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What are Go-Karts?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Go-karts are a type of small, suspensionless vehicle. They come in a variety of forms, from motorless models to high-powered, high-performance ones meant for competitive racing. Though many people associate these vehicles with children, people of all ages race go-karts and often use them as a stepping stone to more advanced motor sports. Racing go-karts is a popular sport in both North America and Europe, with a number of different leagues and national championships. The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), best known for regulating the Formula One races, also oversees international go-kart competitions, including the CIK-FIA Karting World Championship.

The simplest type of go-kart is usually referred to as a billy kart or soap-box cart, and is little more than a box with wheels. These vehicles have no engines, and instead rely on gravity for their impetus, with most races taking place down a single hill. Soap-box racing is primarily geared towards children, and can be a fun introduction to racing as a sport.

Motorized go-karts come in an astonishing range of complexity and power. Simple four-stroke models are available, as are powerful two-stroke engine go-karts. Some make use of alternative power supplies, including alcohol fuel, electric motors, and propane engines. They can range in power from 15 horsepower all the way up to 90 horsepower and above.

Go-karts may be raced in a wide range of situations. One of the most well-known is a simple short circuit track intended for amateurs and children. These tracks are usually well under 1 km (0.6 mile) in length, with tires and other forms of protection on the sides. The vehicles are provided in these hobby tracks, and are usually intended more for entertainment and safety than for direct speed. Go-karts are also raced on much longer tracks, usually shared with other motor sports and intended for higher-performance models. These tracks are usually used for competitive karting, though they may also be rented recreationally for amateurs interested in experiencing the direct speed of a high-powered go-kart.

These vehicles are adaptable enough to be used on a large number of surfaces, and a number of custom tracks for karting also exist. Dirt tracks are the most common in the United States, but ice tracks also exist for go-karts which have been modified with spiked wheels for better traction. Go-karts can reach extraordinary speeds, which is one reason they are often used as an introduction to full automobile racing. Most hobbyist karts can't go much faster than 90 mph (145 km/h), while professional go-karts can reach speeds in excess of 160 mph (260 km/h).

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Discussion Comments

By David84 — On Jul 21, 2016

I have driven go karts that reach 50MPH and it takes skill to drive a go kart at such speeds. They were electric go karts powered by a 20HP electric motor.

The acceleration those karts have is just crazy. Floor the accelerator and you are gaining speed at a fast rate. Most go karts you can floor the accelerator the entire way around the track, but not at this place. At this place, you have to know how to use your brakes properly to avoid a crash.

By Rotergirl — On May 28, 2014

I've been in a go-kart one time. My friend's brother had one. He drove too fast though, and scared me, so I wouldn't ever ride with him again. I might like the kind of tracks they have in amusement parks, though.

By Pippinwhite — On May 27, 2014

There used to be an amusement style go-kart track around here, but it didn't last long. I think it's because it was really expensive. They have some at the beach and I'd love to try them sometime. They look like a lot of fun, and you're not really going fast enough to be hurt, so it looks like a good time.

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