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Go-kart races thrill kids and adults

October 13, 2003|EMILY BURTON

JUNCTION CITY - It is perhaps the only sport in the country that lets an 8-year-old drive faster than 60 mph and win hundreds of dollars in a single weekend.

Speed combined with the thrill of go-kart racing draws weekend warriors of all ages to Lightning Valley Motorsports Park, a 5-year-old track on U.S. 127 in Lincoln County that claims to offer the nation's largest winners payout.

Last weekend, racers from 18 states and Canada met on the track in competition for a $15,000 first-place jackpot.

"Most people would kill for $150; there's no telling what they'll do for $15,000," said Larry McMaham of Kentucky Karts and Parts. He attended the event to provide racers with go-kart supplies.

Track owners Vicki and Ed Hasty were counting on a little fierce competition Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Hasty manned the flags, waving banners of green, yellow or checks.

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"It's turned out good so far. The excitement will start when the full moon comes out," said Hasty.

Hasty and his wife used to manage car racing tracks, such as the Ponderosa, until 1999 when they decided to open their own track - one for races of a smaller scale.

"We've always been in it (racing). We had just decided to get out of racing cars and get into go-karts," said Mrs. Hasty.

At the Hastys' go-kart track, drivers are divided into classes by age until they turn 17, after which they are grouped by classes based on the combined weight of the car and driver.

Drivers in flashy helmets, from 4 to 50 years old, bunch themselves into metal-framed carts and push their one-cylinder engines to speeds upward of 70 mph. Karts run on an alcohol-based fuel, of which one gallon lasts an entire race. Slick tires are used to grip the dirt track, but each race sees at least one car slide into the bales of straw lining the track.

Spectator Dowell Wallace stepped back from the track's edge Saturday just in time to avoid the kart that crashed into the straw barriers, smoke and dirt peppering over him. He was once a kart driver, and now his family boasts three generations of racers. His grandson, 13-year-old Lucas Wallace, started driving a kart three years ago.

"We kept all our old karts, and three years ago, he kept looking at the old kart and said he'd like to ride in it sometime," said Wallace, the crashed kart at his feet circling back to the track.

While occasional crashes are expected, a crash can divide the experienced drivers from the novices. Experienced drivers are less likely to skid out of turns.

"In go-kart racing, you can see who is the experienced driver and who isn't," said Roy Dwayne, a race announcer at the track. "When they get on the track, we can tell who belongs here."

One young racer who has continually demonstrated his talent on the track is Chase McWhorter, four-time track champion now at the age of 8.

"When he pulls in, people go, (groan), 'McWhorter's here,'" said Dwayne.

Chase was hesitant to divulge his driving secrets but said he enjoys racing for the thrill of the win. "It feels good (to win). My grandma thinks it's really, really dangerous."

"And his grandpa really enjoyed watching him win," added his father, Jeff McWhorter, who estimated the number of Chase's victories in four years to total 237.

According to race veterans, any kid like Chase with a dream to race pro can see if they have the gift on a go-kart track. "This is where it gets started. Parents can find out if kids really want to race," said Donnie Goode, track score keeper.

"This is where about 80 percent of your NASCAR drivers come from," said Wallace.

With a country of future NASCAR stars yet to be discovered, Hasty plans on running the track and annual $15,000 race until he is too old to keep stubborn racers in line and competitions fair.

"Most every one of your big-time racers started out in go-karts. We got the best in the country here, and then we've got the kids coming up," said Hasty. " ... I guess it's how I planned to end up."|10/9/03***







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