Beginner's Guide to Getting Started in Kart Racing
In this article we cover age groups, karting classes or divisions, safety, and list of equipment needed to get started.
We offer 1 on 1 instruction & training. Contact us for pricing and scheduling.
Karting Classes and Age Groups
Karting is a great family sport and is a fun way for all ages to go racing. Most kart clubs or tracks offer the following age divisions:
- 5-7 years old: Commonly referred to as "Kid Karts" in the U.S. and also referred to as "Baby Karts" these are usually powered by a small (50cc) 2-stroke engine similar to what you'd find on a chain saw. The most popular engine is the Comer C50/51 2-cycle engine. Some clubs use the Honda GX35 or GXH50 4-cycle engine - check your local series to see which is most popular before buying an engine. We carry the Honda GXH50 and we special order the Comer C50/51.
This is a "participation" class in our local Northwest series, no points or championships, the focus is on fun and safety. Throttle stops can be adjusted to match a parent's comfort level with their kids. Top speeds can vary but are generally around 30 mph, although we have tuned engines up to 40 mph in this class (for experienced racers only).
- 7-12 years old: The Cadet class offers a 60cc 2-stroke class with a reliable and fairly simple engine from IAME or ROK that will hit over 50 mph. In addition, there is a 4-stroke Junior class (popular in our local series) -the Jr I Briggs & Stratton LO206 - for this age group.
The Rotax series uses the MicroMax engine configuration for 8-10 year olds, and the MiniMax engine configuration for 10-13 year olds.
In 2016, SKUSA divided the Cadet class into two age groups. One is Micro Swift for ages 7-9, and the other is Mini Swift for ages 9-13. They both use our Mini Swift engine - the only difference is that the Micro class uses the 16mm factory header.
A similar format is now also used in the ROK Cup USA. The mini ROK engine is well priced and is a good competitive product (available on our Vortex engines page).
- 12-15 years old: The Junior class is one of the most furiously competitive classes. This is a very fun class that uses a full size kart, along with a 125cc 2-stroke engine, in TaG, ROK, and Rotax. At the club level, 4-cycle classes such as LO206 Jr II are also offered for entry level drivers and tight budgets.
TaG engines have a restrictor in the exhaust (which can be simply be removed to move up to the Senior class), and Rotax JrMax engines use a different cylinder sleeve. Speeds are generally in the 65 mph range on sprint tracks.
- 15 years and older: Similar to the Junior class but without the restricted exhaust. This is known as the Senior class. There are 2-stroke classes such as TaG, ROK, and Rotax, or 4-cycle classes such as World Formula, and LO206. Minimum weight requirements are higher, and speeds often exceed 70 mph on sprint tracks.
- 32 years and older: The Masters class is well attended and some of the funnest racing. A higher weight minimum is used and there are light divisions as well as heavy divisions, so larger frame drivers can be competitive. Larger kids (16 & older) who exceed the weight minimums in their class are sometimes allowed to race in the Masters class.
- 45 years and older: The Super Masters class is was a new class started by SKUSA in 2015. We expect this class will grow, but as of 2017 it was a "Local Option" class that is under review. In 2018 and 2019 we saw this class expand to some other SKUSA events.
New to the sport, or have kids that are interested in racing, but have no experience? Contact us for training & coaching. We teach novice drivers of all ages how to be safe and enjoy the sport. With one-on-one coaching at the track, and trackside support at races.
No matter the age, weight, or budget - there's a class for everyone in karting
There are several types of racing, including Speedway Ovals (both dirt and pavement), but arguably the two most popular divisions (depending on where you live) are Sprint, and Road:
- Sprint: Generally held on a tight circuit (usually less than a mile in total length) specifically designed for karting. A wide range of corners including many tight hairpin style corners.
- Road: Karting events held on auto racing tracks. Different gearing is used and it's not uncommon for the shifter karts to hit speeds in the 120 mph range.
Karting has a very wide variety of classes based on different engine types. It can be quite confusing, but we're listing some of the most popular ones here with descriptions that will hopefully help you decide which class is best for you. We highly recommend checking out your local scene to see what classes are popular in your area. You will usually have more fun racing in a popular class where you have plenty of competitors.
- TaG (Touch and Go): This is a very popular class in most areas, but not all. The level of participation in this class seems to vary from year to year, but it is one of our favorites and we are the title sponsor of the O2s Championship Series that features both TaG and Shifters in the Northwest. Junior and above uses a 125 cc 2-stroke engine (approx. 27hp to 30hp) such as the X30, or the Vortex ROK, or the new X125T. It's a relatively expensive engine (2k to 3k for a complete setup), but is also very fast and easy to tune. This is one of the funnest classes when participation levels are good.
We rate this class high on fun, and medium on expense.
- World Formula: This is a popular class at one of our local tracks (in McMinnville) and is also one of the more affordable classes. This class uses a 212cc 4-cycle engine that is approx. 16-18hp (the Animal, used by Juniors, is rougly 12hp). While not as fast as TaG this is a more affordable option (new competitive engines are around $1200). This is a very competitive, closely matched class.
We rate this class medium-high on fun, and relatively low on expense.
- LO206: Similar to World Formula but with a sealed engine, and slightly lower cost. This is a fairly new option, but it has become very popular across the country. Top end speeds are not very high, making this a good beginners class, and torque out of corners is a kick. The fun level increases as the participation rapidly grows with this reliable engine. We recommend this class as a good starting point for anyone new to the sport. We offer the short block for $297, or long block for $599. We also have a complete engine package deal that comes with everything you need (complete engine, carb, clutch, pipe, sprocket, chain, fuel line, throttle cable, filters, brackets, etc) for $1000.
We rate this class medium to high on fun, and low on expense.
- 100cc A/C: A new class for 2019 (that is actually similar to an older class, the famous KT100) is the new 100cc Air-Cooled 2-stroke class. We're seeing quick growth across the US with this fast (22 hp), but affordable, engine. It's a great step up in speed from the LO206, but without too much of an increase in expense. These 100cc engines work well on the same chassis used for LO206. They are a true kart racing engine yet still quite simple to operate, and they're a great bang for the buck. We sell three different brands... ROK VLR, IAME KA100, and Maxter X100AC.
We rate this class high on fun, and medium/low on expense.
WORD Racing prepared Tony Kart with 100cc air-cooled 2-stroke engine (ROK VLR)
- Rotax: The Rotax Max Challenge series continued to see excellent growth at the National level...until 2015 when they came out with the new EVO package. In 2017 attendance at Rotax events was down to about half previous years, and in 2018 the class has been mostly replaced by ROK Cup USA, and SKUSA. The engine is a sealed 125cc 2-stroke (costs about 3k for a new one). Horsepower is roughly 26-28 in the Senior class. Speeds and performance are similar to TaG, and the reliability is similar. Rotax was arguably the most expensive form of karting in America from about 2010-2016, but there were some benefits that made the series worth considering. The series was very well supported and organized. They had excellent press coverage and participation at the larger events, and they produced a great championship series that qualifies drivers for Grand Nationals and Grand Finals events.
We rate this class high on fun (if your idea of fun is very serious & competitive), but also very high on expense.
*Rotax has been going through some major changes in 2017 & 2018. The EVO package is much improved, the cylinder manufacturing process has been improved (to keep engines more equal) and the prices have been lowered. However, it appears to have been to little to late, as the Rotax series is no longer doing very well in the US. An alternative to consider is the ROK Cup USA series or SKUSA's version of TaG (X30).
- Shifter: If you're looking for speed, this is the class! However, this is not a class for beginners. Even if you have car racing experience and/or motorcycle racing experience, ideally we recommend you start in one of the above single speed classes before moving up to the Shifter class. These karts hit 80 mph on Sprint tracks, and over 115 mph on Road tracks. They are a handful to drive on a Sprint track (at Pat's Acres in the S4 class we shift about 45 times in a 37 second lap). Downshifting 3 gears, in less than a second, in braking zones.. all while holding on with 1 hand in a 3 G corner is not for new karters trying to learn the basics of kart handling and setup.
Engine cost is around 4k to 5k for a complete package (new Honda or Vortex ROK), but they are both fairly reliable. Parts on the Honda engines are relatively inexpensive, and Honda rebuilds are cheap compared to most kart engines. They put out roughly 36 to 45 hp (depending on the dyno and stock vs mod class). The next step up from Stock Moto and the ROK Shifter is the KZ class (formerly ICC). There is not a huge speed difference between stock moto (Honda CR125) and the Vortex ROK; however, a well built KZ engine does have a noticeable power advantage - but it comes at a much higher expense both in initial cost and maintenance. It's not unheard of for a KZ engine to cost $7500 or more, and it has to be rebuilt frequently. They are worth it if you have the funds, otherwise we would lean towards the Honda or ROK, but either way it's still the best bang for the buck when compared to auto racing. Another option is the 175cc SKUSA Shifter engine by IAME.
We rate this class extremely high on the fun factor (once you get the hang of it), and relatively high (ROK or Honda) to very high (KZ) on the expense factor.
WORD Racing prepared ikart Indianapolis kart with Vortex ROK Shifter engine
- Other: There are many other classes, including the classic Yamaha KT100's, and the increasingly popular ROK Cup, but the above is a small sample of the most popular ones across the US. There are also variations of TaG, and Shifter, so again we recommend you check out your local track and see what's popular. If you're worried about expense a general rule is high horsepower, and soft tires = expensive. On the other hand, low horsepower, and harder compound tires = more affordable.
Tech-Tip: Gearing varies with engine type, track configuration, and driver ability. We have a gear chart, but check to see what your local drivers (in your class) are using at your track. A general rule of thumb, is to gear the kart so you hit your maximum rpm near the end of the fastest (and usually the longest) straight. In some of the lower horsepower classes, especially 4-stroke on a technical track, you may want to hit the rev limiter much sooner.
Equipment: Scroll down to find out what equipment you need to get started in racing, but please read the safety information below first.
Safety is a combination of many things, two of which include the driver and the track. Karting is safer than many other sports, but it is a high-speed motorsport so there are some dangers to be aware of.
- Track: We recommend you walk the track (when it's not being used by karts, of course!) to check the run-off and barriers in each corner. Make sure there are no dangerous obstructions (solid objects such as trees, or poles). If there are, they should be blocked with soft haybales or safety barriers. Do not drive on the track if any kart stands or vehicles (other than karts) are on the track.
- Driver Safety Equipment: Most organizations require full abrasion resistant driving suits, shoes that cover the ankles (we also recommend high performance karting socks), abrasion resistant gloves, neck protection, and a full face helmet that meets the latest safety standards. Rib protecters are not always mandatory, but should be - don't drive without one - seriously, if you don't use a rib protector you will injure your ribs (guaranteed) and it will take away from your enjoyment of the sport. Chest protection is also required for Junior drivers, and recommended for adults. Above all, drive smart and stay focused.
We are not responsible for your safety, your safety is up to you (see our disclaimer).
Equipment list to get started in karting
Racing is all about preparation. You can prepare the kart and your track day setup yourself, or you can hire us to do it for you.
- Kart - New, Used, or Rent (arrive & drive). We carry iKart, and Tony Kart.
Note: Karts sold without an engine are called "Rollers". With an engine included, they are called "Completes"
- Helmet - New only. We don't recommend used helmets (impact damage may not show on helmet, but safety could be compromised). Both our Zamp Helmets and our Pyrotect Helmets make new and safe, affordable. If you're looking for the best, we also carry Arai Helmets.
- Race Suit - Abrasion resistant kart racing suit (some clubs let you get by with heavy long pants and abrasion resistant jacket at small local races, but heavy jeans and work pants are usually made of cotton that rips apart on contact with pavement)
- Rib protector - we carry the Alpinestars, Tillett, Armadillo and Ribtect lines with or without chest protection (the chest protection is mandatory for kids, but optional for adults). See our full line of Rib Protectors
- Gloves - either kart racing gloves, or motorcycle road racing gloves. The kart gloves work well for sprint tracks, and we recommend the leather road racing motorcycle gloves for road racing.
- Kart racing socks - We designed Aireator socks specifically for karting, with a tall double cuff that protects leg from chafing on high-top racing shoes. They are also designed to not slip down inside the shoe, give better pedal feel, and wick sweat away.
- Kart race shoes - Hi-top wrestling shoes will work, but we recommend (and some series require) kart specific shoes
- Neck protection - we carry the best, the 360 Plus Device and Alpinestars - neck protection for karters.
- Tools - it varies with the type of engine & chassis. The most commonly used are metric hex wrenches, and metric sockets/wrenches (including spark plug sockets). A soft blow hammer, basic screwdriver set, drill, spring puller, catch pan for oil or water, and an impact driver is nice to have if you know how to properly use it - i.e. don't overtighten bolts - a torque wrench is handy to have around. You will either need tire tools or hire us to change your tires for you.
- Air compressor or air tank
- Tire gauge - accurate dial (or digital) gauge. We sell the Long Acres brand - both analog and digital.
- Zip ties of various sizes, and electrical tape.
- Mechanic gloves and/or disposable gloves
- Various sprockets - Ask your local track what size of sprockets drivers are using in your class. Click here for Gear Chart
- Fuel jug - Utility jug, plus a measuring device if mixing 2-stroke oils
- Chain lube - We recommend the Dumonde Tech BHP for the 4-cycle classes. For the 2-strokes you may prefer a "sticky" lube that doesn't fling off at high RPM's. We carry Amsoil and Motul.
- Kart stand with wheels.
- Hand-held starter - depending on type of kart, not needed for all karts.
- Lap timer - kart data device (Mychron, etc.) or at least someone with a stopwatch
- Pop-up canopy for shade (or to keep dry)
- Cooler for food & drinks
- Fire extinguisher and first aid kit
- Transport - Pickup truck, van, or trailer (or pay us to transport your kart for you). A full size kart is roughly 55" wide and just under 7' long. However, the front bumper has two quick release clamps so it can be popped off in seconds and shorten the kart by 10 inches or so, and it's fairly easy to pop off a wheel and one of the side pods to narrow the kart.
Enjoy this video interview of Tony Kanaan talking about his start in kart racing:
When it comes to safety gear - WORD Racing is by far your #1 shop. We stock Alpinestars suits, gloves, shoes, rib protectors, and more. We also stock Arai Helmets, Zamp Helmets, 360 Plus Device, Tillett P1 rib protectors and much more.
|| On the Fast Track...
NEW PRODUCT LINES
Alpinestars Rib Protectors
Alpinestars Neck Protector
Tillett, Sniper, RLV, Honda, Briggs & Stratton - more info coming soon
Super lightweight karting specific models available!
Kart Racing Socks
World's first kart sock. Better pedal feel, no bunching, high tech Cool Max mesh, super durable... the new WORD Racing Socks maximize driver feel & comfort - now also available in black, or neon green
OTK M7 Aero!
OTK M7 Fairing Kits with brackets and mounting hardware. With or without Tony Kart decal kit
Dumonde TECH & PRO X lubricants for Racing Karts, and Racing Bikes.
Super lightweight Kevlar
We now carry the full Ribtect line of products. Ribtect vests, chest protectors, seat hardware kits, and seats
360 Plus Device
The best neck protection for karting. Click hear for more details, or to order>>>
2017 & 2018 & 2019
1st place 2017, 2018 & 2019 Championship Winner of the Open 2-stroke Championship, and also the OSKCS Championship, in TaG Sr. ('17) and Masters ("18), Randy Word.
An iKart customer, Gregg Hall, also won the O2s Championshp TaG Masters class in 2017.
2nd in TaG Sr. in the Can-Am Karting Challenge
WORD Racing spent most of 2016 traveling around the Northwest coaching & tuning for customers. Winning at many tracks, and helping our customers to championship wins. The factory iKart Indianapolis team also enjoyed some great victories, including with the new Cadet chassis. The factory team spent most of 2016 as a development year with the new Cadet chassis and the new iKart brake system.
2015 SKUSA 1ST
2015 SKUSA Summer Nationals:
- 1st place (both days!) TaG Sr, Jesus Rios
2014 Oregon State Karting Championship Series:
- 1st place S2 Stock Moto,
Randy Word. (and 3rd overall in the Can-Am Karting Challenge S4 Stock Moto class)
- 1st place TaG Sr,
2012 NW ProKart Challenge Champion TaG Sr - Ethan Word
2012 Oregon State Karting Champion TaG Sr - Randy Word