often leaves your brain behind. The brakes are only on the rear wheels, so you need to avoid over-reacting, otherwise the kart will drift or skid, losing speed and time. The smoother you drive (by adhering to the racing line that enables the quickest and smoothest route around curves), the faster your track times. I had the pleasure of racing against an expert driver – one of the veteran staff employees at Top Karting’s quarter-mile indoor track in Gatineau, Quebec. We started on the back grid in a group of 12 drivers. I followed him, taking mental notes of his racing line and when and how he braked. He simply feathered the brakes, never requiring any sudden braking. We had lapped everyone and though I was on his tail throughout the race, I never managed to pass him until the second last lap. I thought I was home free. We were clocking roughly 45 mph (30 mph for juniors), but since the kart is mere inches from the tarmac for better ground force, it felt like double the speed. The G-force is apparent as the physics forces against, pushing your body to slide in your seat, particularly around curves and corners. If you don’t follow the racing line, it becomes a wrestling match with the steering wheel. On the last lap, he passed me with a remarkable pass on the outside of the last curve and crossed the finish line. The race was intense with both of us going flat out, never more than a foot away from each other. It was a truly exhilarating experience.

The advantage of a facility like Top Karting is that they change the layout of the circuit about every three months, so it always feels like a new challenge. They have been doing this since their debut in 1999. This is one of the reasons why the company has survived during COVID – a loyal customer base, including professional drivers, such as Isabelle Tremblay, who recently took part in the Formula Women’s Competition. The karts are new SODI 9 hp 4-stroke, fully-automatic vehicles. “I think karting has definitely gained popularity in the last ten years. There are a lot of new karting operations opening in Canada and around the world,” states Sandrine, general manager at Top Karting. “In fact, we are busier now than pre-COVID and intend to expand in the near future. It just goes to show people want something different and exciting for entertainment.” An advantage to a place like Top Karting is that it is open throughout the year for anyone over 18 years old (with a valid ID for proof of age) and for minors providing they are over 4 feet tall with their parent’s consent (with proof of their ID for the waiver).

Like any business trying to survive, operations can be costly. The average go-kart business can cost $300,000 plus to start (and in some cases as much as $800,000 to $2m), due to a plethora of startup costs. Owners will need to buy or lease a warehouse or real estate, a multitude of karts, gasoline, maintenance tools, insurance, legal expenses, marketing, track materials, safety equipment, ideal pavement that doesn’t deteriorate quickly, and if applicable, bar and restaurant expenses. Facility rent can be steep depending on the facility’s size and maintenance needs. There are also small business taxes to consider. The biggest expenses are electricity and heating for the facility, gas for the building and karts, and payroll. To stay competitive and solvent, go-kart tracks profit from ongoing bulk service packages. Such incentives assure repeat customers and a constant stream of revenue. One such example is racing for fundraising events. “The benefits of such events are that we are contributing to important causes and it gives us visibility at the same time,” confirms Sandrine. Some go-kart businesses become part of an entertainment complex in order to reduce liabilities as much as possible or by establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation to protect the business from being held personally liable if the go-kart business is sued. It may sound daunting, but with the right business acumen and attractive means of keeping customers engaged (competitive speed and challenging circuit layouts), a successful enterprise can achieve a remarkably high return-on-investment as early as 1 or 2 years. Above all, it’s a gas. It’s a thrilling way for a need for speed.

 

About Clive Branson 39 Articles
Clive Branson is a photography graduate from Parsons School of Design in New York City and has since divided his career as an advertising creative director/copywriter and as a freelance writer/photographer. He is the author of Focus On Close-Up and Macro Photography and numerous articles for magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Britain. Clive lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario.

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