‘It’s just a gnarly sport’ — go-kart drivers get adrenaline fix at Lancaster Event Center
Spectators at the Lancaster Event Center on Sunday afternoon were treated to high-speed racing from go-karts big and small, with even a few remote control cars getting moments in the spotlight.
The event center was home to the ninth annual Indoor Speed-Dash National Championships over the weekend, with racers of all ages competing.
Nine-year-old Avari Thornton was one of them, driving a “caged kart” — No. 21 with a bright pink racing suit and matching helmet with the name “Miss Attitude” written across the top.
She finished third in a race Sunday, and afterward bragged that she can go faster than the boys.
“It was a smooth but rough race,” she said. “I like to think about how I can improve when I am out there.”
She’s not alone in that regard, as almost all the drivers spent the time between races in the pit area, tuning and testing their highly customized vehicles.
Avari’s mother, Paige Thornton, said Avari has been racing since she was 4 years old.
″(Watching Avari race) is scary, but it is a great feeling when she goes out, and she improves every year,” Thornton said. “We spend several hours a week doing maintenance so we can race full time.”
Avari, like another young racer Caleb Woodard, said their dreams are to someday become professional drivers.
“It is a very big thing I have been wanting to do since I was 3 or 4,” said Woodard, who is now 14. “My dad used to race, my grandpa used to race and so did my great-grandpa. It has been a generational thing. It’s been our life, really.”
Woodard drives a “flat kart,” which is only a few inches off the ground with no roll cage. It’s made of fiberglass, and Woodard said the kart could go up to 50 mph on the event center track but can go 60 on larger tracks.
The flat karts also have no seat belts, and are designed to eject the driver if they were to flip in a race, which Woodard said is rare.
“I started when I was 7 years old, and it is pretty crazy out there,” Woodard said. “Everybody is just taking their chance at first, and you just have to be there.”
Brandon Lorence brought his son to the event and said he races his own go-kart and remote control cars.
“This weekend here brings the best from a big area, probably several states, to this event,” Lorence said. ”(The community) is big, huge. Most dirt tracks around have go-kart races of some sort. They’re still out there.”
Lorence said go-karts give kids with an interest in racing a chance to get behind the wheel.
Not all competitors are kids, though.
Hickman native AJ Flodman, 22, races as a weekend hobby.
Flodman said he started racing in middle school, and said his caged go-kart can go up to 50 mph.
“I try to calm my nerves when I go out there,” Flodman said. “You have to worry about all the other drivers around you, and you have to be cautious of your surroundings.”
With all the variables in each race, Flodman said the difference between winning and losing can come down to a single loose bolt or nut.
“You inspect your kart every time before you go out and race, but freak things happen,” Flodman said. “One little thing can decide who wins the race. It is a game of inches.”
Flodman said to first-time viewers, go-kart racing is a thrill.
“A lot of people see this as a joke, but they haven’t been out here,” Flodman said. “In the moment, you understand just how crazy it is and just how fast these things go, and people don’t think it is a competitive sport. If you want to see some dirt-track racing, this is where it is at. It’s just a gnarly sport.”