It was really neat to watch the little cars speed around the Forest Park track this weekend.
The obvious comparison, when you talk about racing, is to that other open-wheeled event, the Indianapolis 500. No, the little karts don't offer that kid of thrill, but there is something very special about go-karting when you realize the personal commitment part-time racers put into their hobby.
Wandering through the park Sunday, I saw hundreds of trailers pulled to Brazil by pick-up trucks and recreational vehicles. The trailers were filled tools to work on the karts. Already, we are talking an investment of tens of thousands of dollars.
Then, there is the kart itself, fitted with a special motor and modified to fit the desired classification. Untold hours are spent by mechanics and drivers to wring the last bit of performance out of each machine.
It is certainly not your backyard variety of go-kart.
When we were kids, we built push karts, usually made of 2X4s with wheels we could scrounge up. Bill Cosby's description of stolen baby carriage wheels may have been accurate in Philadelphia, where he grew up, but we generally found or bought lawn mower or wagon replacement wheels.
One year, I bought a lawn mower from a school friend. The intent was to put the engine on my wooden go-cart and somehow propel the cart around the yard.
When that enterprise failed, Dad split the cost with me and we bought a used go-kart with a metal frame for $30. It went through drive belts like crazy. That old yard-type go-kart was no match for SIRA karts.
SIRA takes racing very seriously. Each driver wears special protective gear, just like the pros. After seeing the ambulance make a couple runs after crashes Sunday, it is easy to see why the gear is important. Fortunately, there appeared to be no injuries. Bales of straw that lined the track helped protect drivers and spectators.
The races have flaggers in each corner of the track with SIRA directors governing the races. The flaggers and directors stay in touch with two-way radios. On more than one occasion, races were started over because drivers didn't line up correctly in their starting grid while crossing the starting line. On at least one occasion, drivers were warned after a red flag they would lose their race if a second red flag had to be thrown. Yellow, caution flags were thrown after crashes.
The drivers are scored by computer and obtain points through the racing season, again, just like the professional racers.