As karting has grown, so has its emphasis on safety. Today, all drivers and karts entering officially sanctioned events must comply with the rules established by the karting organizations. In case of injury, drivers also carry accident insurance, which is paid for through their IKF or WKA membership dues.
THE PRE-RACE TECHNICAL INSPECTION
One of karting’s most important safety precautions is the pre-race technical inspection. The purpose of this inspection is to insure that the karts operate safely while racing. A kart is eligible to compete only after meeting all of the safety standards.
Before the karts are allowed out onto the track, they must report to a special inspection area. There karts are checked for faulty construction and defective equipment that could become a hazard to the driver or other drivers during a race. For example, the inspectors make sure that the tires are free of flaws, that the brakes perform well, and that the throttle closes automatically upon release.
Inspectors also check the overall construction of each kart to see that it gives the driver the greatest possible protection. The driver’s compartment of an enduro, sprint, or Super Kart must have side rails or other side support. No part of the driver can extend beyond the length or width of a kart. Safety regulations also require that any part of the kart extending beyond the body that could puncture or injure other competitors must be fitted with a safety guard.
The FKE vehicle must include other special protective devices for its driver, who is enclosed in a metal or fiberglass body. Fire walls must separate the driver’s compartment from the engine. Seat belts, a fire extinguisher, and a special roll bar for the driver, which must be positioned directly above his or her helmet, are also required.
SAFETY IN COMPETITION
The strong emphasis on safety does not end with the pre-race technical inspection. Safety is of prime importance during the race, too. The race tracks must provide an ambulance, a first-aid kit, and a qualified medical person at every racing event to handle a possible emergency. The track must also set up protective barriers along the raceway to prevent bystanders from being struck by a kart.
Drivers, too, have to follow certain safety standards during the race, Any driver in violation of the safety rules is immediately disqualified. At the start of each race, each entry must have on hand a dry-powder fire extinguisher as a precaution against fire on the track. Competitors are required to wear protective gear to prevent burns and other injury. This gear includes a helmet, goggles or face shield, long pants, and a leather or heavy vinyl jacket. FKE drivers, who are enclosed by the body of their kart, must wear clothes made of fire-resistant material. Many karters also wear ear plugs to guard against hearing loss from loud engine noise.
Safe driving methods and competition techniques also reduce the possibility of accidents during a race. Drivers are licensed and, in addition, have to demonstrate their driving skills to the satisfaction of race officials before they are allowed to compete.
During the actual race, drivers must give consideration to their competitors. Bumping and blocking another kart is not allowed. Drivers use a system of arm signals to warn each other of impending danger on the track caused by mechanical failure, a pileup, or loss of control. When a driver is being overtaken by a faster kart, he or she must raise one arm to indicate the safest side for passing.
Flag signals by officials along the raceway also warn drivers of changes in the conditions of the track. A yellow flag tells karters to slow down and hold position because the
track is partially blocked. A red flag indicates that the track is unsafe for racing and that all karts must stop immediately. A black flag waved at a particular driver may mean mechanical problems or disqualification for bad driving practices. A racer who has been “black flagged” must finish the lap at reduced speed and stop at the race official for instruction before resuming competition.
THE POST-RACE INSPECTION
The outcome of a kart race is not official immediately after the race is over. Before any winners can be announced, the drivers must pass a post-race inspection. The purpose of this inspection is to check the legality of the karts and to make sure that the karts and their drivers meet the class weight requirements. The post-race inspection guarantees that the race was run fairly.
Immediately after their final laps, all participants must drive their karts directly to the inspection area. They are not allowed to stop because they could possibly make changes on their vehicles at that time.
In the first step of a post-race inspection, a kart and its driver are weighed together on a large scale. The racer is weighed in the clothes that had been worn during the race, including helmet, shoes, and jacket. The combined weight is set for each class before the race. Karters who know before the start of the race that they may have light karts often carry ballast, or heavy weights, during the race so that they will be sure to pass the post-race inspection. Any karter who is below the class weight is disqualified.
Next, the karts are checked to see that they do not exceed the maximum size set for each race. Each type of competition kart must meet length, width, height, wheel base, and tread-width specifications. Those that do not meet these standards are disqualified.
Finally, the engines are inspected thoroughly. They are checked for illegal additions or modifications on standard parts. When a kart passes the engine test, as well as the other post-race inspection tests, it is eligible for any awards it may have won on the track.