Where Should You Get Started in Karting

Posted on March 14, 2013

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Arrive and Drive or Buy? New or Used? And should you join a Team?

By: Rob Oakman

Looking at getting involved in Kart racing or just looking to take it more seriously? It can be overwhelming, but there are three basic ways. Each one has a different cost and their own pluses and minuses. So let’s decide if you want to Arrive and Drive or Buy? Doy you buy new or used? Oh, and do you join a team?

Arrive and Drive series:

Sometimes Know as the Wally Corral, they are the cheapest, most stress free way to get into Kart racing. The average membership runs around $110 with a $55 entry per race. That gives you everything, Kart, engine, tires, mechanics, fuel, driving suit, helmet and so on. All you need do is Arrive and, well, Drive. Get it? They generally run two races a weekend and at least one race on a weekday. You can gain a lot of experience very quickly and this option gives you the flexibility of choosing the day(s) that work for you. You can also show up on a non-race day and practice at your leisure for about the same price as a race. The down side to the series are basically threefold – well, two and a half-fold. They are set-up, wear, and the quality of competition.

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Arrive and Driver racers at Goodwood Kartways
(http://www.goodwoodkartways.com/crkc.htm)

Set-up is a half problem because you don’t get to do any. Your chassis is preset by the company mechanics and you have no say in improving the handling as you go. Now, the reason this is only a half problem is that when you are new you have no business messing with your chassis anyway. Not simply because you have no idea how to fix a push on entry or how to gain forward bite, but because you have no idea what they are, how they feel, and what you need to do to fix them. That is a strength of the series as much as a problem. You are forced to improve your driving to get faster. As important a lesson as this is for beginners it does restrict your learning curve later in the season when you want to experiment with the chassis and gearing. For that you need to buy.

The second and first full problem of Arrive and Drive is the fact that everyone shares the chassis. No series that I am aware of allows a driver to reserve a chassis. Each series runs several race days and has a championship for each race day (Saturday series, Sunday series, etc). Because of this you are sharing a chassis with several other drivers and therefore the chassis is being worn out much faster than usual. Some people – as you will learn when you get on track – seem to really like hitting things. These are not people you want to share with. A typical privately owned chassis may run a dozen to maybe twenty races in a season. An Arrive and Drive chassis may reach that number in a matter of five to six weeks.

Lastly, the quality of your competition is an issue. It is a very old and well understood phenomenon that the better the skills of your competitors the faster you will rise to a challenge to match them. Simply put, the better the drivers you race against the better you will become, and sooner. Arrive and Drive series are Amateur series. Don’t take offense if you run in one. It is not an insult. It just is. Your skills will only grow so quickly running against other amateurs. At some point you have to change and you don’t want to wait too long. One to two seasons are the ideal before taking the step to a club. More and you are just wasting time, less and you may be rushing yourself. Keep in mind though that Arrive and Drive series are quite new, but some if not most of your competition in a club will have spent time in one, instead of diving into racing head first weather they had a choice or not. So, is it worth it? Yes…In the beginning.

There is no cheaper way to gain experience in the first and most vital area of your skill set, driving the track. It also gives you a chance to gain vital experience by competing on track against other drivers without the stress of set-up and gearing and repairs. You just concentrate on getting through each corner, each lap, each pass, each race, until you are comfortable moving into a club. The time frame for moving is somewhat individual, but, as I said, two years is the max if you have the desire, time, and money to move up. If you are simply there as a hobby and you enjoy the more relaxed way to race then by all means stay, run, and have fun.

Also, if you run in a club (Particularly 4cycle) some series will allow the Arrive and Drive karts to compete against the owner karts in a particular class. Different series have different arrangements but I understand that the price ($55) is the same as for the Arrive and Drive series except that you need to buy a club membership on top of your Arrive and Drive membership as well as the race entry, which generally runs around $75 for the membership and $65 per race. Even if it is more money per race day it is still a bargain compared to the owners experience, except that you are running an Arrive and Drive chassis that you can’t change (Or change much) against owners and teams. Still, for experience, it is a good deal. What about Buying your own chassis? Now you’re taking things seriously.

Buying a chassis:

There is a lot to consider when it comes to Buying a chassis of your very own. The main four are Cost, Equipment, Storage, and Transportation. Come to think of it, buying itself has to be broken down into two sub questions, and they are as follows: Do you buy new or used?

New:

When you set a budget to buy a new chassis expect to start around $3500. Engines begin around $800 for a 4 cycle Briggs L206, $2500+ for a 2cycle Rotax, and near double that for a good DD2. Shifter engines start around $5000. Engines are not cheap when you want something with a lot of power, but let’s just stick with the $3500 for a chassis for now.

Driving a fresh chassis is like nothing else. No chassis feels better on track than when it is brand new. They are clean, shiny, will never be faster, and look ready to carry you to victory. But there is a catch. It is only possible to take advantage of a new chassis if you know what you are doing. Otherwise you may be spending money for nothing. Having a new chassis has the advantage of being unstressed, undamaged (Presumably), and state of the art, but here is the problem, your priority shouldn’t be having the very newest chassis on the market, it must be in having the best chassis you can afford without limiting your practice and testing time. If buying the brand new chassis means you cut the number of practice days you can afford to run then you shouldn’t buy new (Remember that track time trumps). A one or even two year old chassis that is undamaged will be just as capable of winning in skilled hands as a new one. Even chassis older than that win on a regular basis all around the world. If you can afford it though, new is the way to go.

Used:

Used chassis run for wildly different prices depending on age, accessories included, and history. My first kart was a 3 year old (1989) Vendetta. It came with an out of date G200 L-head Honda engine, gears, extra body work, tools, and spare parts for almost everything, all for $700 bucks. Today you can easily find similar deals, though, by inflation and the increased popularity of the sport, the modern cost is usually $1500 or so. With the proliferation of large teams in national and international series it is not uncommon to find a chassis with six or less races on it, complete with or without engine, for less than half the price of a new one. My dad found ours in a local newspaper. Today the internet is rife with deals. The trick is to inspect the claim of what the chassis and engine are, what they are really worth, and always contact a track, club, or dealer to see if the deal sounds good or not. Of course dealers are always trying to unload perfectly good chassis of their own, and you can get them for a bargain with a bit of haggling. Before you hand over any cash though, you need to be aware of the things I listed before: Cost, Equipment, Storage, and Transportation.

The budget involved in running a club season including the cost of a chassis (Used or New) can run from around $5000 to $15000+ depending on class, equipment, and the particular rules package of your club. This is more expensive than running an Arrive and Drive series but it is the first step towards a Professional series. Where as Arrive and Drive is a pure amateur series, clubs are a mix of Pros and Amateurs. By running a club you have stepped up in the level of competition and are forced to step up your game to compete. Luckily you also now get to share the track with much better drivers that you can observe, follow (If you can keep up), and use to measure your own skill level. It is truly an exciting moment when you find yourself following the best driver in your class and, lap after lap; they can’t get away from you. It gets even better when you find yourself catching them; that is when racing really gets exciting. A Regional series is going to start in the low $8000 including Chassis (Used) and only goes up from there. National and International Series are…more. Consider transportation and accommodation costs if you are looking into these series.

Equipment:

Equipment goes beyond the basic chassis and engine. You, as the owner, are responsible for acquiring all of the necessary tools, equipment (Including a driver’s suit, helmet, vest, etc), maintenance, and prep work needed to run. Basic tools are all you really need to get most jobs done but there are a few necessities that you can’t get at the local parts store. Tire breaker, kart stand, spare rims, and spare parts of all sorts need to be on hand all the time and they are usually only availably from the dealer or a builder.

Storage:

Storage of the chassis, parts, and a place you can work on them is a must. It is surprising just how much stuff you accumulate over time. My Dad and I used to work on the kart in our driveway and store our equipment in our trailer, with the less necessary bits in the garage. Storage units will do in a pinch but most tracks offer some sort of storage on site. It isn’t ideal because all of the maintenance and prep work has to be done there, but it isn’t terribly expensive so it will do. Plus all your stuff is right there, at the track, which is sweet.

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A Simple 2-Kart set-up

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A Big Rig for Karts

Transportation:

Getting to and from the track is an obvious need, but you don’t have to get fancy. My family started by stuffing the kart and tools into the back of a K-car station wagon. Later, when my brother decided he wanted to race too, one kart was mounted on the roof. My dad later built a trailer out of a store bought chassis and enclosed it in some plywood. It easily carried the two karts. A few years later I took the axle and suspension from that trailer and custom built a slick all metal one that is still out there today, although with someone else’s stuff in it (I sold it). I’ve seen karts transported by everything from NASCAR style haulers to sticking out of the back of a Volkswagen Rabbit. If you don’t have a vehicle capable of transporting the chassis or a trailer then some teams will haul several karts for people that don’t have a way to get them there. In the end how you get to and from the track doesn’t matter, just as long as you get there before registration closes.

Maintenance:

Maintenance and prep work take up time that can amount from a few hours before and after a race weekend to several nights labour in prep. The difference depending on your level of commitment. This has to be factored into work and family schedules, if you care about such trivial things as work and family. So, should you own your own your own chassis? Yes.

With your own chassis you are free to practice, test, experiment, and just plain enjoy yourself when ever you want to and you don’t have to share. And as I have tried to stress, there is No substitute for track time. Owning your own chassis also forces you to learn the business of set-up; how subtle changes can make large and small effects on different aspects of your chassis’ personality. It teaches you how the machine operates and how you can manipulate that operation to your advantage.
Another aspect of ownership is that, by being financially as well as physically responsible for your successes and failures, you are forced to take the entire business of racing much more seriously. You have made a commitment of time and money and you probably don’t like wasting either. It is the challenge of taking your racing destiny into your hands that you must embrace. Lastly we come to Teams. Are they a good Idea?
That depends on weather or not you play well with others.

Join a team:

When I say “Join a Team” I don’t mean you get some decoder ring and lean a special hand shake. I mean you have paired up with a chassis manufacturer/importer and or an engine builder that has other customers running the same equipment under one banner. The team will pit together, work, and share information together. What this allows you to do is learn from others.

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The team doing their thing
( image from pslkarting.com)

Sharing information compounds the ability of drivers and mechanics to gain experience. Different chassis and engine settings can be tried at the same time allowing everyone on the team to benefit. You are surrounded by people that may have a great deal more experience than you. You can openly copy their settings and they will likely be happy to show them to you, because you are on the same team. It also makes it easier for drivers to work together on track because they already have something in common. From practice, testing, to racing you have many people working to make you faster and better.

If you run in a Regional, National or International series then a team is a real solution to the problem of getting your equipment to and from the racetracks that are separated by oceans if not just borders. Driving for several days or, crating up and flying or floating your equipment is a pain. The only way to do it cheaper than with a team is to make a collective deal with several other owners and ship out together, which many do, but you can imagine the possible troubles of relying on several people to be ready at the same time, to pay at the same time, and so on. Working with a Team puts all of the responsibility on the company. All you do is show and go. So, is a team worth it? Yes.

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PSL Doing More of Their Thing
(image from pslkarting.com)

With a team the only requirement to join is to run the chassis/engine package they offer and be willing to work with them on race day. Some teams don’t even require you to run their new equipment. You can buy used chassis and equipment and still benefit from the team atmosphere.
Also, racing teams are stuffed with experienced mechanics and drivers on hand to help you out. Some teams even insist that the Racers relay the chassis issues directly to the mechanics so they can make the changes for you. You share pits with the team and have the entire team’s experience to draw from. There is also a sense of camaraderie that doesn’t exist to the same extent as when you are a privateer, and if you are running the same class as other drivers in your camp than the opportunity to work together is always there.

The downside to a team is that you may find you don’t like the other people on it. Remember that job you had with that guy you hated, now imagine you are paying heaps of your own cash to work with him. And you can imagine how awkward the pit becomes if one driver takes out their teammate. But when it comes right down to it this is a small price to pay when you consider the amount of information and experience you have at your fingertips.

Weather you are staring out, moving up, or ready to take it pro there is a place to start that can work for you, and hopefully this will help. If not, well, just be glad I didn’t make it longer.
Good luck, and see you at the track.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to send them along below and follow OakmanOnRacing.

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Posted in: Editorial