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THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A GUIDE TO ORANGE COUNTY RECREATION
| IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Karting Around

Families Find Competing in the Small Race Cars a Fine Way to Promote Togetherness

May 28, 1999|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pete Swift used to race Baja bugs in the SCORE off-road desert series, but it was expensive, time consuming and, in his words, "you can really get hurt."

Racing in the desert or in Mexico also took him away from his family.

So four years ago, still yearning for competition to satisfy his racing thirst and a means to connect with his son, Swift switched from big horsepower to little horsepower.

Karts.

As in, go-karts.

"I'm not a wealthy man, but I love to race," said Swift, who eventually sold his off-road racing equipment and bought three karts for himself and his wife, Beth, and his son, Ben, now 9. Of course, with a daughter, Natalie, now 6, he has added another kart to his Newport Beach garage.

The Swifts are a four-kart family who race on weekends at the Adams Kart Track in Riverside, the same place that Katelynn Brady, 8, races with her grandfather, John Burgess.

Burgess began racing three years ago and thought his granddaughter might enjoy it. They've been competing together the last 14 months, wearing identical suits--except for the little roses next to Katelynn's name.

"Her self-confidence has increased greatly, her interaction with her peers has been wonderful," said Katelynn's mom, Wendy Brady of Aliso Viejo. "She has confidence that girls can do anything boys can do. She has seen herself start and finish something, and she enjoys it."

Burgess, of Rancho Santa Margarita, also has a son, Jeremy, 26, who drives karts. Burgess recommends those starting out begin with used (or rented) equipment to determine how much, or if, they like it.

But it works out well for him and his granddaughter.

"It's something [Katelynn] and her grandpa share," Wendy Brady said. "They spend the night together on Friday, they get up Saturday morning, get doughnuts, put gas in the car, and head to the track."

*

It can be a long day, eight or nine hours at the track. Saturday practices begin at noon (the track is open throughout the week), and there are two eight-lap heat races, as well as the 12-lap main event. But don't let the short in-kart time fool you.

"After an eight-minute heat when you're going 100%, it's just as physically draining on the short term as racing the Baja 1000," said Pete Swift, who came out of retirement in November to co-drive last year's Baja 1000 with Huntington Beach's Brady Helm; they finished third.

Swift said another difference is that "in off-road, you don't see the other cars you're racing; in karting, you can be last and you're within a second or two of the whole pack, and within a matter of an eight-minute heat, there's a real chance you can win."

Some of the biggest names in racing, Michael Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr., got their starts in karts.

The Swift children and Katelynn Brady all learned to drive a kart at the Speed Zone Racing School in Riverside, at the Adams Kart Track.

It was at his track in Riverside that Troy Adams developed the Kid Kart program, a structured course to teach children ages 4-7 how to drive safely around others; it is now nationally recognized. Ben Swift was the first graduate of the Kid Kart program in 1996.

There are also courses for adults, in which Burgess and Swift learned to drive the karts, which sit three-fourths of an inch off the ground and can reach 60 mph in seven seconds.

"Kids were already doing other forms of conventional sports at that age, and we felt we could teach them," Adams said. "I've coached Little League and been involved with just about everything, and it's an adrenaline rush, it's almost a high."

It's an alcohol-free environment, and Adams says it brings families together "who enjoy the outdoors and racing." He said a good used kart can be purchased for $1,750 to $3,500. One can expect to average about $75-100 per visit for track time ($25 per day), a support person's pit access and kart expenses. Most, like the Swifts, will fit in a practice day or two before a race weekend. On a shoestring, some can spend as little as $40 per person.

Two karting clubs, the Tri-C (for Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties) Karters and the SoCal Sprinters use the Adams track.

"The ironic thing is [kids] can be racing out there before they're tall enough to race karts over at kiddie-land," Pete Swift said. "Ben's not even tall enough to drive one of those [go-karts] but he's out winning races."

Ben, who says he wants to be a mechanic when he grows up, drives 50 mph down the 700-foot straightaway at the 7/10th-mile Adams course.

"I like when you pass people," Ben said. "And when you get first place."

"It's brought me home," Swift said. "Instead of racing in Mexico or in the desert, we can share experiences as a family. For someone like me who really loves to race, having a son or daughter go out and have a good day is very rewarding. Ben is very tight-lipped, doesn't talk much, but when he has a good day, he's just bubbling over.

"He wants to go over it again and again."

So does Ben's dad.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Driving Education

* Apex Racing School at Perris Kart Track, Lake Perris Fairgrounds. Introductory courses for children 8 and up, to advanced courses for all ages. Corporate training available.

Introductory course is $175 and includes classroom and half-day track time; advanced shifter kart courses are $250-$395. Eight-month "Arrive and Drive" race series for $2,200.

Information: (888) FOR-KART (367-5278), Web site: http://www.apexracing.com.

* Speed Zone Racing School at Adams Kart Track, Riverside. Beginning class for kids 4-8 is $75, and goes as high as $125; Rookie classes for 8 and over are $75 to $175. Kart rental (with qualification), including mechanic: $175 for four hours, $250 for race day schedule.

The structured Kid Kart beginners classes, K1, K2, K3 (total cost: $300) for young children was the first of its kind in the United States.

Information: (909) 686-3826

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