You’ve booked time slots on the track, you’re all geared up, and you’re ready for a day of racing go-karts. But walking away with the go-kart racing cup (or at least winning the momentary respect of your friends) means more than just perfecting your Mario Andretti impersonation. Read on to turn a potential day of blunders into your own personal Days of Thunder.
Tip #1: Get to the Track Early
Rookie Mistake: Choosing a random kart.
What you should do instead: Give yourself a little extra time to watch a few of the races before you hit the track. Since not all karts are created equal, you’re bound to notice one or two outliers. And since most indoor go-karts are numbered, you’ll be able to pretty easily pick out your ringer.
Tip #2: Sit Up Straight
Rookie Mistake: Maybe memories of The Kentucky Derby are to blame, but most new drivers instinctively lean forward.
What you should do instead: Instead, sit upright in the kart with your back flush against the seat.
Benefits: Karts are designed with this posture in mind, and leaning forward not only slows you down, but it plays havoc with your steering and overall control. Sitting against the seat keeps the kart on the straight and narrow, and prevents spin-outs and wobble.
Tip #3: Play The Angles
Rookie Mistake: Flying down the straightaway and riding the brakes around the turn.
What you should do instead: Plan your turns way before you think you need to and use the momentum to blast you into the straightaway. It helps to think of your kart like a marble circling a drain or Apollo 13 using the moon’s gravity to sling-shot it back to earth.
Benefit: You’ll naturally want to stick to the inside of the track to cover less ground, but ignore that instinct when it comes to turns. If you start at the outside and move toward the inside the closer you get to the turn, you won’t need to rely on your brakes as much, and may not even need to brake at all.
Pro-tip: Lift out of the seat a little when you’re exiting the turn. It gives the motor a break and keeps your speed up, even if it only helps your time by a hundredth of a second.
Tip #4: Trust The Kart
Rookie Mistake: You’ve got up your momentum, you’re playing the angles like a blend between a zen master and a stock car driver, and you’re about to harness the power of physics to blast yourself around the first turn. This is the exact moment when newer drivers lose their nerve, slam on the brakes, or lean toward the inside of the turn to keep the kart from flipping over.
What you should do instead: Prepare for the speed, trust the kart, and lean toward the outside of the turn. Remember, most indoor go-karts have a ground clearance of about 1.5 inches, and they’re virtually impossible to tip over.
Benefits: Shifting your weight to the outside forces the outside tires against the track, improving traction and boosting speed. Once you embrace centrifugal force, you’ll be well on your way to taking turns like a champion-grade roadrunner.
Tip #5: Pick Your Battles
Rookie Mistake: You’ll likely be tempted to blast past opponents the second they let their hare-like guard down.
What you should do instead: Wait for the right moment—usually just after a turn, especially if you’re braking early and setting yourself up to capitalize on the momentum. Remember, swerving all over the course like the Tasmanian Devil wildly decreases speed and momentum. If you anticipate the other racers’ moves, you can overtake them while sticking as close to your race line as possible.
Pro-Tip: Keep an eye on less confident drivers, for whom turns are especially perilous. Even the perfect race-line can’t protect you against slamming into some poor sap as he’s spinning out of control around a tight turn. Keep in mind, most courses determine the winner based on lap time, so passing shouldn’t be your first priority, especially if it slows you down.