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.
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.]
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.