Senior balances time commitments for go-karting

November 27, 2018 — by Justin Guo and Micheal Wong

Near the start of high school, senior Eric Huang was drawn to go-kart racing after watching a Formula 1 race on TV. To feel the thrill of what it’s like to race, he started watching YouTube videos. Before long, he was racing.

And he was good at it. Recently, he  placed fifth out of 30 competitors at the KPX Karting Championship, a Northern California tournament.  

According to Huang, the biggest difference between recreational go-karting and competitive go-karting is that most recreational races are hosted indoors while competitive races occur outdoors.

These outside go-karts are designed differently from recreational ones, since they’re tailored to legitimate racing conditions and standards. In addition, while indoor tracks have smooth surfaces, outdoor tracks have rough asphalt, making actual racing harder and much more skill intensive.

“Instead of sliding around like an indoor kart,” Huang said, “you can turn corners with grip and generate around two g-forces.”

Outdoor go-karts also require particular safety features absent in their indoor counterparts.

“Outdoor karts don’t have seat belts and are designed like a motorcycle — you are meant to be thrown from the kart in case of a large collision,” Huang said.

In addition, competitive racers need to buy their own karts, which usually cost around $4,500 depending on the specifications.

Huang said racers need their own karts since being able to customize the vehicle is key to a racer’s success.

“Since you aren’t renting the karts, you can change all the aspects of the kart, like tire pressures or ride height,” Huang said.

Furthermore, necessary safety equipment such as helmets, suits, shoes and gloves can cost upwards of $1,000.

In addition to the cost of equipment, racers need to pay another fee in order to enter practice tracks, which costs around $30 per day.

Nor is the go-karting itself easy. With the karts averaging 60-70 miles per hour, it requires many more techniques than just steering and flooring the gas pedal. One of the first skills Huang refined was applying brakes.

“When you first start out, braking is really hard because there's only one brake disc on each rear, so it's really easy to lock the rear wheels and crash,” he said. “You have to learn to control your braking and turning relatively fast.”

Additionally, racers must have strong arms and a strong core to develop the stamina required for races, because the long and tiring nature of racing wears down drivers.

When there are upcoming races, Huang tries to practice once a week, but the raceway at Sonoma where he practices is far and expensive.

He has found that fitting in practices with a busy school and extracurricular schedule is tough. While most sports have fixed schedules for coaching, practice times and tournaments, go-karting has much more flexibility, since the time Huang dedicates for the sport entirely depends on him. Yet this flexibility is a double-edged sword; since racers control their practice times, their placing in tournaments may suffer if they sacrifice practice for other commitments.

Because Huang is focusing more on school and band during first semester, his practices are limited. However, he hopes to pick the sport back up during second semester, when his schedule will be less hectic.

When Huang does participate in competitions, he mainly goes to ones organized by Superkarts! USA (SKUSA), a premier organization with five regional karting series situated in the Western half of the country.

With Saturdays as practices and Sundays as match days, competitions are usually weekend excursions for Huang. The races he takes part in consist of three parts — an initial qualifying round, two heats to determine positioning and then the main event which allocates the majority of the competition’s points.

Huang usually attends around 10 races each year, and he initially planned on competing in one of the biggest and most prestigious races hosted by SKUSA known as SuperNationals 22, in November to continue this routine. However, with the price tag coming to upwards of $10,000, he canceled this plan.

Despite the costs in both time and money, Huang finds go-karting to be one of the most exhilarating sports to participate in, and hopes to continue it as a hobby.

“Karting is pretty unique,” Huang said. “It’s so much fun, and in what other sport do you get to go so fast?”

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