How To Drive A Go-Kart: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

As a go-kart racer myself, the goal of this article is to help you get a better understanding of how to drive a go-kart. Whether you want to have a great time with friends every once in a while, or you’re a racer in-the-making, this article will teach you all you need to know about driving go-karts.

Driving a go-kart properly requires everything from preparing the kart and getting the essential gear, to actually driving it and maintaining a focus on multiple different things all at once. Driving a go-kart involves concentration, proper footwork, and an understanding of racecraft.

For all of my knowledge as a long-time kart racer, I can’t know what kind of go-karting you are looking to improve or prime yourself for. So, below we cover in detail the different types of go-karting and how you can improve your abilities no matter your chosen route.

Person driving a racing go-kart on a track around a set of corners with a dark background and red and white kerbs on either side of the track, How To Drive A Go-Kart

How To Drive A Go-Kart – Before You Get To The Track

Safety First

I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to be properly decked out in safety equipment when driving go-karts. At the end of the day, this activity is a motorsport and has all manner of hazards that come with it because of that, so the least you can do is minimize your risk of injury by being prepared.

Not only that, but proper gear will actually make you faster on the track by comparison, so there’s truly no excuse not to wear these life-saving pieces of equipment:

Never get ready to race without these items and it’ll become second nature in no time at all! It may seem like a lot of gear to carry around with you, and even remembering the proper gear for wet weather when the forecast hasn’t predicted rain might seem pointless, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

The Comfort Of Race Clothing

Compared to your regular clothing, race suits and every other piece of equipment that make a complete set are designed with aerodynamics in mind. They also enhance your comfort during your drives, especially when you consider the importance of gloves or a rib protector.

By wearing good gloves, you’ll be enhancing your grip on the steering wheel due to the extra grippy fabric on the palms – and you won’t be getting painful blisters either! A decent rib protector will reduce the potential for bruising when you’re on flying laps. Just envisage how hard and unforgiving go-kart seats can feel!

Being comfortable means you have more capacity to race your heart out, and when you add the fact that all of this gear will protect you if you’re involved in an incident, it truly is a win-win situation.

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Go-karts are purposefully designed to be as universal as possible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make adjustments to enhance your ability on the track! Even more than that, you need to be comfortable and be able to reach all of the controls at your disposal without pulling a muscle.

Note: If you’re renting a kart, you won’t have any luck in getting the seat moved closer to the steering wheel or anything like that

Racing tracks often keep padded seat inserts that can move you closer to the steering wheel, while also minimizing how much you’ll rattle around in the seat. If you’re the owner of your own go-kart, you can tweak the seat position to your heart’s content, but always make sure to remember the following position for optimum, comfortable driving.

Steering Wheel

When you reach forward to hold the wheel, you want to have a slight, easy bend at the elbow. Adjust your seating position until you achieve this. Sitting with a hunch or lean will increase your drag on the track, after all.

Also make sure to grip your steering wheel symmetrically, whether that be ‘hands at 10 to 2’ or at any other position that feels comfortable. This will mean you should never have to move your hands on the steering wheel, something absolutely essential for a smooth drive!


Similar to reaching the steering wheel, you want your feet to comfortably work the pedals with a slight bend in your legs. Spend some time extending your feet all the way onto both the brake and gas pedals to make sure you can fully utilize both when needed.

Getting Your Kart On The Track

So, you’ve got all of your safety equipment donned and your kart is properly geared for you personally. The next thing to think about is how to start your go-kart, and this will differ depending on what type of rig is being used.

When renting a kart, the track marshals will start the kart for you, and so you may think that it isn’t important for you to think about. But you should pay attention to where the engine is located and see how the marshals start it, if for no other reason than to be aware of where not to put your hands when getting into or out of the kart!

Check Your Fluids

In the context of owning a kart, however, you’ll be the one getting it started, so you absolutely need to know how to do this. Make sure the engine is full of fresh gasoline (87 unleaded will be your best friend) and double-check to make sure that there’s enough oil by checking the dipstick.

Prime the engine with fuel by pressing the proper button and wait until you see fuel bubbling into the dome-like button, and then hit the kill switch. Time to pull the choke lever! Keep this lever out while you pull the starter cord. Wait until you hear a sputtering sort of sound and then push the choke back in, and there you have it!

Start It Up

A lot of new karts have the potential for a ‘push start’ button which, when properly installed, can achieve the whole process with the push of a button. This is fairly common in racing karts.

Before you get on the track, make sure to familiarize yourself with how your kart actually starts and experiment a few times in a safe location with a good amount of space at your disposal just in case.


• Before you drive your go-kart, you need to ensure you have all the necessary safety gear

• You also need to set your kart up for comfortable driving

• You can then check your kart’s essentials before starting it at the track

How To Drive A Go-Kart – At The Track

The Proper Driving Position

Before you jump into a kart, it’s important to be seated comfortably and properly. I went over this earlier in the article in the checks you’ll need to do on a more basic level, but I’ll quickly explain why it’s important to maintain good posture/position while driving on the track.

Karts are built to be aerodynamic and lightweight. It goes without saying that you’ll be the heaviest addition to the kart itself! Because of this, how you seat yourself is very important. You want to be able to grasp the steering wheel symmetrically with both hands on either side, and your arms should have a slight bend in the elbow.

And as for your legs, you want to be able to comfortably press all the way on both pedals with a slight bend of your knees. It’s not only for the purpose of comfort, of course, but this way of being seated with your back pressed against the back of the seat gives you a sturdy center of gravity within the kart.

Hunching or reaching too much will disrupt the aerodynamics of your kart and badly affect your body, which are two distinct reasons why you want to uphold that position throughout your drive. If you begin to slouch and adjust your posture while driving, you can develop bad habits that will inhibit the finer points of how much you can improve your lap times.

Braking & Acceleration

One of the biggest no-no’s in go-karting as a whole is to have your feet pressing on both pedals. This will reduce your speed by a huge margin, and you’ll actually do damage to the brakes by doing this. Make it a conscious habit to press either the gas pedal, or the brake pedal, but never both at the same time.

Until you feel more comfortable in the kart, you don’t even want to attempt a technique called ‘feathering,’ where you quickly alternate accelerating and braking for quicker cornering. People who do this are very experienced and have disciplined themselves to never press both pedals simultaneously to begin with.

Similar to how carrying too much speed into corners will have you spinning off the track, pushing both pedals can cause a lock-up of your wheels and almost always ends in tears!

How Much Braking & Acceleration You’ll Need

When you’re on a straight portion of the track, your gas pedal should be pressed to the position we call ‘flat out,’ basically down to the floor. This will give you the optimum acceleration needed to carry your top speeds, ideal for overtaking other drivers and otherwise giving you good lap times.

Go-karts do best when they’re driven in straight lines since they carry extraordinary speed when they have little resistance acting on them. While driving on straight parts of the track, don’t weave around, and try to keep the kart planted firmly on the side of the track you’ll need to take when turning into the next corner.

You can smoothly drift over to this side as opposed to staying there after exiting corners, of course, but the important word there is ‘smoothly.’ Don’t be snatching at your steering wheel or making harsh movements with it. You should also never have to move your hands on the wheel, even if you have to make a hairpin turn. It will disrupt the smooth, clean lines of your steering input!

Braking For Corners

Now, when it comes to braking for corners, you never want to be slowing down on the corner itself. Apply all of your braking power before the corner and remember that go-karts like straight, clean lines.

Because of this, you’ll be taking most of your corners by staying wide of the corner and then turning into it, as opposed to staying on the side of the track where the corner actually bends around. You’ll struggle to hit the apex in this latter method, and you’ll make the kart turn far more than it wants to.

When it comes to knowing the right application of brakes for a given corner, it will come from experience at the specific track you’re driving on. The sharper the bend, the more speed you’ll have to shave off before attempting to turn around it.

Cornering in a go-kart doesn’t mean braking to the proper speed and then staying off the accelerator, either. Remember the critical saying of how you should never press your two pedals at the same time? After reaching your cornering point, you want to slowly and gently apply that accelerator again, increasing it slowly to get a clean, fast exit out of the turn.

Shifting Gears

If you’re driving a shifter kart, your experience on the track will be different from the typical one- or two-speed karts because you have gears to worry about. As such, your braking points and top speeds will differ by quite some margin. In the US, shifter karts possess a clutch paddle on the steering wheel which is used to shift through the gears, and you need to treat the kart more like a car.

For optimum speeds while driving in this way you really need to get familiar with the sound of your engine and feel when it needs to change gear for various points of the track. As a rule of thumb, you want to take corners in a low gear and start shifting up the gears with your foot on the gas once you’re past the apex (middle point) of the turn.

Don’t be afraid to let your engine rev. High revs in the low gears will accelerate your kart that much more because higher gears aren’t designed to make you go faster, but are instead there to maintain and carry that speed. Similarly, always make sure to shift down before attempting an overtake because those extra revs and boosts of power will safely allow you to pass.

Using Racing Lines

Ah, the mystical, magical work of racing lines on kart tracks. This doesn’t mean that there’ll be painted lines on the asphalt below you, of course, but it refers to the fastest way to go around the track. These lines will all differ depending on the track you’re driving on, but there are a lot of ways to pick out the fastest line from the get-go.

First and foremost, actually look at the track. There are relatively distinct sections of the track that look darker in color compared to other parts, and you always want to make a beeline for those darker parts of the track. These visibly darker parts have been raced on more and had more rubber laid down on them, and you can bet that this is the line you need to take.

During your driver’s briefing, most tracks will have a map of the circuit with racing lines drawn on it. For your standard single or two-speed karts, this line will look almost looping and lazy compared to how it will feel when you drive, and this is all part of working alongside the kart to produce the smoothest drive possible.

If you stick to the racing lines of a track, your lap times will rapidly improve compared to if you were driving on what is known as the ‘dirty side’ of the track. Tire degradation during races and drives will happen all of the time, and the deposits of the worn-away tires land on the sides of the track around that distinct line which will attach to your warm tires and slow you down considerably.

Remaining Calm

This might sound odd but bear with me on this one. I’ve previously mentioned how important it is for your movements in the go-kart to be smooth wherever possible on the track, and a lot of this comes from you staying calm and observant while racing.

Trust me, even my body instinctively tenses up when I jump into a kart, and I’ve been in many a rig over the years, but it’s absolutely vital to warm yourself up and enjoy the drive. You’ll notice a clear improvement in not only your racecraft but also in the lap times you’ll lay down during timed events.

If you couple this level of Zen and concentration with remaining observant of the track and its conditions, you’ll get into a very nice rhythm as a kart driver. Seeing more and taking in more of your surroundings gives you extra power to react to things ahead of time, and will minimize your need for snap turns and stressful situations on the track.


• Learning how to effectively brake and accelerate is key when karting

• You should also learn to use racing lines

• It’s vital to remain calm and aware of everything going on around you

How To Drive A Go-Kart – Maintenance Is Key

When you’ve finished a hard drive, roll your kart back to where you’ve set up for the day and while the rig is cooling down, inspect every part of its body and build to make sure nothing is coming loose, and otherwise make a list of things you notice.

Has something come apart from the rest of the bodywork? How did your tires hold up on that run? When the fuel tank has cooled, check what your fuel level is like and think about how much gas you’ll need to take next time.

While you’re getting to grips with your kart and building good habits as a driver, your fuel efficiency won’t likely be as good as it could be, so always over-compensate in terms of how much gas you bring to races/practices.

If you’re the primary mechanic for your kart, spend time learning more hints and tips for ways to improve the rig, and overall, make sure to give the kart the TLC it needs and deserves! The more you keep on top of the simple things, the more life a kart will have and the longer it will run. Plus, the more familiar you are with your kart, the more confident you’ll feel while driving it!

Final Thoughts

Go-kart driving is a complicated sport that involves keeping track of multiple distinct elements at once, ranging from the health and well-being of your go-kart to the act of actually driving the vehicle, all in addition to the element of keeping track of other racers on the circuit.