Industry Insider: New Asphalt = New Karters
New kart tracks making quick impact on the sport
In the early days of the sport, karting enthusiasts ventured to any open pavement or smooth dirt area to enjoy racing around, just an inch off the ground. As the sport progressed, purpose-built karting facilities sprung up all over North America. Many were simple and small, with just enough space for karts to go side-by-side. Today, larger karting facilities are sprouting from coast to coast, north to south, and the development of new tracks will be incredibly important for growing the sport. Modern facilities are following the same business model, balancing rental kart and corporate business with the competition side, which is fueled by the ownership’s passion for the sport. These tracks are introducing race fans to the thrill of karting, which can only help to grow karting moving forward.
SpeedSportz Racing Park (New Caney, Texas)
Among the newest facilities in North America is the SpeedSportz complex, which is located just outside the Houston area. The facility is the creation of President / Co-Owner Alan Rudolph, a veteran in the karting world. Rudolph has raced nearly every type of kart, and has experience with many forms of motorsports. As a longtime instructor, when the opportunity to build and operate his own facility was presented to him, the karting legend jumped at it.
“It’s crazy to think we have been open for six months already,” stated Rudolph. “Of course there were the normal growing pains; thankfully most of those are behind us now. Now that all of that is behind us, it’s great to see the momentum the facility has. Every week, more and more people are coming through the front door. We are in the middle of our first league race series, had our first Team Enduro event, and hosted several corporate groups.”
The SpeedSportz facility is different than others, in that there are two tracks operating next to each other – the rental kart track and the competition circuit.
“It’s been really cool to see karts on both tracks at the same time. I had a big ‘sit back and take it all in’ moment a few weeks ago. It was one of our busiest Saturdays yet for both tracks. I was in pit lane watching Aden (Alan’s son) drive on the competition track with a few other kids and several other adult kart, while the rental track had 15 karts running and a line 30-people deep. I sat there for a minute, took a deep breath and said yes, finally, this is how it’s supposed to be. We have 36 member garages for the competition track and they sold out in the first three months. The kart shop is going well, selling karts, parts, and service. Now it’s just time to focus on continued growth in all these areas.”
Of course, the instructor side of Rudolph’s personality continues with the new Alan Rudolph Racing Academy (ARRA), housed at the SpeedSportz facility. The veteran educator and coach is building the school from the ground up, and is now welcoming its first-ever students.
“The ARRA is something I am obviously very proud of. The first piece of the puzzle was hiring Jesse Dunham. He and I worked together for 16 years at Bondurant, as well as Jesse tuning for me since the RBI days. The next piece is getting the best fleet of karts for the students which, of course, is Birel Art. Dominic and Stephane at PSL Karting have played such an intrical part in all this, I can’t begin to thank them enough. We now have 13 karts in our school fleet covering all ages and skill sets from Briggs 206 to Cadet, Junior and Senior karts. The remaining piece is brand awareness. We offer everything from a beginner ‘experience’ course to a 3-day clinic advanced course. Those who are already karting or just getting started need to understand the importance of driver training early on. Don’t spend your money on engines, axles, wheels, chassis, etc without getting the proper coaching first.”
September and October is going to put the SpeedSportz facility on the map in terms of racing. Two traveling series are scheduled to visit the facility – Texas Spring Racing Series (Sept. 30-Oct. 1) and Texas ProKart Challenge (Oct. 14-15). It will be a new role for Rudolph, acting as the track owner for the first time when the green flag waves.
“I don’t know what I don’t know, having never hosted a race as a track owner. You can race in 1000 races, play track official for the biggest events in the world, but hosting an event is all new territory for me. The good news is both series owners know this is our first rodeo and we will all be working closely together to ensure a smooth event. One thing is for sure, we will work out any kinks for future national events in 2018.”
The final layer of asphalt is going down on the competition track to finish up the construction process, with the track to sit for the entire month of July before action resumes. Rudolph said there is are plans to have one or two club races prior to the regional programs arrival. In the future, Rudolph plans to work with the Gulf Coast Karters in Katy, Texas to host their own club program and not to schedule conflicts.
“I want their racers to come race with us and our new members to go race with them for a ‘win-win’ in the growth of karting in Houston.”
Amarillo Kart Circuit
Rudolph had a bit of advice for another karting facility in Texas prior to building his own creation. The Amarillo Kart Circuit in northwest Texas sits alongside Interstate-40 just east of Amarillo. Many of the Superkarts! USA competitors from the eastern half of the United States have traveled right past the circuit, which is just east of the downtown area. Even those who lived in Texas were not aware of the circuit until Texas ProKart Challenge promoters Gina and Mark French took a trip there to find out more.
When there, they talked with track owner Thane Morgan, working out a deal to host the upcoming Texas ProKart Challenge event on July 14-15 for the facility’s first-ever karting event.
Morgan is a Formula One fan, and became a karting enthusiast after attending the Bondurant Racing School in the early 2000’s, which were his first interactions with Alan Rudolph. His love for karting began there, as Morgan went on to purchase his first karts, keeping them at the MSR Houston facility to fulfill his need for speed. The 650-mile distance between home and the track kept Morgan’s time in the driver’s seat limited, and the thought of building his own circuit near his hometown started to take root. Nearly four years was spent planning and developing the Amarillo Kart Circuit, as Morgan used his time driving simulators of the F1 tracks to spur his desire of replicating a circuit.
“There was not enough land to build Spa, and I didn’t know anyone who could build a bridge, so Suzuka was out. That left the Istanbul Park, as I love its high-speed sections.”
Morgan’s only karting experience was Bondurant and MSR Houston, so he has limited exposure to the sport. Using Google Earth, he reviewed other karting facilities to see if his Istanbul Park replica would work, along with contacting both Rudolph and Andre Martins of Orlando Kart Center for technical support.
The Amarillo Kart Circuit was completed in 2013 and is used approximately 30 days out of the year. Morgan is very excited about the opportunity to work with the Texas ProKart Challenge and hopes it generates interest in the area for the sport. His hope is to make the track like a country club, where members go out and make laps on there own. He does not have any ambition to make it a business and run something full-time.
“For me, it’s about having fun. I have never really promoted the fact that the track is here, and that’s fine. I just want people to come out and experience the sport I fell in love with. I’d be very happy to host other karting programs to run events here.”
Houston Karting Complex
Texas is definitely the hot bed for track construction right now. A third track from the Lone Star State is the new Houston Karting Complex. Images and video broke out in June of the new facility when a Facebook page was launched. Aside from that and the location outside Conroe, Texas, there is not much information that we know of at this moment. The location also puts the facility less than 20 miles from the SpeedSportz circuit in the north Houston area. We have contacted the principals involved with the facility, however, they have not responded back to our messages.
Calgary Kart Racing Club (North Star Raceway)
There is a big following of karters with our neighbors to the north – Canada. Of course, we hear a lot about the action in the eastern side of the country in Ontario, however, the rest of Canada is very much involved in the grassroots level, with a number of established clubs supporting the footing for the foundation of the sport. Among them is the Calgary Kart Racing Club. In 2015, the club opened North Star Raceway (located about 30 minutes east of Calgary) and they have continued to grow the organization, welcoming new racers as they further develop the facility.
“The CKRC is very fortunate in that we have a very passionate member base that helped put together our new track,” stated CKRC President Frank Sartor. “Planning for the new track started in 2012 as our former facility in Calgary at Varsity Speed Park was being expropriated by the City at the end of 2013. The club had no track in 2014. We spent an enormous amount of energy looking for suitable land for the new track, two years, and in early 2014, the Town of Strathmore, AB leased the club 10 acres for 20 years – at a very reasonable lease rate.”
“Once we got the lease, we had a very small team of members develop the plans for the track in less than three months as construction of the track began in July 2014 with completion October 2014. Our track was loosely based on the Wanneroo International Kartway in Western Australia. We made modifications to that track to fit the new location as we wanted a balance of high speed corners, tight hair pins, blind apexes, off camber corner, technical chicanes and incorporate over 30’ of elevation changes, with passing zones.”
The track has become a great destination for karters in western Canada. Not only current karters, but new racers have joined the organization over the last two years with continued growth in the future. Helping that is their involvement with the Briggs & Stratton Weekly Racing Series.
“Our membership numbers have exploded, with fewer than 40 members in 2014 – with no track. 2016 saw 173 members, and our forecast for 2017 membership is 190. We have many promotional programs that attract new members. The best being our ‘try-a-kart’ sessions through the year that attracts new members. We typically see 50+ potential kart members at these sessions. We schedule seven of these sessions per year that see over 300 potential members experience karting. The biggest growth in racing entries has definitely been in the Briggs classes. Our typical race weekends will see about 50% of the entries in the Briggs classes.”
The club continues to make facility upgrades. Plans for the next two years include further expanding the parking and paddock area to accommodate the continued growing membership. Repaving the track and upgrading the curbs are in line for future as well.
“The Club is very fortunate in that we are well funded; in addition to member revenue we receive additional grants and funding through various government programs.”
South Sask. Kart Club (WF Botkin Kart Track)
The newest kart track to break ground in Canada belongs to the South Sask Kart Club (SSKC). The organization has a long history in the sport, dating back to the early 1960s. The Canadian province of Saskatchewan has produced a number of extremely talented karters over the decades, and now, another track is part of the sport with the construction of the WF Botkin Kart Track (named after the company tasked with constructing the track) near the Kingspark Speedway, located outside of Regina, SK.
The SSKC has called the 3 Flags Motorsports Park home since 2007 and the consistent growth over the past four years sent the organization toward the path of owning and operating its own track. The new track is roughly 1.17 km long and about eight meters wide (26’).
“The club has had consistent growth over the past 3-4 years and we felt it was time to have a club-owned and operated track,” stated SSKC President Dave Gulash. “The design of the track was made to suit the land that we required. Our local kart shop owner Keith Miller did the initial design, which was tweaked along the way to fit the budget of what we had to work with.”
The club is working to have the facility ready for the month of July, with the first raced anticipated for July 23.