You've got to start somewhere. For road racers it's karts. For kids who dream of oval track stardom, it's quarter midgets. For those who want to fly high in short course off-road racing, there are karts as well, but they're a little different from the machines running at your local kart track.
To start with, zero suspension movement isn't going to cut it here. While it may be fine for kart racing on asphalt, the karts that compete in short course off-road racing need travel and lots of it. Just like the off-road trucks after which they're modeled, the karts in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series are going off jumps, over whoops and around steeply banked turns.
And they're doing it on a shorter version of the big track than the Pro Unlimited trucks and buggies race on. Usually using the front straight of the big track and perhaps some other areas as well, the kart track winds through the infield with its own jumps, whoops sections and turns designed for the smaller, slower vehicles.
Like karts are designed to do, these machines are preparing the next generation of off-road racers, plus enabling short course to be a family sport, where almost everyone can compete. While karts and top-level road racing aren't usually competing at the same place and time, likewise quarter midgets and Sprint Cup, the top racers in short course are sharing the weekend with their sons and daughters in the karts.
“Everyone can race here. From 8 years old, and up, you can race,” says 2009 Unlimited Buggy champion Chuck Cheek. “What other motorsport can you do that in? I truly consider this one of the most exciting forms of motorsport there is. The ups and the downs, the lefts and the rights, the roosts and the mud…there are a lot of elements. This is something if I didn't do, I would pay to go watch.”
The Lucas Oil series has three classes of karts. Junior 1 Karts are powered by Subaru four-stroke, air-cooled engines and are capable of 40mph. Junior 2 Karts used to be the same karts for older kids, but is being remade into an intermediate class with more powerful engines. The Modified Karts have up to 12 inches of suspension travel and are powered by 250cc or 450cc four-stroke, motorcycle engines.
The Modified karts can move along at up to 70mph, so safety in all the kart classes is key. Unlike road racing karts, the drivers are strapped in, with head-and-neck restraints, arm restraints and window nets. With a solid chassis, it makes for a stout package.
“We were at Primm last year and Lindsay got clipped off the jump and rolled six times,” says Pro 2 Unlimited competitor Jeff Geiser of his daughter, now competing in Limited Buggy. “That was a scary moment, but they're pretty safe and she landed back on her wheels, stood on the gas and took off. She was a little dizzy at the end, but it held up. They are built to crash and they take extra precaution on the safety stuff – the little karts have arm restraints, double window nets and the cages are braced. Lots of pads inside.”
For more on the whole-family perspective of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, don't miss the May issue of RACER magazine.