Over the years, karting has grown and changed from a “parking lot” recreation to a full-fledged sport. In the process, several types of kart racing have evolved. The different kinds of kart races are run on different kinds of tracks and under different race procedures. The three major types of karting competition are: sprint racing, road racing, and speedway racing. In addition, other types of karting competition have developed, including ice racing, Formula Karl Experimental racing, and Super Kart racing.
Sprint racing is the oldest type of kart racing, As its name implies, sprint racing combines high speed and short distances. Sprint races are run on asphalt tracks of three quarters of a mile or less in length. The tracks have several twists and turns, which make driving them a true test of skill.
The kart used in sprint racing resembles Ingles’ early kart. A sprint kart can be immediately identified by its “sit-up” driver’s position, which is designed for greater control on the twisty sprint courses.
A sprint race includes three separate, shorter races called heats. A heat is usually 10 laps around the track. Contestants try to complete the 10 laps of each heat in as little time as possible. Each karter is awarded points on the basis of his or her performance in the individual heats. The final winner of a sprint race is the driver who has the highest total point score from the three heats combined.
Running a fast heat wins a karter more than points. It can also improve the driver’s starting position in the next heat. At the start of each heat, the karts line up in two rows. The fastest karts line up in the front, and the slower karts start in the rear. For example, the kart that wins the first heat will start at the front of the grid, or lineup, in the second heat. And the kart that finishes last in the second heat must start last in the third heat. Those karts near the front of the grid, of course, have a head start over the karts behind them. For that reason, drivers try to win one of the front positions in as many heats as possible. A driver with a poor showing in one of the early heats not only loses valuable points, but also has to start at the back of the grid in the next heat.
To establish the grid in the first heat of a sprint race, officials run time trials. In a time trial, each kart races against the clock. The drivers with the fastest times are awarded front positions for the first heat.
Sprint drivers must maintain their grid positions during the starting procedure for each heat. Most races use rolling starts, in which the karters take a warm-up lap or two, slowly traveling behind the lead kart. During this time, all karts must remain in grid formation. If the official starter is satisfied with the speed and formation of the karts as they pass the starting line, they are given the green flag. That signals the start of the race. From then on, karters may pass each other as they speed toward the finish line.
Although quickness is necessary to win, the many turns and curves in a sprint course prevent karts from reaching maximum speed limits in competition. Drivers must combine strategy and skill with quickness in order to maneuver their karts to a winning finish. Indeed, the thrills of sprint racing attract more people than any other type of kart racing.
Road racing, another type of kart racing, evolved from sprint racing, Early karters, seeking new ways to race their machines, began to run greater distances. Gradually they modified their karts so that they could race for longer periods of time.
The road-racing kart that resulted, also called an enduro kart, was quite different from its sprint-racing ancestor. One of the kart’s first structural changes involved its fuel-carrying capacity. In order to hold enough fuel to power itself over long distances, the road-racing kart had a large fuel tank mounted onto one or both sides. Other structural changes soon followed. Drivers noticed that at high speeds, wind resistance-caused by air pushing against the driver and the kart — produces drag. Drag tends to slow down the vehicle and lower its gas mileage. By exposing less surface area to the wind, drag can be reduced. Karters discovered that they could reduce wind resistance on their chests and abdominal areas by driving their machines from a “lay-down” position. As a result, drag was reduced and drivers’ karts went faster and got better gas mileage. With th ese changes, the road-racing kart developed a sleek, road-hugging look all its own.
The road race itself also differs from a sprint race. The lengthy course — often a sports car track — has long stretches and a variety of turns. And, instead of judging a race by laps or heats, officials measure the length of a road race by time. Most road races last one hour, though some are only 45 minutes long.
To start a road race, the drivers line up Grand Prix style, or side by side, with at least two feet between karts. Unlike sprint karts, road-racing karts take off from standing starts. This means that drivers take no warm-up laps, although they may start their engines one minute before the race begins. Once the Flag drops to signal the start, the vehicles cannot be pushed. After one hour, the racers drive out their final lap to the finish line. The kart that has completed the most laps is the winner. If two or more karts tie for the most laps completed, the first kart to cross the finish line wins the race.
Road races are often run on many of the world’s most famous professional sports car tracks. Road-racing karters, young and old, can feel the excitement of speeding down the tracks at Daytona International Speedway, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Ontario Motor Speedway, Watkins Glen Grand Prix, and other motorsport circuits.
More commonly known as dirt-track racing, speedway racing was started to provide an inexpensive and fun type of kart racing in areas that did not have asphalt tracks. But the thrill of dirt-track competition is making it one of the more popular forms of karting in all areas of the country.
Speedway races use sprint karts and are run on dirt tracks of a quarter mile or less in length. Like a sprint race, speedway competition consists of three separate heats — two 10-lap heats and one 20-lap heat. The second heat, however, is run from an inverted start. In other words, the drivers who led the first heat have to work their way up from the back of the pack during the second heat. Drivers line up for the third heat according to the number of points they received in the first two heats. As in sprint racing, the overall winner of the speedway event is the driver who has accumulated the most points in all three heats combined.
It used to be that karters in the northern regions had to put their karts into storage during the snowy, winter months. But several innovative drivers conquered the forbidding terrain and discovered the sport of ice racing.
Both sprint- and road-racing karts can be raced on ice. The basic materials of the machines remain unaltered. The tires, however, are modified to gain traction on ice. Several types of studded tires have been designed to provide adequate grip on the icy track. Some karts have chains wrapped tightly around each tire. Others use a combination of these two types, setting inch-long nails between each link of the chain.
Driving these machines around an oval of ice is a challenge to even the most experienced karter. The races are conducted in the same manner as those on the more traditional asphalt surfaces. Though the top speeds of the karts are reduced, all the thrills of high-speed competition are still there.