Noisy Little Race: The Invention of Go-Karting

Go, speed racer! “Karting” is still popular, though more sophisticated than in 1959. Some “superkarts” reach speeds of 160 mph. (John Burns, © SEPS)

Two years ago, ingenious kids in Southern California built a few subminiature racers, powered with lawn-mower engines. Somebody dubbed them “karts,” and the name — and the spelling — stuck. Since then, 150 firms have come forward with such factory brands as Track Rabbit, GoKart, Bug, Gopher, Simplex, Puttnick. Prices begin around $125 for a two-and-a-half-horsepower assemble-it-yourself kit, and go to $600 for a chromed, 24-horsepower, twin-engine model.

Speeds range from 8 mph for the 6- to 12-year-old trade, to 70 mph for adults’ full-race versions. For teenagers, there are race meets all over the country, like this one at Uncle Bim’s midget track near West Palm Beach, Florida. Curves on this one-twelfth-mile oval hold speeds to 30 mph, and drivers are ruled by the “Palm Beach County Families’ Miniature Car Racing Association” — in short, mom and dad. These karts are about 70 inches long and weigh only 85 pounds. Roll bars protect Junior if he turns over. More likely, hard cornering will simply make his low-slung kart spin around and teach him a lesson: You can’t win going backward.

—The Face of America, November 21, 1959