Kid Karts 101 - Everything you need to know!
Hopefully you are interested in getting your child involved in go karting and you found your way here. Your kid loves motorized vehicles, and you think taking the next step into Go Karts sounds like fun. Well, it is. In fact it is some of the most fun you can have with your child. But where do you go for help and advice? The internet seems to be a black hole for all things karting related. It is if there is some highly coveted speed secrets that can't possibly be talked about online. Getting into karting is actually quite simple. I've concluded that people don't talk about it much online because they don't actually know what does or doesn't work. Once you have good equipment it really does boil down to the driver. There is only so much you can do to a kid kart to make it go faster. So with all that said, let's get down to the basics.
What are kid karts and what is kid karting? - Kid karts are small versions of racing karts designed for kids aged 5 to 7. They use small 2 stroke or 4 stroke engines that are approx 2HP. They go anywhere from 30 to 40MPH. Kid Karts race on the same track as any go kart, normally an asphalt road course. There are also some places around the country that race them on dirt ovals, but this article does not fully apply to them. We will be discussing Kid Karts on paved road courses although much of this article still applies to dirt oval karts.
First step - Go to your local track. This is obviously where you will spend the majority of your time at first whether your aspirations are to race locally for fun, or make your child the next Lewis Hamilton. Find out what they run there. You will want to run the same style of kart as what they run at your local track for a variety of reasons. These include:
- Getting advice - if you run the same style of kart as the other families you'll be able to go to them for advice, both for setup, and driving lines etc.
- Parts - if you have similar equipment to other families and you break a part you can more than likely find a replacement part from another family and keep on racing
- Competition - If you buy a type of kart that is slower than the other kids then your kid will never have any fun losing every weekend. Consequently, if you buy a style of kart that is faster than everybody else your kid will always win and never learn a thing from the track time.
So find out what people are running and buy something similar for your first kart. Don't get too hung up on researching your first kart, you will no doubt evolve in the sport, it is inevitable from the many factors including your child growing and simply outgrowing your current equipment. If you keep it local then the first kart you buy will last you for years. If you go National then you'll form an opinion soon enough about what is best and invest in new equipment when the time comes. So either way, don't stress over your first kart. As long as you buy it right you'll get your money back out of it when it's time to sell.
Styles/Types of Karts - I've mentioned "styles" or "types" of karts already several times, so let's describe them. First is "full body" or "CIK". Full Body karts are just that - karts that have full plastic bodies around the entire kart. These are often found at tracks that predominantly run 4-stroke engine classes and at oval tracks. Because Kid Karts are so small, the chassis on Full Body Karts are often a European metric chassis like you'd find on a CIK style kart. However there are some "American" brands that make a small Kid Kart, like Coyote Karts. These full body "American" Kid Karts are not very popular, but if this is what your track runs then I'd suggest staying with this style.
The more common style of Kid Kart is CIK. This is a typical European Kart with plastic pods and bumpers. All of the hardware is metric. There are probably 30 different brands of these karts. They are much more common at sprint karting road coarse tracks.
Engines - There are also a few different engine options. Even if you end up buying the wrong body style of kart, you'll certainly want to get the same engine as everybody else at your track. What has historically been the most common engine is the Comer C50. The Comer C50 is also called the C51. It is all very confusing. There is basically a new style Comer and and old Style. The new style has a On/Off Switch, the old style has a button you push to turn it off. The new style is what is legal and commonly used. The Comer C50 is a 2 Cycle 50cc engine. The Comer is what is used for major organizations like WKA, Rt 66, and Kid Kart Nationals. I'll talk more about the Comer C50/51 later in this article as there are many myths and lore that surround it.
Another engine that is gaining popularity is the Honda GX50. The Honda GX50 is a small 4 Cycle 50CC engine. These came on the scene a few years ago and have caught on out West in CA, but have not gained much attention in the Mid-West or East Coast. Honda had big plans to make this engine replace the Comer, but so far it hasn't worked. So if you live in CA you'll probably find they use this at your track. Anywhere else and they likely find the Comer being used.
Finally, a third engine that has gained some popularity is the Briggs LO206. The Briggs LO206 is an engine that a racer can literally use from when they are in Kid Karts all the way up to when they are adults. One engine, with some mods, can literally be used for any karter. The purpose is to keep the cost of karting down. Briggs are sealed engines, meaning you don't have to worry about your competitors having a better engine. The LO206 is 4 Cycle and 206cc's. So it is HUGE compared to the other engines. It almost looks out of place on a Kid Kart. But the concept of keeping cost down is great. You'll see LO206 Kid Kart engines predominantly at tracks that have 4 Cycle classes for the older age groups.
Now you know what styles of karts to be on the lookout for at your local track, and the types of engines. What next? The next step is to get your kid in one to see if he/she likes it. If you ask somebody in management at your local track if they could arrange for your child to get in a kart they will likely figure something out for you. Most tracks welcome new racers and will be very helpful in getting your child involved. Before even thinking about spending any money on a new kart simply sit your child in a kart and start the engine. This will let you know if they can tolerate the sound. Some kids never get past the sound of an engine revving 2' from their ear. If your child has this reaction then karting is not for them. If they pass this test then work with the track to arrange for them to safely do some laps. This should of course include all of the proper safety equipment and supervision.
That just about covers what kids karts are and how you can go about getting into it. The sections below will go into more detail about how to get your own kart.
Karts - We do recommend you get a used kart for your first kart. Your child will no doubt abuse it. You should buy a kart from a family moving up to a new kart, buy their beater kart. Get the kart squared away, safe, and reliable. This may require replacing certain parts like the throttle cable, brake pads etc. You may need to buy some parts to make the kart fit your child also. These include pedal extenders, or a different seat. A kart shop like ours (www.FastKartSupply.com) can help you with that. You'll need a reliable engine too. You should be able to find a used one at your track or on ebay. Reliability is what you are looking for, don't worry about buying one that has some Championship pedigree or blueprinting. Your child is months (or years) away from using the few extra RPM a motor like this can deliver. For a used kart I'd suggest you budget $500 for a real beater up to $1000 for a lightly used newer kart. Plus another $500 for an engine. Plus another $200 or so in parts to get it track ready. Some of the more popular quality karts to look for include TopKart, Birel, Praga, Margay, and Tony Kart.
Once you have evolved past the complete beginner stage and your child is starting to put down good consistent lap times I'd suggest getting a newer, or new, kart. Many tracks have dealers that attend events. If that dealer stocks parts I would certainly suggest buying that brand of kart. There is nothing more valuable at the track than a dealer for your brand that has parts available. If you don't have a local dealer then buy the brand of kart that is predominate at your track. Why, because you can trade setup notes with other families and hopefully have more spare parts availability. If you have neither of these options then you need to find an online dealer like us at www.FastKartSupply.com to supply your equipment. Online dealers generally do have parts trailers that go to events in a region and can provide you support when you attend the same events. Our geographic region for example is the east coast as far west as Indiana.
If you do not have a local dealer we invite you to be part of our family. We carry the TopKart brand which is the finest Kid Kart made with the best support nationwide from a number of dealers. We are able to provide you technical support, parts support and general advice with your TopKart. In 2015 a FKS Driver, Ben Maier, won 3 of the 5 events in the WKA Manufacturers Cup and the overall National Title. All done on a TopKart. In 2016 Karsyn Walters is already dominating the national scene on her TopKart. We can ship a TopKart to you anywhere in the country. Here is a link to the TopKart Kid Kart Chassis.
A new chassis will give you a clean slate to start with, will be straight, and will be reliable. Any new chassis is going to be competitive out of the box. There really is no need to modify them at a club or local level. So save your money. There is a lot more time to be found in teaching your driver. If nothing else sinks in from this article, hopefully you will remember this. Don't just buy parts hoping to make your driver faster. Focus on the driver and the speed will come faster than by spending money on the kart.
Going Regional and National Racing
If you decide to venture out beyond your local area and do some regional or even national racing you are going to see a whole new level of spending that almost seems impossible on such a small vehicle. MOST of this spending is families trying to buy their way to the front. It is an easy trap to fall into, and costly. It is hardly required. One of our friends last year qualified first at Daytona and he prides himself in how little he spends on Kid Karting. So it is only as expensive as you make it. Money well spent to make your kart faster once you get to this level are in the rotating mass of the rear axle and the engine. A company called PKT has the rear axle handled. They make a complete set of lightweight parts for kid karts to reduce the rotating mass. Lightweight axles, collars, brake and sprocket carriers, and hubs. This can make a noticeable improvement on Kid Kart performance. You can find PKT upgrades here. As for the engine, you'll want to get your engines worked on by one of the leading engine builders in the country. There are only 3 or 4 of them. At FKS we use Eric Snell from NSR. You can find his info here.
Let's talk about engines for a bit. The Comers in particular. You can have the absolute best engine ever made, but if your kid can't manage momentum and keep the kart moving around the track flawlessly then it won't matter. So don't waste money on expensive engines or blueprinting until your driver is able to use it. Now, on the other hand, if you are doing any regional racing or Kid Kart Nationals then you'll want to make sure your engine will pass tech. For this reason alone you should send your engine(s) to a builder to get blueprinted. It should be noted that some engines never will perform as well as others. Many families will buy engine after engine hoping they come across a good one at some point. These engines will cost $1000 to $1500. They might buy 8 or 10 of them in the search of that perfect engine. Now all this sounds crazy, but if one thing is true of a Comer engine, it does maintain it's value. So if you buy one for $1000 you should be able to sell it for $1000. The other school of thought on finding a good engine is to buy one hot off the track that you know is good. An engine that wins Kid Kart Nationals for example will be worth $3000 or more the second it crosses that finish line. I personally think it is wiser to buy a motor or two that you know are the best vs buying 6 motors and hoping you find a good one. Again, as crazy as this all sounds these motors do maintain their value unless one has a catastrophic failure while you own it!
If you are going regional or national racing you'll certainly want a backup engine and some spare parts. You'll find yourself rebuilding carburetors often so have lots of extra carb parts. Some other things you'll want to have onhand are some spare wheels and rain tires. Of course you'll want to start out the season on new tires. Kid Karts don't really wear out tires so you can literally go a whole season on one set, even racing nationally. As for rear wheels, for years 3.25" wide rear wheels with lightening holes were popular. But now some sanctioning bodies like WKA have changed their maximum tire circumference from 33.75" to 33". So now 4" wide wheels are popular. Here is a link to them.
For a Regional or National racing budget to include a trip to Kid Kart Nationals you should plan on $2200 for a good kart, $1000 for upgrades, $200 for tires, $1,500 for an engine, $300 for a few extra carbs, and $250 in spares. This of course does not include entry fees and travel, just the money required to have a competitive, National level, kart and engine. Some families spend significantly more than this, and some find a way to spend less. But this should get you close to what's required.
Our children grow up so fast, and all we have left are the memories. If nothing else, racing kid karts, and then cadet karts and whatever else you decide to race is some of the best time you will ever spend with your family. It is not like dropping your kid off at soccer practice, or watching a baseball game. Racing makes for intense weekends with highs and lows, winning and losing. The family does it all together as a team. Everybody has their role in making the weekend a success. And when its all over you have just spent an entire weekend with your child, working with them hand in hand for the final outcome. It really is priceless.