At the last ChumpCar race you blew the engine up on your racecar going up the hill toward the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. Bummer. Now your racecar is sitting dead in the garage and your wife is storing Christmas decorations on it –a felony in some states. Your old sponsor isn’t answering your e-mails, because he knows you’re just looking for free parts for the nuked motor. You, good Sir, are a long, long way from your next checkered flag. Or are you? Borrow your wife’s Hyundai (since the motor in that car still runs) and head over to a K1 Speed near you for some adrenaline pumping wheel-to-wheel racing action!
Twenty bucks. Yup, only twenty bucks for a 14-lap race at K1 Speed. When was the last time you raced for that cheap? Oh, that’s right… never! I’ve spent over $20 just getting one tire mounted and balanced at a race track. There is one hidden cost though, (isn’t there always?) you have to buy an annual K1 Speed competition license. A mere $5.95 which last you for the whole year, I’ve spent more on a cheeseburger and crapped it out two hours later. K1 Speed also has some buy two get one free deals so you can have three races for $40. For guys who drop $1,000 for a weekend entry fee road racing, that sounds pretty good.
K1 Speed runs quick electric karts and has 10 locations (6 in California, 1 in Texas, 1 in Arizona, 1 in Washington and 1 in Florida). They supply you with a helmet and a nice head lice guard so you can come away from the event with a smile on your face without a parasite in your hair. K1 Speed is co-owned by road racing hero Boris Said, so you know the racing is going to be legit. Similar indoor karting can be done at places like Pole Position and Fast Lap however Fast Lap uses petroleum powered indoor karts which means you suck on exhaust fumes the entire time you’re racing. The electric karts are a lot easier on the lungs.
Nobody ever leaves a go-kart track without a smile on their face. The karts are fast, the courses flow well and provide ample passing locations, it is a good time had by all. If you think you are a good driver, you’ll find out soon enough when an eight-year-old kid dives past you into the sweeper. The tracks have a cool projection screen with your ranking in the race and your lap times. You can see the screen as you go by and know if your last lap was faster than your previous one. This information pushes you to driver harder and harder until… whoops, you’re in the wall!
This is the best part, your car will be fine. This is a “beat and release” program, where the only damage to your car will be if a bird decides to leave you a little surprise in the parking lot. The K1 Speed karts seem to hold up to a pretty good pounding (they don’t really appreciate it when you do beat up the karts but, come on, everybody knows you’re going to beat them up just a little.)
First thing is first, you need to spend some time in front of a registration computer and log yourself in and make sure you give them your e-mail address so they can send you spam for the rest of your life, and probably beyond. Choose your race and pay the man. They have some cool race programs where you get a qualifying race, then a real race with a rolling start based on qualifying, t-shirts to all of the participants and trophies to the winners (including the all important podium moment –sorry no champagne spraying here) but you can take a photo with your iPhone and upload it to your Facebook page within milliseconds to let your ex-girlfriend know you’re a badass race car driver. Not that she cares, she’s dating a guy with a guitar now.
Before you hit the track there will be some lawyer written speeches about safety, yada, yada, yada. Finally you will get to drive on the track, now the fun begins. Race your heart out, remember to breathe. When the checkered flag falls hopefully you were out in front. After your session is complete you will get a printout of your stats and you can see how your times compare to other racers.
Everybody likes karts so you can end up racing against grandma, a contingent of insane 12-year-olds at a birthday party or some serious racers. If you see a guy bring his own helmet with a two thousand dollar air brush paint job on it from Troy Lee Designs, put his ass in the wall for being a douche bag. The parking lot will tell you a lot about the folks you will be competing with. When we arrived, there were a fair amount of Subarus with window decals and big exhaust systems sitting static in the parking lot. From that I gathered there was a solid amount of Subee nerds inside wearing Travis Pastrana jackets gathered around a video game talking about how Mitsubishis suck. Luckily for me the karts were only two-wheel drive and thus the four-wheel drive contingent struggled with lateral grip on the track. Victory: Speed:Sport:Life’s Racer Boy.
There is glory to be had here. Trophies are on the line, bragging rights, and statistics with your name on them showing if you are the hot shoe you have been pretending to by when you post in different online automotive forums. It is a great place to settle that ongoing feud between you and your friends about, “who is fastest?”
OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA?
The key here is practice, practice, practice. The first K1 Speed that I hit was in Carlsbad at lunch time. I was expecting to dominate anyone on the track. What I found out was that the “lunch crew” was a group of guys in a nearby corporate park that raced at K1 every single day. They schooled me in my first session. You have to know the track, you have to connect the corners and make the track flow and be smooth. But the real trick to winning is staying out of trouble with “The Man.” The speed of the electric karts are controlled as a group by the “The Man” in charge, he can also individually slow your kart down if you are being a bad boy. That, as they say, is the rub. You rub fenders out on the track, chances are you will get a sign held up that says, “No Bumping!” Ignore that a few laps in a row and you will find yourself with a lot less horsepower. Which means at the end of the race when you really need the power to stay out in front, “The Man” will take it away from you and you will find yourself in the… EXCUSES ZONE!
RACER BOY GAUGE
Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here:
FUEL (Cost): The fuel gauge is almost full because this is super cheap racing. You can’t find another wheel to wheel competitive event for this kind of money. They also have racing leagues with point standings for a championship.
RPMs (Adrenaline): The tachometer is at 3,300 RPMs. This racing will get your adrenaline pumping, but you’re not worried about being killed (like in other forms of motorsports), therefore the RPM’s are way below the redine.
MPH (Danger): The speedometer is at 25 miles an hour indicating how safe these cars are. You have seatbelts, a helmet, and soft barriers around the track. There is nothing for mommy to worry about.
VOLTS (Time): The volts gauge is just under full because this racing is easy on your personal time. Arrive, drive, leave. No car to tow, no tires to scrub in, brakes to bed. You just rolling in, race and roll out. The guys in Carlsbad do it during their lunch hour.
MILEAGE (Car Wear): The mileage is at 1 mile because you don’t have to beat up your car to do this sort of racing. Beat up Boris Said’s cars instead.
To get a feel for K1 Speed we took a bunch of All-American Soap Box Derby racers to the Santa Clara location and let them run hard. The kids had been racing each other all day long at a rally event in Palo Alto. They were pretty beat from a long day of racing, so we weren’t sure how up they would be for more racing. But once we arrived at K1, they forgot all about how tired they were. After a few minutes on the track they were nothing but smiles. Nobody leaves a kart track without a smile on their face.
If you enjoy Rob Krider’s Racer Boy column then check out his novel “Cadet Blues” available in print or e-book at Amazon.