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Vintage Kart Racers Stay Forever Young

I traveled to California last week to cover the 3rd Annual Vintage Karting Association Reunion event, at Adams Kart Track, in Riverside, CA. This was one fine gathering of the pioneers of the sport of karting, which has become the cradle of professional motorsports, as well as the perpetual playground for the “quick at heart” of all ages.

Kids can now get started in organized karting at age 5 or 6, and can still find a place that welcomes participation even at age 96. It is not uncommon to find three generations of a family competing at a karting event.

This particular event exemplifies a growing interest in “vintage” karts, the first of which was built by an engineer and race car builder by the name of Art Ingels in 1956. While Mr. Ingels passed away a few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and having a short interview with his widow, Ruth Ingels, and his daughter, Priscilla, for whom Art built the first kart.

Southern California was the birthplace of karting, as well as the industry that the sport has become. The first karts were built and raced there. Ingels, who built quarter midget racers, mated a chassis with a small gas engine (I believe made by McCollough or West Bend), and left off the body.

Art’s friend Duffy Livingstone owned a muffler shop in Azusa. On seeing what Art had done, Duffy decided to build one too, although he and his business partner purchased enough components to build several. As it was with Art, when Duffy’s friends saw what he had built, they wanted their own.

The next challenge was finding a place to drive these things. For awhile, they raced on weekends in the parking lot of a Sears Roebuck store in the San Gabriel Valley, just east of Los Angeles. The gatherings grew so popular — creating traffic tie ups and safety hazards from distracted drivers passing by — that they were forced to find a more suitable locale, which turned out to be the parking lot in the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena.

Eventually, demand for Duffy’s kits led to a decision as to whether they should continue in the muffler business, or go in an entirely different (and more fun) direction. Thus, Go Kart Mfg. company was born, a name that became synonymous with the kart itself.

Faye Pierson (above right), who drove one of Duffy’s first karts, and eventually raced karts around the world, started K & P Mfg. in Azusa with her late husband.

Both were in attendance at the event last weekend, 51 years after starting it, and still going strong. Faye is still driving her “Bug” replica.

Karting took off through racing. But there weren’t many places to race. The larger tracks were… large. Karts weren’t. And while some karting events are still run in parking lots, and enduro events are run on big tracks, the sport really shines when race competitions can be run on tracks that are designed with karting in mind.

Adams Kart Track, where this event was held, is noteworthy because it is one of the first built — in 1960 –specifically for the fledgling sport of karting, and has been in continuous operation since then. Owned and run by the Adams family, who turned farm land a Mecca of fun for “hot shoes” from all around Southern California. There are five remaining (2) brothers and (3) sisters of the original eleven children of Frank and Mary Adams. That’s Tim Adams (on the left) pictured above with Duffy Livingstone.

I had a great interview with 80-something year old Tom Medley, whose cartoon series “Stroker McGurk” was featured in the first edition of Hot Rod magazine (1948). Tom has supported karting from the beginning. He recalled fond stories of countless weekends spent at the Adams family track, a place where the sport was not only given a safe place in which to grow, but people from disparate backgrounds also came together (and still do) who share a common passion for speed, friendly competition, and honorable interaction. It is very likely that over the years, many minds were changed positively in the realm of human relations at Adams Kart track without ever raising a sign in protest; with the possible exception of a race outcome.

I also spent time at the home of Sharon Adams, youngest of the original children, with sisters Helen and Thelma, and brothers Tim and Jerry. They shared how the track started, and the roles they played in the business.

While track operations are overseen today by Troy and Timel Adams (shown above with Pat Hansen (L.) and Mike Burris), grand children of Frank and Mary, the elder brothers and sisters still play vital roles, offering their guidance and counsel.

Although these are “vintage” karts, it doesn’t mean they are antique. Many of the karts feature rear disc brakes, and some have so much go power as to require disc brake stopping power on the front wheels.

Front disc brakes.

There was an entire class of karts racing that had two engines, and a “monster” class featured one kart that was running three engines.

I can only share a fraction of what happened, but it would be safe to say that a great time was had by all. I interviewed John Morton, former Trans-Am and Can-Am driver, who campaigned a vintage kart, and couldn’t hold back tears at a tribute to Charles King, who passed away last year. He was the husband of Thelma Adams King. This event has grown significantly since its inception in 2005 when I last attended. While the competition is fun, it’s not as important as having fun. Therefore, it is always friendly. That’s something we could all learn from these veterans of the “race” called life.

[UPDATE: In spite of the fact that this article is read regularly almost daily, it just occurred to me to say that the video of the event IS NOW AVAILABLE on DVD. The main program runs 61 minutes. I’ve also included a video photo montage of some of the 1,000 or so images that I shot that weekend. It is $40, plus shipping, $32 if you are a VKA member.]

2007 Vintage Reunion DVD

To order your copy, click here.
You can view larger gallery of images from this event by going to my new photo gallery at Printroom.com. Another good resource for information about vintage karts and products is Rear Engine Karts, which focuses on American made vintage karts manufactured between 1956 and 1972.

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22 Thoughts to “Vintage Kart Racers Stay Forever Young”

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  8. Joseph A. Grinceri

    It seems that in the mention of the Adams Family,A very Respected
    and not to be easily forgotten member of the Family,Has either been forgotten or just not known!This is a great web site But The Adams Who made it all happen FROM THE START,is not mentioned! I will leave one clue,and will be checking my e-mails to ,see just how many of you got it correct! his last name was adams of course, he was the very 1st flag man,who also lived in the home strait north of the main strait away. With Respect,Joseph A. Grinceri
    E-mail:me507@msn.com

  9. rex harvey

    I am sorry i missed this reunion,I raced the #5 kart for walt meyers in the early 70’s with my dad les harvey.won a lot of races,broke some track records.have a lot of good memorys of adams track and there family.I would like to get in touch with walt again,havent seen him since his shop in poway,I don’t know were he wen’t.maybee you can help,rex harvey

  10. I am only 53 years old but never the less I have been around carting as long or longer than anyone,
    I was born & raised in Redlands Ca. just 5 houses from Harry & Mildred Wilms who at the age of five
    took me into their home on Park ave. and gave me cookies, my father was an auto machanic and so I had a natural desire for engines, only it was not auto engines, I would help clean up horse poop at times for Mr. Wims two horses Saly & Pepper, afterwards Mr. Wilms would allow me to hang out with him while he worked on his secret Mac engines, the next day he & his son would place cones on Park ave. between Tennesee st. and Kansas st. then he would time how fast his son could run with that piticular engine, Mr. Wilms taught me a lot about porting size & timing for different fuels and power curves required for racing, I moved from Redlands in 1980 but up until that time I always would visit Mr. Wilms & Mrs. Wilms I would return to see how he & the Mrs. were doing almost every year, I remember one year Mr. Wilms & I snuck away to a bike track where he mounted me on the brand new Yamaha 60cc mini, it was designed to win races in the 60cc class, I was only slightly experienced in riding on a track but had no problem showing off to the crowd that I could & would win, Mr. Wilms had allowed me to ride this bike woth a note from my mother (Fake of course) I recall rhe fathers coming by after I made a showing of the bike and stating that we would not be allowed to ride in any of the races however we were allowed and the faster more experienced kids got their butts kicked but good ! Mr. Wilms had purchased the bike brand new at Redlands Yamaha on Coloton ave. and he never did one modification what so ever to its engine, he simply removed it and fitted the bike with a 59cc Mac and two different clutches
    one clutch would launh the bike so hard I had to roll the throttle on I remember allowing the faster riders to catch up on purpose in the strait aways so I could open it up and the second rush of power
    from the next clutch would cause the little bike to wheelie and out pull all the others that at the end of the day the fathers of the other riders got together and told us not to ever come back !!!!!!
    Mr. Wilms was not only a good father, Husband, and best friend to everyone he was a genius of two cycle engines and nobody could ever match his genius in that department (EVER) ………
    He is very much missed and will forever be loved !
    Frank Giustiniani Jr.

  11. Eric Pierson

    I thank you for enjoying the go-kart race,

    I’m Faye Pierson’s Great grandson,

    I love go-karts.

  12. Andy Cole

    Sorry I missed the renunion; I spent many fun filled weekends there with the SoCal Sprinters, chasing the Adkins family. Is it possible that Pat Hansen in the photo, was the same one that went to MAD in’49?
    Andy Cole, Houston, TX

  13. Karen,

    Thank you for the sharing, and for the contribution that you and your family continue to make to karting. The Adams family is an integral part of karting’s roots, and contribute to its health to this very day.

    Best wishes.

    Adam…

  14. Hello,

    Here it is 2008 and I can read this article and feel just as much pride as when it was first written. I am a grandchild of Mary and Frank Adams. I am one of the family members who is working under the leadership of Troy Adams. Our family loves this sport and the many memories that it has brought to us and others. This is one of the many reasons that we have Arrive and Race at our track. To share this wonderful experience with all. Thank you for helping to continue to celebrate the past as we move forward to the future.

    Karen Adams-Thomas

  15. Kelli

    Joseph – As the Googler of the family, I found your note re. my Dad, Tom Wilms. I’m sure he’ll enjoy it. I’ll pass it on…

  16. Barbara Lewellyn

    I am so sorry I did not know about the event. I live about six minutes from the track.
    My Dad was president of the association for the 1967 Nationals. My Mom and Dad (Dick White), were at the track every week-end for years.
    I still have my kart at my Dad’s Radiator Shop in Norco. It was the proto type for the first sidewinder from bug. Walt Meyers built it for me.
    I am so sad to know all this happened and DAH I missed out.
    I better pay more attention to the events.
    Love to all The blond brat Barbara

  17. Tom Moreau

    I enjoyed the website….it brought back many memories. I got started in Karting in 1958 in Miami, FL. Then in Rockford, Il where I saw Duffy and his team mates and a Go Kart exhibition in Rockford. I continued racing until 1963. Lots of fun !

    Tom Moreau

  18. Joseph, Thank YOU for such a wonderful remembrance! You literally brought these experiences to life.

  19. JOSEPH A. GRINCERI

    Nobody has really ever lived it like H.D. Wilms’ son Tommy!

    This brief is just a simple flashback to my early teens during the early and mid 1970’s. I and best friend Michael D. George, ditched Jr. High School in Fontana, and for ten cents, rode the East Valley Transit System to Wilm’s Kart Shop, 1445 Park Ave. Redlands, CA

    It was exactly like going to another planet! It was here, where great H.D. taught my partner and I 2-cycle port timing!

    I’ll never forget the many rare and different Macs that Harry had hidden under a blanket in his shop, ready to go! These Macs were fully ported super modified engines, and it was always a mystery each year, which engine “Dad” would select for the state championships, held at Adams Kart Track, Riverside, California.

    Harry was a very serious and strict competitor, and Mike and myself both modeled our racing styles and attitude exactly after Tom Wilms! Tommy was most definitely one of the best Sprint Kart drivers on the West Coast, and if he was ever wheel to wheel with a competitor in a race, he always gave you room to race!

    Many would race dirty, and try to knock Tommy off the track, as it was their only way they could finish ahead of him! Rare Mac collection included Mac 2,Mac 6,Mac 7,Mac 9, Mac 10, Mac 20 & Mac40! The Wilms team used Margay Karts exclusively for many years, and Tommy has probably won more state (California), So. Cal Sprinters (Azuza) and Tri C (Adams) Riverside, than anyone!!

    I sure hope you see this Tommy, as I also leave this in memory of my best friend; Mike George / went to be with Harry and Mildred on 04/09/2003!

    Well, one thing for sure, he is where mom’s “excellent variety of Christmas pastries and cookies are”!!!!!!!! I loved these people and miss them much!

    Respectfully submitted,

    Joseph A. Grinceri,
    Fontana, California

  20. What a fantastic set of classic photos and a wonderful write up. It is always nice to look back at karting like this. Hats off to ya!

    Dave
    http://www.kartingextra.com

  21. Hello Adam,

    Very much enjoyed your initial input on the VKA/Adams event. You have a touch of class in everything you do and I’m so glad I gave you the initial call to come – thank you and looking forward to news on the DVD – we will probaby purchase 10 and put on “our web” site.

    Faye

  22. Timel K. Sebastian

    Adam,
    Once again, thank you for everything. I hope you enjoyed your visit, I’ll be giving you a call soon.

    Timel

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