Last Wednesday, some folks from my team went to a self funded offsite. The activity? Go-kart racing.
As I drove up to the location, I noted that the building was a large warehouse like affair. Indoors? Interesting.
As we walked in, it was obvious that there were a few regulars on the track already … but otherwise, fairly empty. Not unexpected given the time of day.
I filled out the requisite forms, including the standard "If you die, it's not our fault" stuff. The cashier girl handed me a quarter for the locker and a complimentary head sock. Honestly, I didn't know what a head sock was, but I figured it out pretty quickly from looking at it. It's a balaclava … aka a ski mask. Presumably this is to keep your head from catching something from the helmets. I was actually pretty happy about getting the balaclava, because I've been meaning to get one for whenever I go skiing again.
We hopped into some jumpsuits, watched a safety video, and got to racing. 10 min of practice, followed by 5 min of qualifying and 15 min of real racing.
Getting strapped in was pretty easy. They also make you wear a life preserver like neck brace while you drive. When you get into the kart, the smell of exhaust is quite strong.
Racing the go-karts is a lot of work. The kart is shaking all around you, and it takes quite a bit of effort to fight the steering. This wouldn't be so bad, but given the races are 15 minutes, that's definitely enough to make it a workout. However, I wasn't that tired at the end of the race, so I'm guessing this gets easier fairly quickly.
At first, I was drifting / skidding around corner. I found this easier to do, but I knew in the back of my head this was probably slowing me down. So I started experimenting with slowing down and going into turns with full traction. I never really got the consistent hang of it, but did get a few good lap times here and there as a result.
In the middle of the race, I felt a sharp rap against my side, as if I had run through a branch of a tree. There were no obstacles on the track (or trees), so I'm fairly certain one of the flag wavers in the middle of the track let his flag hang down when I was driving by. Consequently, I have a huge bruise on the side of my chest right under my armpit that is healing right now.
Of course, my curiousity was piqued after the race, so I learned some basic racing technique later from a friend. The idea is to:
1. Accelerate as much as possible thru straightaways.
2. Brake as much as possible as late as possible so that you are at the correct speed going into the turn.
3. Stay off the gas around the turn, and accelerate as you are come out of the turn.
Drifting/losing traction is usually bad for speed, so the idea is to do the above three things without slipping or skidding. On most sharp turns, you tend to want to take an outside in type of turn, but the line you should be following around the track is shown to you already before you race, so you don't really need to try and figure this out yourself in this case.
Interestingly, when I came out of the building and drove off in my actual car, I had this urge to drive very quickly. My brain was thinking "Why isn't the car slipping a little?" and "Why am I not gunning the accelerator?" Turning the wheel also felt abnormally effortless due to the return of power steering. I compensated quickly, so no harm done. =)
Not surprisingly, at the end of the day my arms felt pretty wobbly. The next day, my left arm felt sore and difficult to extend … but not my right. That must be because we were constantly turning left during the race.
Anyway, while I found go-karting somewhat interesting, I can't say I'm planning on making this a regular hobby. At least I got a free balaclava out of it … a fact which I proudly demonstrated to my friends later that evening. It's quite a menacing clothing item!