Karting: Backyards 2 Speedways


On exhibit in the SAM Orientation Theatre

The term go kart means different things to different people. Like the automobile, they started as small, simple vehicles but have become technologically advanced over time. To many, a go kart is still a “little car” with a Briggs and Stratton or Tecumseh engine that youngsters can drive around the yard. But to others, go karts can mean anything from hobby or “beginner” racing on dirt or pavement oval and road courses suitable for both youngsters and adults all the way to international, professional racing.

A perfect example is found at the 1/6 mile Millbridge Speedway outside Annapolis, NC, the heart of NASCAR racing. Weekly events range from youngsters who have barely started school racing low speed karts against others their age up to teenagers and adults in winged karts that look like sprint cars. And in May, the Speed Sport Challenge attracts professional racers from as far away as California to compete against a local contingent that includes Sprint Cup star Kyle Larson and Max McLaughlin, son of former NASCAR star Mike McLaughlin, a native New Yorker.

But no matter a kart’s origin or use, its heritage can be traced back to Art Ingels, who is generally accepted to be the father of karting. A veteran hot rodder and a race car builder at Kurtis Kraft, he built the first kart in Southern California in 1956. Instantly popular, Karting rapidly spread to other countries and currently has a large following in Europe.

The first kart manufacturer was an American company, Go Kart Manufacturing Co. (1958). In 1959, McCulloch was the first company to produce engines for karts, with the MC-10, adapted from a chainsaw 2-stroke engine. Later, in the 1960s, motorcycle engines were also adapted for kart use, before dedicated manufacturers started to build engines just for the sport.