Go karting originated in the United States in the 1950s, when it was initially a recreational sport, with no governing body. However, over the years, it evolved into a professional sport following the introduction of regulatory bodies. Today, it’s not only an exciting sport in its own right, but is also a means of getting into other motor sports, such as Formula One. Below we discuss Go Kart history.

The early years of go karting

One of the big questions is “who made the first go kart”? Well, the first motorised go kart was built in California, USA, in 1956. Neighbours Art Ingels and Lou Borelli came up with the concept by combining a McCulloch West-Bend lawnmower engine with a chassis that sat only a few inches off the ground. Ingels took part in a local race, where spectator Duffy Livingstone was so impressed, he built two karts himself.

With friend Roy Desbrow, with whom he managed a car silencers business, Livingstone and other enthusiasts organised early races at the Rose Bowl car park, in Pasadena. These proved so popular that they began selling karts in kit form and the first production company, GoKart, was born in 1957.

Karting in the 1960s

The concept caught on quickly, with tracks springing up in many US towns and cities. The quality of the facilities varied from place to place, as it was mainly a recreational sport at this time.

The popularity of karting took a bit of a nosedive in America towards the late 1960s. Although it had its followers, with no regulatory body in charge, the karts’ designs were changing rapidly. Enthusiasts were buying parts, only to find these were quickly sidelined for newer ones. There was little money in the sport and a number of tracks closed down. It became known as a more select sport, only for people who had enough money to keep up with the trends.

Go Karting in the 1970s

At this time, the European karts were becoming more popular than their American predecessors. In the early 1970s, America’s leading engine manufacturer, McCulloch, was bought by Black and Decker, who had little interest in kart engines. The European manufacturers, however, went from strength to strength.

It was during the ’70s that today’s modern go kart design was launched, with the engine at the side, instead of at the back of the kart. This meant there was more legroom for drivers and it was a more air-conditioned drive. At this time, Yamaha kart engines were among the most popular, although Briggs and Stratton became a leading engine manufacturer in the USA, with the sport gaining popularity again.

Regulatory Bodies Created

In the 1980s, several regulatory bodies were created to progress go karting as a recognised sport, rather than merely a hobby. The World Karting Association and the International Karting Federation were launched in Mississippi. These saw go karting officially recognised as a competitive sport for the first time.

The oval racing circuit became standard, with racing taking place on asphalt tracks which ranged from one-tenth of a mile to one-third of a mile long. Sprint racing and street racing also gained popularity.

Modern Go Karting

In the 1990s, go karting established its place as the first rung on the ladder for aspiring professional racing drivers. Many of the world’s top F1 drivers, including Kimi Raikkonen, seven times F1 world champion Michael Schumacher and Max Verstappen, the youngest ever F1 driver, started out in karting.

Future of Karting

Karting governing body the CIK-FIA, recognising the rising costs of the sport, is attempting to clamp down, having recently reduced its World KF Championship events from five to four days, decreased the number of tyres that can be used over the weekend and cut entry fees. The measures have been taken to dispel the rising view that go karting is becoming a playground for the rich, rather than for talented drivers.

The body’s president, Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa, says he aims to simplify karts and make the sport cheaper for the drivers, to make it within reach of more people. In an interview with Karting Magazine, he said in previous years, the CIK-FIA had strayed from this approach, so his goal was to bring it back.