By on August 14, 2015

barkkarting

One of the great secrets of TTAC is how little we, the writers, know each other.

I have met our fearless leader, Mark Stevenson, exactly once. I have met Sajeev exactly once — and he was wearing a judge’s robe and a headdress. I have met Murilee exactly once, and he was berating me for driving over the blend line at Carolina Motorsports Park. I’ve met Steve Lang once, and I was mostly drunk. I’ve never met Cameron, or Aaron, or Ronnie, or Tim, or several of the other contributors.

So when the opportunity arose to go karting with noted wheelman and TTAC author W. Christian “Mental” Ward this week in Atlanta, I eagerly accepted.

Mental and I are scheduled to drive together at Gingerman Raceway in the American Endurance Racing series later this month, so I was interested to check out his mad racing skills. Also along for the evening was TTAC contributor and noted Porsche Club of America member, J. David Walton.

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We met at my home-away-from-home, Le Meridien, for a drink (or two, or perhaps three) before heading over to Andretti Karting in Alpharetta. When we arrived, we were told that we would have to wait a little over an hour to drive, at which point I pulled the “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I’M BARK M., DAMNIT!” card. Surprisingly, it worked — we were inserted into the very next race.

I won’t go into too much detail about the three races in which we participated, other than to say I dominated all.

ttac karting

Karting can be an awesome way to have some competitive, adrenaline-packed fun with friends on a Tuesday night, for sure. It can also teach you a little bit about your own racecraft in a real car. Let’s take a moment to talk about what a night at the local rent-a-cart facility can teach you about real-life track driving, and what it can’t.

You can learn how to drive “the line.” Most karting tracks have a track map posted on the wall with an ideal racing line drawn on them. Some will even have braking and passing zones identified. This is not unlike most actual racetracks, which have course maps with lines as well. Following the line will likely result in a safe, fast(-ish) lap — it may not be the best line, but it’s a good one. However…

Karts don’t turn like racecars. You can dive into turns much harder with your average kart than you can with the average Lemons/Chump race car. If you turn too hard with a kart, the worst thing that will happen is that you’ll tap a wall; I probably rubbed the inside wheel of my kart on nearly every wall in every turn. Most of the time I made up on my competitors was by taking turns extra tight and shortening my distance in each corner. Do that in a car, you might put two wheels off and hit a real wall.

You can learn how to induce and control oversteer. One of the most entertaining moments of any karting session is feeling the back of the kart come around on you as you enter a corner. This normally happens when you’ve entered a corner too hot and applied too much braking while turning. Guess what? That happens in a real car, too! Most people freak out when they encounter oversteer, and they make one of two mistakes: they either dial in more steering or they brake harder. Doing either or both of those things will cause your kart to spin in the middle of the turn, and you’ll have to sit there and wait for an eighteen-year-old to get off of Snapchat and come help you. Think of how many times during the average eight-minute karting session that you’ll see a kart facing the wrong way on track. Oversteer is almost always the cause. Making small, precise movements with your hands and using smooth application of the throttle will keep you going straight. However…

Real cars are more likely to understeer. You’ll almost never see somebody straight-line a kart into a wall. Meanwhile, with the notable exception of the AP1 Honda S2000, the vast majority of mass production cars are geometrically designed to understeer. Think about it: If you are sitting in a courtroom as a juror, and the plaintiff says, “The car spun out of control,” who are you more likely to blame? The OEM or the driver? The OEM loses that argument every time. So, by the time you’ve induced oversteer in your average production car, you’re already traveling at a pretty high rate of speed. Your brain is going to go into fight-or-flight mode, and you’ll want to make big, fast movements, which is exactly the opposite of what you’ll need to do to save yourself from a big body shop bill, whether that be the body of the car or your own. Practicing this at slower speeds with less potential damage in a kart will definitely help, but there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

Passing, Passing, Passing. Passing people on the kart track is one of the most enjoyable things you can do for $25. Tracking down the kart ahead of you for two or three laps, setting them up, and then making your move in the turn — it’s a blast. Also, unless you’re karting with a group of people who really know what they’re doing, you’ll have to deal with off-pace traffic which drives completely unpredictable lines — not unlike driving in Lemons or Chump. Unfortunately…

You can’t bump and spin real cars like that. Many of my karting passes the other night occurred because I got so frustrated with the kart in front of me that I used the PIT maneuver on them in turns. Again, your typical eighteen-year-old karting track employee won’t really mind that so much. Race officials? They aren’t fans of it. Prepare to be black flagged. If you want to pass in real racing, you’ll need to learn to go offline and pass them.

So, while not everything may translate from the kart to the cage, you’ll still have a blast learning the things that do. And if any of you have a great karting track close by, hit me at @barkm302 on Twitter and let me know and we’ll go karting next time I’m in town.

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38 Comments on “TTAC Goes Karting, And So Should You!...”


  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I drove an electric go kart once.

    So hard to go fast through a corner! The instant torque always spun the kart out, so I had to take corners slow.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      The best karting experience I ever had was at a place called Kartbahn in Halifax, NS. It was inside a former factory with concrete floors and they would grind them in the corners to that the karts stayed hooked. After a few laps of getting use to it you could do the entire track wide open and not lift at all – so much fun!

      They even made us all take a course before even letting us drive them. Only draw back was the epically sore hip bones the next day from flopping side to side in the “too wide” plastic racing seat.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    One of my great embarrassments is that I’ve never been karting.

    I know I’m unlikely to ever drive a real car on a real track, just because it costs so damn much. But karting is cheap! And I know it would teach me a lot.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    I’ve been go-karting once. It was a blast and went really well.

    Then I threw up from my own driving.

    Apparently, that is not too uncommon. Or so I tell myself to hold on to a last bit of manliness.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Still rather drive on a real car and a real track but karting is great fun on a budget. Plus some tracks are indoors… with air conditioning!

    What you mention about understeer is the most shocking thing I learned with my car on the track. I figured hey I got a Z, a vehicle known for putting people into ditches constantly (especially in the rain). But on the track, driving the right line, with traction control ON it understeers like a pig! As mentioned it is setup from the factory to push because it has staggered tires: wider in the back / narrower in the front. Thus guess which end gives up grip first? Yep the front! Now you can easily overcome this by mashing the go pedal as hard as possible, however if you drive smooth, brake in a straight line (no trail braking), slow in / fast out, it’s almost impossible to get the thing out of shape. Either I’m not trying hard enough (very possible, still a newbie) or traction control is really that good, because I even drove a few wet sessions with my Z (at night to boot) and have yet to loop it around. Now I have gone off track (too much push, missed braking zone, worried about other cars) but it was always in a very controlled manner.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I never turned the TCS off the whole time I had the Z, but it managed to give me a little wiggle room out of corners. When I got into corners the right way it was pretty neutral, but if I came in too hot it was pure unda unda unda.

      Where it got really weird was in the rain. Even with traction control on, if I got too enthusiastic it would spin. Happened to me 1.5 times (full on spin on an offramp, near spin elsewhere).

      It had the perfect seating position so I got a great sense of what the rear wheels were doing, but I always found feedback through the wheel to be a little lacking. It had tons of grip but I found myself only being able to push through corners close to the limit (at least what I thought was the limit) on memory and blind faith. Coming from tactile little Hondas I never really gelled with the Z.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Oh yeah it wiggles for sure but always snaps back in line. I’ve gotten sideways on the track via a too aggressive downshift as well. I’ve switched tires and the feedback issue has improved but I know what your talking about – the grip is great (nearly endless) until it’s gone then the car tries to kill you. As you noted you sit so low in the car it seems to corner very flat (photos will show otherwise) but it really tempting to drive faster, which explains why so many wreck Zs I bet. On track its OK because you can slowly build confidence, plus with the windows down you can hear the grip limit better (I think). But on a normal road its very hard to judge so I don’t play fast and lose out there. Part of the problem as you mentioned is the steering is heavy on the Z, you don’t have that light touch that allows you to feel things out. In fact when I first starting tracking it I was amazed at its nearly instant turn in. Then I realized I just wasn’t going anywhere near “fast” enough to make it push.

        As for rain: the first day I owned my Z I nearly spun it off an on-ramp during a downpour! I downshifted from 5th and accidentally grabbed 2nd due to how tight the gear box is and how unfamiliar I was (also coming from front drive Hondas my whole life). As you can imagine this upset the car badly, luckily I was already going really slow and just put the clutch back in so recovery was quick. Still made me realize traction control is your friend.

  • avatar
    Chris Tonn

    Last time I went karting, I weighed close to 350lbs. I was a large, bearded chicane.

    I’ll have to try it again, now that I’ve lost about 25% of that.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Whoever has the best pole position combined with lowest body weight wins.

    Karting is not for me.

    • 0 avatar
      Chris Tonn

      I did a radio-station-sponsored event about 10 years ago at an outdoor track–a track that is polished so it’s nice and slick.

      It was a gag event, where all participants had to be over 300lbs. Oh, and drive the entire event with a Krispy Kreme in the mouth.

      Winner got a pair of tix to the Indy 500, IIRC.

      Well, it was drizzling, so the slick track was even slicker.

      The eventual winner weighed close to 500lbs. He was the only one who could get power down.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      re the second point, with good karts the weight is less of a factor, re the first, while I am sure the readers of this fine publication are the exception, I can pass almost anyone except the kids who live at the track.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    I went karting as one of my bachelor party events. I drank seven beers in the car on the way to the karting place. Don’t do that.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    The course marshals at my local K1 Speed indoor kart tracks will black flag your butt with the quickness for intentional body contact.

  • avatar
    kkop

    Next time you’re in ATL, try this one. It’s a bit of a drive, but worth it:

    http://www.atlantamotorsportspark.com/karting/

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    If I ever go racing than you, or Mental for that matter, you guys may have me beat by minutes instead of seconds.

    I don’t think the beers will help my cause either. But they probably gave you an extra healthy boost at the blues get together. You’re an amazing saxophonist.

    All the best!

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I need to get into this. When I had a sports car I did not want to track it and possibly total my ride to work and not get insurance for it. I still want to take my motorcycle though. But I think this will really give me my fix. There are a lot of indoor and outdoor tracks within reasonable driving distance. The Go Pro motoplex is about half an hour from my house. Might make a guys night out of it… but I’m gonna get some practice in first

  • avatar
    ctg

    Mark, since that track was indoors, I assume it was electric carts. Have you tried the faster gas-powered karts? If so, any closer to driving a real car on a track?

    I’ve been to K-1 Houston (indoor electric) a number of times, and its fun. I’ve only tried a real gas powered kart once (years ago), but from what I remember it was a lot better. I’ve been meaning to check out MSR Houston’s kart track for a while now. Any of the B&B tried it, and if so, any reviews?

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    I don’t have twitter but we’ve got 3 tracks – 2 electric and one gas – here in Orlando. Let me know if you’re in town.

  • avatar

    You had to post the one where I finished 5th. Not the one where I finished 2nd…

  • avatar
    rpn453

    “. . . you’ll want to make big, fast movements, which is exactly the opposite of what you’ll need to do to save yourself from a big body shop bill . . .”

    From what I’ve seen, inexperienced drivers tend to steer too slowly during corrections. It takes muscle memory to move the wheel quickly enough.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I was on a work outing with my crew at the BeaveRun track near Pgh. We did the Kart track with the “standard” 4-stroke powered karts, and halfway through my heat, the butt-end of my kart slid off the track and stopped HARD in a dirt berm that had built up. Due to my being tall, I cracked my lowest rib on the kart’s seat bolster, and continued the race with increasing pain.
    After that, each driver was allowed 2 laps with the 2-stroke powered “pro” karts (only 2 available), which (despite the pain) I just HAD to try – they accelerated twice as fast as the thumpers – gawd – a total blast to drive.
    I couldn’t sleep on my left side for a month after that, but it was worth it.

  • avatar
    InterstateNomad

    “they make one of two mistakes: they either dial in more steering or they brake harder. Doing either or both of those things will cause your kart to spin in the middle of the turn, and you’ll have to sit there and wait for an eighteen-year-old to get off of Snapchat and come help you.”

    … oh, so that’s what happened. Except I think it was a 16 year old.

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