So, you just bought your first ever go-kart? Congratulations! To make sure that other kart-owners starting their journey don’t fall into the same traps that I did, I’ve put together a number of tips that I wish had been explained to me. So, what should a new go-kart owner know?
Here are my 7 essential tips for the new go-kart owner:
- There Are Never ‘Too Many’ Tools!
- Kart Trailers and Transport
- Never Overlook Maintenance 101
- Powerful Karts Need Experience!
- Practice, Practice, Practice!
- Better with Friends
- Style Over Substance: Choosing the Best Race Gear
Although few kart owners will run into catastrophic issues, it can certainly happen and part of preparing for the life of an owner is becoming as well-informed as you can. Make sure to read on for some honest, first-hand tips that will serve you well going forward as a kart owner.
7 Tips For The New Go-Kart Owner
1. There Are Never ‘Too Many’ Tools!
Perhaps the biggest difference between owning a kart and renting one is the fact that you’ll be taking crash courses in becoming your own mechanic, fixing issues with or otherwise tweaking the kart using your own fair hands.
Now, part of what comes with this, as you can probably guess from the theme of this tip, is owning the right tools for the job. As a kart owner, you’ll be kissing goodbye to travelling light whenever you go to practice or race!
The first thing you likely did after buying your kart was purchase sets of wrenches, sockets, hex keys, screw-drivers, snips, a trusty measuring tape… I could go on, of course, but these are regarded as your ‘key’ tools for karts. Can you imagine how devastated you’d be if the wrench you needed to tighten that annoying rattle gave up on you?
Not a problem if you invested in spares of that wrench size, of course, but when starting out, the thought probably wouldn’t even cross your mind. No matter the quality of tools you buy, freak failures can happen for any number of reasons, and you don’t want to be that driver sat out of a race because you didn’t bring the right tools, or your tools outright failed.
Considering that you’ll likely be bringing a whole host of other things to races or practice sessions, making sure you have a duplicate of all tools in your key set definitely doesn’t hurt. Being prepared for the worst is always better than running the risk; even if hefting your toolboxes is like a workout because of it!
2. Kart Trailers and Transport
You’ve got your shiny new kart and you can’t wait to get going, but hold up for just a second. This kart will be stranded in your garage if you don’t have the means to transport it! And that means you need to be looking at the best ways to do this.
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Everybody has different methods that work for them, and no, it doesn’t always have to involve a trailer with its own electrical output and Wi-Fi and a jacuzzi in the back. Early kart ownership days are all about being practical and thinking of ways to fix issues without breaking the bank, especially if you want to run a race career and need to look after every penny!
Thinking back to my own race days, my family and I were real ballers on a budget to say the least. We didn’t have our own trailer and instead looked at alternative (cheaper) ways to get our rig to races. My dad was nothing if not frugal! In an ideal world, I would recommend that everybody should buy a trailer for their kart to simply remove hassle from the process as much as possible.
However, you’re easily looking at $5,000 for even a pre-owned hook-up that’s enclosed all the way (think horse trailers). And that doesn’t include the costs of repurposing the trailer, because affordable trailers are rarely designed with go-karts in mind.
Our solution? My dad was a regular at a lot of our local go-kart tracks, and these places had storage for their own rental karts. He was able to get our own storage spot for something crazy like $15 a day over race weekends, where the kart would be securely locked up with all of our tools and gear.
Every place will have their own set-up, and it definitely helped that my dad was friendly with everybody to call in favors and discounts, but this saved us a lot of transport costs. And how did we get the rig out to the tracks in the first place? That’s when rental trailers can be an absolute life-saver.
We’d only need it for the beginning of the weekend to take our kart there, and then at the end to take the kart home. While we were at the track itself, we pitched our old, tired marque as our workspace and always had a blast; likely made better because of the money saved. At least that was the way for my dad, I’m sure.
We later formed a race team with a friend of my dad and this friend had an amazing trailer, which became an infinitely cooler arrangement!
3. Never Overlook Maintenance 101
You’ve likely heard of Psychology 101 and even English Literature 101, but as a go-kart owner, the most important intro class to never forget is, you guessed it, Maintenance 101!
This basically comprises of your absolute basic maintenance practices. When getting your rig ready for any kind of race or practice, it’s important to be prepared for any breakages or tire changes and gas fill-ups, but before you even head out onto track, you should perform three basic checks. Look at your kart’s oil levels, every tire’s air pressure and the air filter.
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Your go-kart is a pared-back car, after all, and to keep it running smoothly, the most benign of tasks are often the most important.
Old oil can lose its viscosity, meaning that it won’t lubricate engine parts properly and will result in a ruined engine. Karts with a Briggs engine will have a square-headed bolt at the bottom which can be removed to let oil in the engine flow out, and after you’ve cleaned up the mess and sludge caused by old oil (lay out loads of tarp), you can replace the bolt and pour in the fresh stuff.
Proper tire pressure is essential for not only handling purposes, but also to avoid damage to the kart’s steering. Pressures are finnicky because it depends on weather, race length and driver weight, but in most cases, 13-15 psi is a good range to remember. Make sure to keep your tire pressure gauge handy at all times!
And lastly, a clean air filter is essential for keeping your engine healthy to help it last longer. Inspect it before every race or practice to make sure that it isn’t clogged with dirt and debris, and pick up a haul of air filter cleaners (K&N is a great brand) to keep it in top shape!
4. Powerful Karts Need Experience!
This may sound like a ‘no duh’ tip, but I can’t stress the importance of this as somebody who’s witnessed bad kart crashes because of inexperienced drivers picking karts with the best top speeds.
To avoid getting hurt and ruining your kart, I’d really recommend working your way up to higher speeds over months of time spent practicing, or at the very least taking it slowly until you can naturally handle the top speed.
If you’re new to the world of karting and nabbed yourself a Shifter as your first rig, you’re far braver than I am! It may end up costing more money, but I’d recommend spending time in rental karts with single-speed engines to build your experience before jumping into your own monster of a kart.
Make sure to seek out others who have a kart similar to yours and ask for guidance, or even ask a friend to make slow laps with you in order to teach essential points about racing lines and throttle amounts.
Jumping right into a Shifter without prior experience can cause serious injury, so please reconsider making this speed demon your first purchase! Or at the very least, start practicing slowly and steadily before trying to max out the lap times.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice!
This tip actually feeds into the previous one quite a lot, but this point is a lot more general. No matter your level of experience, there is no better advice I can give kart owners on the front of driving. You have to practice!
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Every track you visit will be different with wildly different layouts, corners, top speeds and other nuances. There’s a reason why kart races often take a whole weekend, much like other motorsports, because you really need to dedicate at least a day to simply practicing on the new turf.
Not only that, but you’ll need to make adjustments to your kart in order to get the best performance out of it for that specific track. Tuning your engine, stiffening the chassis just that touch more and tightening the steering column can give you that edge, and you can’t get things right without driving the circuit for yourself and easing into it.
Aside from racing, simply practicing your own drive at a local track will drastically improve your karting skills. It’ll also allow you to let loose and enjoy the art of driving your own rig without having to worry about the pressures of racing!
Whenever we didn’t have a race weekend, my dad and I were attending free practice days at our favorite track. More than getting the kart just right, we were looking at how best we could improve as drivers. No matter how competitive you get in the karting world, never forget to let loose and have fun with your own kart!
6. Better with Friends
Being the lone wolf at a race event might make you seem cool and untouchable, but it can become a limiting factor when disaster strikes. Even though you made a check-list for all of your gear, you totally forgot your rib protector and now those bruised sides of yours are going to be in a world of hurt!
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a good buddy at the same race as you, who just so happened to have a spare rib protector vest for you to borrow?
And on a far more sociable note, it’s always nice to share in lap time excitement, new tire brands you found on the cheap, or otherwise sharing sandwiches during the afternoon break. Just because a field is competitive doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the company of others!
When I first started racing as an awkward pre-teen, I was horrified to talk to my fellow competitors for fear of being viewed as too much of a ‘newb’. Thankfully, my dad was a chatterbox and became friendly with the parents at race events, which led me to seeking out my fellow racers for companionship.
Because of the rather unglamorous field in motorsport with so many finnicky parts to having a kart, friendships can be forged quickly and last a long time with a lot of ongoing rewards of comradery. You deciding to lend a fellow competitor a bundle of extra zip-ties to secure a loose pump could lead to that same guy returning the favor when you need it most!
And as you become friends with those you race with, it’s hard to deny that your competitive spirit will sky-rocket just to out-do each other. Rivalries and friendships can be one and the same, and can net everybody involved some great personal bests and race trophies going forward!
Considering that my ‘race team’ back in the day consisted of me, my brother, my dad, a family friend and his son, built on the foundations of sharing kart racing spirit at the track, I might be a little biased.
The contacts you make during races can be all round beneficial to your racing career, and make the tiring hours pass by a little easier when you have somebody to laugh off your rookie mistakes alongside.
7. Substance Over Style: Choosing the Best Race Gear
Admit it; you’ve definitely thought about stepping out of your car on race day decked in a tailored OMP race suit complete with matching gloves, boots and helmet. That’s a fantasy all kart drivers share, trust me. I aspired to that as a young racer with my mismatching gear, that’s for sure!
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Not only is it a very expensive fantasy, but you can often be led with thoughts of what looks the coolest as opposed to thinking about what will be the safest to protect you during a race.
When you first start out, I’d definitely advise that you spend plenty of time researching the best gear in terms of its safety.
Find yourself a suit with high flammability protection, gloves with nice padding on the palms to avoid blistering, boots with a thin sole to really feel how much gas you’re applying, a helmet with impeccable protection records… the list goes ever on, but this should certainly be your focus as opposed to snatching up a matching set of the most fashionable gear.
Don’t get me wrong, part of the joy of racing karts is looking the part and I totally get that fact. But what good will your fly-looking gear be when it’s pouring rain and you don’t have waterproof outerwear to avoid being soaked to the skin?
Kart gear manufacturers will have plenty of charts available for you to check out comparisons of what you’re looking for to make sure that you get the best stuff for what you’ll be doing.
Alpinestars, for example, have race suits in three classifications; Sport, Performance and Superior. With Sport being your starting point possessing a heavier material that’s good for multi-purpose karting all the way up to Superior which is highly breathable, light and properly tailored, there is a suit and sets of gear out there for every racer!
Just remember that style is never better than substance, especially not in motorsport where safety should be paramount.
And there you have it! No matter how ‘green’ you are to the sport or kart ownership, you will certainly know your way around the basics if you keep these tips in mind going forward. But most importantly, remember to enjoy the fact that you’ve reached a point that most karters can only dream of; having a rig to call your own! Newbie or not, that’s something to celebrate.