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" 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.
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.
- 7-12 years old: The Cadet class offers a 60cc 2-stroke class with a reliable and fairly simple engine that will hit over 50 mph. There are also 4-stroke Junior classes (popular in our local series), such as the Jr I Briggs Gas Animal & LO206 class, 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 has 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.
- 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 & Rotax. At the club level, 4-cycle classes such as LO206 & Jr II Briggs 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, 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 a brand new class started by SKUSA in 2015. We expect this class will grow, but it is currently a "Local Option" class that is under review.
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 new O2s Championship Series that will feature 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 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/Briggs Animal: This is one of the most popular classes at our two local tracks (McMinnville, and Canby) and is also one of the more affordable classes. This class uses a 212cc 4-cycle engine that is approx. 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 1k to 1.2k). 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 is gaining in popularity across the country. Top end speeds are not super high, but 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 the best starting point for anyone new to the sport.
We rate this class medium to high on fun, and low on expense.
- Rotax: The Rotax Max Challenge series has continued to see excellent growth at the National level, at least up until 2015 when they came out with the new EVO package. 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 are some benefits that make the series worth considering and prices have dropped for 2017. The series is very well supported and organized. They have excellent press coverage and participation at the larger events (which are also very well organized), and they produce 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. The EVO package is much improved, the cylinder manufacturing process has been improved (to keep engines more equal) and the prices have been lowered. Call us if you have any questions.
- Stock Honda 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, we highly 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 and it's not unusual to shift 50 times in a 45 second lap. Downshifting 3 gears in less than a second in braking zones, 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 for a complete package (new), but they are reliable, parts are relatively inexpensive, and rebuilds are cheap compared to most kart engines. They put out roughly 36 to 40 hp. The next step up from Stock Moto, is the KZ class (formerly ICC) using engines similar to this. There is not a huge speed difference between stock moto & KZ, but the KZ's do have an advantage at fast tracks.
We rate this class extremely high on the fun factor (once you get the hang of it), and relatively high on the expense factor.
- Other: There are many other classes, including the classic Yamaha KT100's, but the above is a small sample of the more 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.
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 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 (or at the very least long pants and long sleeves), shoes that cover the ankles, abrasion resistant gloves (we recommend leather motorcycle road racing 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. 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).
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.
- Race Suit - Abrasion resistant race suit (some clubs let you get by with heavy long pants and abrasion resistant jacket)
- Rib protector - we carry the Armadillo and Ribtect lines with or without chest protection (the chest protection is mandatory for kids, but optional for adults).
- Gloves - either kart specific, or motorcycle road racing gloves. We highly recommend leather road racing motorcycle gloves, instead of kart gloves, for best protection.
- 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
- 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.
- Air compressor or air tank
- Tire gauge - accurate dial (or digital) gauge
- Zip ties of various sizes, and electrical tape.
- Mechanic gloves 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
- Chain lube
- Kart stand with wheels
- Hand-held starter - depending on type of kart
- 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)
Enjoy this video interview of Tony Kanaan talking about his start in kart racing: