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He's 60, Going on 80 (m.p.h.) : About the Only Thing Go-Cart Racer Al Faas Won't Try Is Sitting Still

March 28, 1995|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — There is a banner in Al Faas' garage that proclaims, "You're not getting older. You're just getting faster." It has hung there since a surprise party for his 60th birthday a few weeks ago, mounted over one of the go-carts he uses to race at speeds reaching upward of 80 m.p.h. on half-mile courses.

Faas and his fellow riders don't wear seat belts. Rules prohibit it, since it is figured that if you flip over you'd rather be thrown free than dragged along under your 200-pound cart. Racers wear helmets, neck protection and abrasion-resistant suits.

"The frame is only an inch off the ground, and guys are amazed we go that fast so close to the ground, but I don't get that way of thinking," Faas said. "You go the same speed on a motorcycle and they think nothing of it. In a go-cart, it seems to me the closer to the ground you are, should something happen, there's less far to fall."

Maybe some folks are just disturbed by the idea of the asphalt rushing by like a big belt-sander revving at 80 m.p.h. an inch from their rumps. Faas is too busy thinking about other things.

"You always want to get better, go faster. When I'm out there, everything else blanks out and I only focus on the race. And I can see an improvement every time I race," he said. He races pretty much every other weekend, rising at 5:30 a.m. to drive an hour and 15 minutes to a go-cart course in Riverside, where he remains until dusk most days.

At a time when many of his contemporaries are resorting to golf carts, Faas is entering his third season as a go-carter. In that short time he's amassed eight trophies, for second-, third- and fourth-place showings. He'd trade them all for one first-place win, which he's hoping to snare this year.

Faas is a rugged and compact man who doesn't look his 60 years, and he refuses also to feel it. He has no intention of letting the golf cart get him.

"There has to be a certain level of excitement in a sport; otherwise I can't even consider doing it. It's like skiing. I've done it for 30 years and really enjoy it. I ski with 19-year-old kids and go at it just as fast and hard as they do. It's a little hard on my back, but I can still do that. So golf is way down there as far as excitement level for me," he said.

He and his wife, Linda, have led active lives, full of skiing, diving, bicycling, surfing and travel. Most of their friends, they note, are a decade or two younger than they are.

They live in Huntington Beach in a custom-built, 5,000-square-foot home in a ritzy newer community bordered by horse trails. They aren't entirely as well-off as appearances suggest. Faas--a semi-retired home builder--and his brother, John, chiefly built the home themselves over a two-year period, with the intent of selling it. Then the market dropped out from under them and Faas wound up living in their investment.

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There's a nice, little-used street in front of their house, which would seem just right for checking out his go-cart after tinkering with it in his well-equipped garage.

"I thought it would be really neat, just to buzz up and down the street here," Faas said. "It's really hard to think about driving 50 miles to the track just to try out what you've done. But I've gotten a lot of static from a couple of neighbors. Some of them think it's pretty neat, but the horse-owning people don't like it. I guess cars and horses don't mix and they never will."

In its infancy in the 1960s, go-carting was largely a kids' activity. Most of a cart's parts were scavenged from other sources, with the motors usually borrowed from lawn mowers or chain saws.

The sport waned for a time.

Faas said, "In the '70s, the motor thing was out. People wanted to go another way, with that whole back-to-the-earth thing. But now it seems everybody wants to do everything."

As with so many other hobbies that have hit the '90s, go-carting has become more high-tech and more expensive. The cart Faas now races cost him $4,300 in kit form, with a European chrome alloy frame and a British engine made specifically for go-carts. It arrived without instructions, but fortunately the carts aren't yet so complex that Faas couldn't piece it together on his own.

Curiously, many of parts come from Europe because that cradle of civilization has taken to go-carting in a big way. On a recent trip to France, Fass discovered scores of cart tracks, and many races are televised.

"You never even hear about go-carting here, but professional drivers over there can make $100,000 a year racing for a factory team. Over here, it's still an amateur sport: You spend a lot of money, have a good time, and if you win you get a little trophy or something," Faas said.

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