“Art Ingels.” A name you’ve probably never heard and yet, a name that some of the most famous drivers in modern Formula 1 might not have seen such success without. In 1950s America, whilst working for indy race car builders Kurtis Kraft, Art cobbled together some scrap metal and a spare lawnmower engine and created the world’s first Go-Kart, earning him the title “The Father of Karting”. Devolving the 1940s principle of ‘midget racing’, a series that uses small yet purpose-built cars on oval tracks, Art’s creation brought motor racing to the masses as his Go-Karts were considerably cheaper to build, own and maintain. Following the creation of the first Go-Kart, it wasn’t long until the world’s first kart races were being held in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena California and, like many other motorsports, these small scale events in a sell my car park were but the foundation of what karting is today.
In 1959, McCulloch - a company more widely known as a maker of chainsaw engines - became the first company to manufacture engines for use in karts by modifying the engines they already used in chainsaw production. The McCulloch MC-10 was a two-stroke, single-cylinder engine with a 122cc displacement and variations of it were manufactured and used in karting through the decades, with the final version - the MC-101M/C - launching in 1973.
It was through McCulloch that karting also made its way to Europe, when the then Sales Manager of McCulloch Burton Reinfrank, whilst organising a meeting in Paris, meandered upon an opportunity to exhibit McCulloch-powered Karts at the Paris Motor Show. Through collaboration with the Go-Kart Manufacturing Company - the first ever company to produce karts - he managed to get two karts to the event and once the media caught hold of them, karting sprouted its roots in Europe.
Numerous racing series began to develop with different race types, with fairly standard sprint and oval races joined by endurance racing, one of the longest running motorsport formats. As one of the only FIA regulated sports that allows children as young as 8 to enter on a racing licence, it was only a matter of time before the prodigies of Formula 1 and NASCAR began to shine from this humble yet highly competitive motorsport. Today, karting has solidified itself as a natural step in the budding racing driver’s career and has helped now-household names such as Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, Charles LeClerc and many more establish themselves as some of the fastest drivers Formula 1 has seen.
Unlike most forms of motorsport, karting has much broader mass appeal. These days, you can’t even mention karting without instantly thinking of the Mario Kart video game series that, since its initial release in 1992 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, has created racing fans out of thousands across the globe - children and adults alike. Similarly, today’s karting is an easily accessible activity for anyone to take part in, with dedicated events, providers and tracks across the globe. Karting has basically no barrier to entry, all you need to be able to do is accelerate, brake, turn and drive safely. It's anything from a fun activity for kids to the venue of a corporate event for adults or a breakneck, fierce and intense racing championship for the most dedicated.
Like most vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, today’s karts are making the move to battery power and electric motors for their propulsion. There’s a ton of benefits to this; the cost of running and maintaining a kart, the lack of emissions and the potential for even more speed; though for many, there’ll always be fondness and preference for petrol-powered karts.
Here in the UAE, karting is easily accessible at tracks like the Dubai Kartdrome, both for casual fun and for those looking for something more competitive - and everything in-between. The Dubai Kartdrome even offers Karting Academies that may one day be the origins of another F1 household name, as well as a myriad of different racing series throughout the season, including endurance races. So, the next time you sit in a go-kart, remember the name “Art Ingels” and his makeshift, scrap-metal based, lawnmower engine-powered prototype right before you go hurtling around the track with a smile from ear-to-ear.
Words by Andy Stephens