By Jack Jurgens/El Inde
When Steven Perryman started racing go-karts, he was already 65 years old and had never turned a wrench on anything other than his bicycle as a kid.
Now the 78-year-old Vietnam veteran and West Point graduate speaks fluently about the differences between “shifter” engines, two-stroke engines and “potato diggers,” the least powerful of the motors that power go-karts.
“A lot of people learn how to play golf later in life, but I chose this,” said Perryman, who is a retired lawyer from California. “Even though it’s been over a decade I’m learning something new every day that I come out.”
Perryman and other local racing enthusiasts satisfy their need for speed these days at Musselman Honda Circuit, a twisting, three-quarter-mile-long asphalt racing layout for race cars and go-karts near Interstate 10 and South Harrison Road. The track rents go-karts, sponsors racing competitions and offers a go-kart racing school.
The Musselman track is one of several go-kart venues in town. Tucson Kart Speedway, which specializes in professional/amateur racing competitions, is an oval dirt track in the desert south of Tucson. And there are also slower tracks for novice drivers, like the “Lit’l Indy Raceway” at Golf N’ Stuff, the family entertainment center on East Tanque Verde Road.
Perryman says he finds go-kart racing a great way to break out of the quarantined lifestyle caused by the pandemic.
“You feel free out on the racetrack especially when you’re picking up speed. The karts are small, but boy, can some of these things fly,” Perryman said.
Most racing karts have low centers of gravity and sturdy metal builds, which allow drivers to easily handle the machines at high speeds from 45 to 70 miles per hour on the track.
“Even though the turns out here aren’t absolutely crazy, each driver has to properly hit the late turn axis, or they will fly off the course,” said Perryman.
For now, his black and gold painted kart consists of a two-stroke engine, wide based wheels for binding around turns with speed, a limber axle for power in both rear wheels, and a custom fit seat.
“My last kart had a four-stroke engine and was just a bit faster than the one I have now but is still a bit slower than a shifter engine normally,” Perryman said.
Marie Reeve, who is the owner of American Outdoor Power in Tucson, said some go- karts are based on engines you would find in the and garden industry, while most of the imported karts are designed after motorcycle engines.
Reeve’s business has been selling lawn and garden equipment in Tucson since 1993. Since they specialize in lawnmower engine repairs, the garden center decided to take on go-kart repairs almost twenty years ago.
“We typically see go-karts ranging from 20 to 30 miles per hour, depending on the engine size and framework of the vehicle,” Reeve said.
According to autoevolution.com, an automotive website with news and reviews about anything with wheels and a motor, the first go-kart was assembled in 1956 out of scrap metal and a two-cycle lawnmower engine by Art Ingels, who became known as the “father of karting,”
A former race car driver, Ingels showed off his “little car” in the parking lots of the Rose Bowl where he inspired his friend Duffy Livingston to get in on the fun. Livingston started to produce and sell the little car models out of his muffler shop in Los Angeles.
“Those guys used to drive those little vehicles with their legs crunched behind the front Bumper,” said Charlie Quiroz, who owns the Musselman Honda Circuit. “Now go-karts are faster, safer, and easy for almost anyone with prior knowledge to operate behind the wheel.”
Quiroz and Ignacio Easquez, a longtime employee, care for the track and rental go-karts available to customers, as well as provide one-on-one instruction for those enrolled in the track’s racing school.
“It is our responsibility to make sure each rental kart goes gets the proper repairs they need,” said Easquez. “We put in the time and effort to keep the track clean, so people feel safe out there too.”
Famous NASCAR and Formula 1 drivers like Jeff Gordon and Michael Andretti started as teenage go-kart champions.
Although Easquez does not expect to find the next national racing sensation at the track, he and Quiroz encourage anyone to try go-karting as a new experience.
“We just want people to find the joy in racing out here and hopefully pick up a thing or two on the way,” Easquez said.