Getting started in karting

stock-joynerQuite often the best way to approach a new (ad)venture is to seek advice and guidance first, because jumping into the deep end with no preparation beforehand can be a daunting, if not an embarrassing, or even dangerous task.

Mainstream kart racing is certainly not for the faint of heart. It can be very expensive and some folk have suffered burnt fingers when they followed the line, “I’ve raced those go-karts (sic) at Blackpool and it was easy, so how difficult can it be?” After a severe depletion of the family bank balance, they end up wishing they had stayed at the ‘arrive-and-drive’ level, where just as much fun can be enjoyed without receiving letters from the bank manager!

Put in simple terms, it means a karting beginner can learn the hard way, by going mainstream kart racing, or they can approach this exciting sport from a different angle. The simple ‘turn up and race’ opportunities that are available today did not exist, even only as far back as the ‘80’s, so 21st century folk have never had it so good. What opportunities there are should certainly be exploited!

So the main questions then become: Where to start? What are the main points to consider? How much will it cost? Exactly what do I want from it? And should I race indoors or outdoors… or both?

To start with, most major towns and cities will have an indoor venue close by. Some of the indoor tracks are small and tight but can still offer a high fun factor to beginners and more experienced drivers alike. It is therefore possible to learn quickly and relatively safely. Equally, some indoor tracks can be found within larger surroundings, and whilst overtaking is never going to be easy against a skilled opponent, the larger venues do make it more possible. And then there are the outdoor tracks where ‘arrive-and-drive’ opportunities also exist, and where mainstream kart racing championships often take place, as indeed they can do at the indoor venues.

The beauty of kart racing this way is that the ‘arrive-and-drive’ venues provide everything for the ‘wannabee’ Lewis’s and Jenson’s. It is ‘arrive-and-drive’ in its purest form, where the participant, regardless of age (within limits – some tracks take youngsters into their junior race schools from a very young age), or whether male or female, are able to compete on equal terms. Helmets, racesuits, gloves… they are all provided, and usually with a food and a drinks bar (obviously for afterwards…) also on the premises for a good time, day or night.

The ‘arrive-and-drive‘ scene though can still cater for those wanting to develop further, by remaining at the hire kart level, but still wanting to be a little more serious, and look a bit more professional to a rival competitor, by taking part in the sprint or enduro championships many such venues have every year.

Psyching out a rival can be of some benefit, and whilst I am not a doctor, it is likely to be one of the reasons why ‘arrive-and-drive’ racers buy their own racesuits and helmets. Psychologically it could be worth a second a lap! I will always remember turning up at an indoor event wearing a racesuit with ‘Aintree Racing Driver’s School’ emblazoned across the chest, and smiling at the freaked out expressions that were evident. They were beaten before I even got in the kart. And my son gets more-or-less the same effect when he wears my ‘Karting magazine’ racesuit. The actual racing can be just part of the fun! Badge up your racesuit and go for it!

A quick look on the Internet or through GO Karting or Karting magazine, for example, will find advertisers offering racesuits and helmets, without having to spend the equivalent of a large monthly mortgage payment. Motorcyclists can naturally use their own gear and this helps to keep initial costs down. But also note one of the driver comments below, because Christmas and birthdays can be wonderful events.

The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is true, but do not waste too much time pounding the track for lap after lap in the learning phase. It costs money to practice and the learning curve becomes much sharper once the green light comes on, and race experience is earned, as you quickly learn to race on your wits and reactions.

I found that pulling a few strings can get the odd driver or two to open up, especially with a promise to keep their name(s) anonymous, and so with that understanding, stories of how they got into the ‘arrive-and-drive’ scene were offered. As one seasoned luminary said:

“I started karting doing indoor to begin with; I really enjoyed it. Hard work and physical, no straights to have a rest of the arms. I look back on my indoor days with fond memories. I then saw a championship advertised at Top Gear in Durham, and turned up at round one not knowing what to expect. There were 20-25 people nearly every round, so it was a good crack with good people. The racing was done in three 10 lap heats with a 12 lap final, and we started the heats in different spots on the grid. You have to defend before you can attack – the track is always narrow so if you hold a middle line it’s difficult to pass. You don’t usually make up many places on indoor tracks, but any overtake helps with points at the end of the day!

“As for buying racesuits etc., I looked on the internet and in the Demon Tweeks catalogue. I got my first suit as a Christmas present, and used my motorcycle helmet; the gloves were given to me by a work mate who almost had a career in Formula Ford. I bought the balaclava to help with misting issues in Scotland and prefer the full face with eyeholes – adds an air of mystery I think! I would highly recommend buying padding for knees and back before anything else, as I now have scar tissue at the bottom of my back! I would say don’t go and buy it all in one go – I am still adding to my kit list now.’