Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mclaren-Mercedes takes to the track after at the Milton Keynes Daytona Kart-track during previews prior to the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone in Northampton, England.

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How Go-kart Racing Works

Sometime around the early spring season, hardware stores like to show off their go-karts in outdoor displays. These go-karts look fun, and often are, but if your idea of kart racing stems from this picture of a go-kart in front of a hardware store, you're in for a sweet surprise.

Kart racing -- take note of the missing prefix -- involves karts that are much more refined, faster and designed for serious competitive racing. In other words, if you want to ride around in your yard then go with the go-karts at the hardware store, but if you want to start a career in competitive racing, then take a look at the karts you can't find at The Home Depot. In fact, some competitive karts can go faster than 100 miles per hour (160.9 kilometers per hour) and karting is often the inlet for further competitive motor-sport racing.

Karting became popular in the United States in the 1950s when Art Ingels built the first kart in 1956. One year later, the International Kart Federation had published official rules and regulations for the sport. Many of the organizations that both organize and report on karting have been around for several decades. Kart racing can begin as early as age 5, with official competitive racing beginning at age 8 [source: World Kart Association].

Since the 1950s, karting has grown into a national motor-sport, with the World Karting Association boasting more than 10,000 members and over 100 tracks in the United States [source: World Kart Association]. Not only is karting a fun way to get into motor-sports, but many racing icons like Jeff Gordon and Danica Patrick have kicked off their professional racing careers with karting.

On the next page, we'll find out the different types of karts used in competitive racing.

You can find three distinct types of karts in competition: sprint, enduro and oval.

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Types of Karts

So we know that racing karts are much different than the recreational go-karts found at hardware stores. But even among racing karts there are specific types of karts that are used depending on the type of track they're racing on or the type of race. You can find three distinct types of karts in competition: sprint, enduro and oval. Sprint is by far the most common type of kart and is used in the majority of races.

When karting first began, modified lawnmower engines were used to power the karts. Now there are manufacturers who design and sell engines specifically for kart racing. The karts use 2- or 4-cycle engines that produce around 5 to 30 horsepower, moving the karts at speeds between 45 and 80 miles per hour (72.4 and 128.7 kilometers per hour). Racing karts don't have a suspension, are usually about 72 inches (1.8 meters) in length, 50 inches (1.3 meters) wide and weigh about 150 pounds (68 kilograms) without the driver.

Sprint karts are the most frequently used type of karts because of their ability to go fast and to be used on a variety of track types. Sprint karts cost about $2,000 to $5,000. Oval karts are the second most popular type of competitive karts. They're typically raced more in the southern areas of the United States where competitors are familiar with oval tracks, like the ones used in NASCAR. Oval-kart chassis are built specifically for tight turns in only one direction. Enduro karts are the smallest division in kart racing, but they're also the fastest. During a race average speeds for enduro karts are well over 90 miles per hour (144.8 kilometers per hour). Enduro kart racers lay down flat in their karts to achieve maximum aerodynamics and some karts utilize two engines instead of one for increased speed.

There's much more to kart racing than just the speed, however. Karts need to be able to handle well on the different types of tracks they race on. Go on to the next page to find out more about the tracks.

Drivers of (nearly) all ages can enjoy kart racing.

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Karting Tracks

Just as there are three different categories of karts, there are several different types of tracks for kart racing and different rules for each type of race. The most common type of race involves sprint karts on a paved track. The tracks are typically 1/4-mile to 1/2-mile 04- to 0.8-kilometer) in length, with both left and right turns, in which the drivers compete in heat races for 10 to 15 laps.

The oval tracks are typically 1/10 of a mile (0.2 of a kilometer) to 1/4 of a mile (0.4 of a kilometer) and can be made of soft dirt, packed clay, sand or asphalt. The most common type of oval track is a soft dirt style. Oval karts have chassis that are specifically designed to run on these tracks, but sprint karts can also compete on oval tracks.

The last type of track is for the enduro races, which are held on race tracks like the Daytona International Speedway. These races go on for 30 minutes or up to a full hour and the karts are built so that the driver is laying down in the kart for the entire race.

Although track locations vary, there are kart tracks located throughout the entire United States. Oval and sprint tracks can be found in any state and many states have numerous tracks. Drivers may switch between different types of racing, if they have the karts for it, in order to get the opportunity to compete in more races. Because of the variety of kart types, tracks, and variations in age classes, karting offers a wide range of competition.

For more information about kart racing and go-karting, follow the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related ArticlesMore Great LinksSources
  • Championship Enduro. "Frequently Asked Questions." (Feb. 17, 2011)http://www.championshipenduro.com/ces-2010-questions.html
  • Comet Karts. "Definition of an Oval Kart." (Feb. 17, 2011) http://www.cometkartsales.com/store/beginners/beginoval.htm
  • Hot Road Magazine. "Danica Patrick Interview". February 2009. (Feb. 16, 2011) http://www.hotrod.com/racers/113_0504_danica/index.html
  • International Kart Federation. "About IKF." (Feb. 15, 2011) http://www.ikfkarting.com/AboutIKF.html
  • National Karting News. "Getting Started." (Feb. 16, 2011) http://www.nkn.com/National_Kart_News/Getting_Started.html
  • Popular Mechanics. "Rotax RM1/F1 Outdoors 100-mph Go-Karting." Dec. 7, 2004. (Feb. 18, 2011) http://www.popularmechanics.com/outdoors/recreation/1278136
  • Rear Engine American Racers. "The First Kart." (Feb. 18, 2011) http://rearenginekarts.com/documents/Feb06KMthefirstkart.pdf
  • World Karting Association. "About WKA." (Feb. 15, 2011) http://www.worldkarting.com/pg/visitors/aboutWKA.php