It’s pretty easy to find a go kart track. They’re littered throughout amusement parks, county fairs, and suburban warehouse districts. This is because, on its face, go karting is one of those family-friendly activities that is supposed to be fun and not matter all that much.
The problem is – it does matter.
Deny it all you want, but the truth is go karts turns all of us into contact-loving, tire-shredding jerks. Something about a tiny car with no doors, electronics, suspension, or safety aides of any kind pegs the red of our internal fight-or-flight-ometers. Every time you plop into that uncomfortably hard plastic seat and strap into that ill-fitting harness, there’s only one thing on your – and your fellow drivers’ – minds:
WIN. AT ALL COSTS.
As a socially-conscious and responsible father of two young and impressionable boys, I feel this is an important life lesson.
As it happens, my oldest is fast approaching the age and weight requirements to graduate from the family-friendly (read: SLOW) track at Boomer’s, to the Big Time. I’m referring of course to our local indoor karting facility.
You know the type of place – one with karts capable of breaking residential speed limits. Where the air is saturated with the smells of gasoline, oil, and competition. Where grown men go to live out their F1 fantasies, take everything entirely too seriously, and bring their own lucky helmets – like me.
In fact, I once secured the 17th-quickest lap ever at this particular establishment. As such, I am a vast archive of wisdom, experience, and crafty veteran-ness; some of which I will impart unto him – and you.
The Race Can Be Won Before You Even Step Into The Kart
Here’s a fun and completely not made-up fact: 96% of all go kart races are won while waiting in line.
That’s right. Your race prep begins as you anxiously wait for the amateurs in the previous session to finish piddling about the track. Try to contain your laughter and disdain at their futility; you have work to do. Your job is to watch for the one or two karts that are ringers.
Perhaps one accelerates down the straightaway a little quicker than the rest. Maybe another tucks into the corners a bit more – despite the flailing inputs of its driver.
Most tracks don’t perform routine maintenance on their karts; replacing engines and tires only as necessary. On any given day one of these karts may be shod with a fresh set of grippy tires or refurbished motor. Take note of at least three that seem around 10-20% better than the rest. You must secure one of them at all costs.
While selecting the steed that will serve as your mount on your campaign of absolute domination, also pay attention to your competition. Who else brought their own helmet? Make sure to point them out to me, so I may bring shame upon their families.
Listen to their conversations. Hear that guy loudly bragging about staying flat-out around the track, eschewing any use of the brakes? You can beat him. He’s given himself away as a fool, and has now become your prey.
Slow And Heady Wins The Race
The first rule to driving your kart fast, is knowing when and how to slow down.
You’ll be tempted to pin the green pedal and never let up. You’ll notice that wide open throttle lets you slide the rear end out a bit for some extra style points. You’ll even trick yourself into thinking this is fast.
You’re in first place! You’re a drift king! You’re…being passed by some guy (hint: IT’S ME), like you’re standing still.
Sliding around the track looks cool – but getting lapped doesn’t. Resist this urge.
Go karts are all about momentum. Screeching tires means your kart is scrubbing speed and you’re losing ground. Sometimes you’ll find that a slight lift of the gas pedal is all you need. Other times though, you’ll need the brakes.
When the time comes, don’t full-on commit to them; tease them a little. When you use the brakes, hit them hard and fast…but don’t stick around. That red pedal is nothing but a brief fling; get what you need from it, and take off again.
Note: This advice is in no way meant to transfer over to your (hopefully still years away) romantic life.
The point is, maintain traction and you’ll maintain your position.
That last one actually will apply to your love life. Don’t ask me to explain it to you right now.
Know & Toe The Line
You’ll quickly learn how and when to slow down as you calculate your race line.
The race line is the quickest and shortest way around the track. Get it right, and you’ll feel like you’ve activated a hidden God-level cheat mode. Revel in your superiority as you consistently log blisteringly quicker lap times than those road-clogging schlubs there to “just have fun” – whatever the hell that means.
But how do you find the race line? Where is it hiding? Am I going to tell you?
Of course not! HA!
However, I can tell you this: There’s only one surefire way to discover the proper race line:
Lose. A lot.
Know Your Place. Then Change It.
When you first start out, you will lose. Expect to get passed a lot.
Especially if I’m on the track.
However, this can be a blessing in disguise. Here’s what you need to do:
Pick someone slightly faster than you and lock onto them. Mimic their every move. Turn where they turn, brake where they brake. Do they swing out wide at some points on the track, or hug the barricade at others? Observe and follow their line.
Then, perfect it.
Brake later. Accelerate earlier. If they hug a corner, squeeze it tighter.
Within a couple of laps, you’ll find yourself catching up. Pick your next speed guru, pass the old one, and repeat the process. Work your way up position by position, race by race, $25 investment by $25 investment. It won’t be fun, but like I said before – that isn’t the point.
I know you’ll pick it up quickly. I know you’ll begin to win. And I know the day will soon come that I’ll take you to buy your own lucky helmet.
Of course, by then your brother will be old enough and big enough to join us, and you’ll be shackled with teaching all this to him while I cut in line, grab the ringer kart, and leave you both in my rubber and gasoline-soaked dust.