Saturday, October 25, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;49.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/novc.png;2014-10-25 02:47:34
Sunday, June 23, 2013

Go Karts rev up the fun again  in NH

If fishing is too boring, hunting too laborious or unpredictable, and father-son dinners and father-daughter dances too old-fashioned for your family, the ideal solution just might be a test drive into the world of karting.

That’s as in “go-karting,” an all-ages, miniature version of stock car racing that is riding a new wave of popularity in the region, thanks largely to the resurrection by a pair of recreation enthusiasts of a landmark quarter-mile oval in northern Londonderry, just a mile from Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

If fishing is too boring, hunting too laborious or unpredictable, and father-son dinners and father-daughter dances too old-fashioned for your family, the ideal solution just might be a test drive into the world of karting.

That’s as in “go-karting,” an all-ages, miniature version of stock car racing that is riding a new wave of popularity in the region, thanks largely to the resurrection by a pair of recreation enthusiasts of a landmark quarter-mile oval in northern Londonderry, just a mile from Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

“These aren’t your father’s go-karts,” cautioned Dan Gelinas, a Concord contractor and co-founder with Loudon resident Shawn Duhaime, of Granite State Karting. “They’re a little different than the ones (baby boomers) tinkered with as kids.”

Gelinas and Duhaime created Granite State Karting as part of their plan to return motor racing to the Londonderry Raceway, a high-banked, 66-year-old oval that first gained fame for its midget-car and motorcycle racing in the post-World War II era.

With a goal of reintroducing and expanding kart racing in central New England, the two last year entered a lease agreement with the property owner and got busy cutting back a couple years’ worth of undergrowth, shoring up neglected structures and otherwise shaping up the track for racing.

The partners unveiled Granite State Karting at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September, taking advantage of NASCAR weekend to spread the word among bona fide race fans.

Come spring, the old Londonderry Raceway came back to life as the Manchester Motordrome – a cool-sounding name under which the track originally opened in 1947.

In August that year, a Union-Leader reporter named Walter Healy heralded the new venture as wildly successful, mainly on the strength of what he called “one of America’s most thrilling sports – midget automobile racing.”

Seeing the midget cars, nicknamed “doodlebugs,” “go round and round the new racing oval” was “attracting thousands of fans … these summer Sunday evenings,” Healy wrote.

The references, contained in a 2011 report on londonderrynh.net, also indicate that midget racing may have had a surprisingly brief life at the Motordrome. “Though wildly popular at its peak, the races eventually stopped … one report indicates races were held only six seasons,” according to the report. And of those, the author wrote, only three were dedicated to midget car racing; the other three involved motorcycle racing.

Another report says the track was open until 1962, after which it closed until the 1990s.

But these days, as Gelinas indicated, decades worth of advances in go-karting and other forms of “mini-racing” have given a day at the track a whole new look.

For instance, today’s drivers, who range from kindergartners up to retirement age, are protected on all sides by a sturdy cage called roll bars and sit behind an aerodynamic half-round of sturdy metal emblazoned with the driver’s name and number.

Most karts also sport similarly appointed matching side panels to complete the look.

“They’ve come a long way,” Gelinas said. “There’s a lot of technology going into these things now.”

And like all kinds of racing, the speeds are higher and margin for error slimmer than ever.

“It’s pretty hard to be a good driver now,” he said. “There’s not a lot of suspension. We have a class that runs 70 mph a half-inch above the pavement.”

A would-be racer can get started for as little as $800-$1,000, if he or she is mechanically inclined and willing to put some sweat equity into a used kart, Gelinas said. A turnkey setup, meanwhile, would go for somewhere around $5,000.

“The world of karting is about family,” he said. “Moms, dads, sisters, brothers all come out and help each other. When someone new comes along, we all pitch in to help them get started.”

Rolling out the welcome mat pays off in the long run, Gelinas said, because it encourages new racers to stay and attracts more and more newbies.

“We want to keep the sport alive,” he said. “We all realize that without others coming in, who are you going to race?”

But aside from the numbers and behind-the-scenes stuff, and all the precise calculations and attention to detail that go into every driver’s pre-race ritual, perhaps the karts’ best feature is their knack for bringing families together for a whole lot of fun and, Gelinas said, a good dose of healthy intra-family competition.

“You see a lot of dads and sons racing against each other,” he said, quickly adding that there’s no shortage of father-daughter rivalries as well – such as within his own family.

“I’ve started racing against my 15-year-old daughter,” Gelinas said. “She’s pretty darn good at it, too. I figured I’d take her easily, and we were kidding a lot about it,” he said of a race earlier this season.

“She kicked my butt.”

For Mike Marshall, nothing compares to a day at the track – even if he usually finds himself trying to balance helping his 11-year-old son get ready to race with coaching his first-year-driver wife, Taylor Charbonnier-Marshall, toward her next goal, all while struggling to contain a spirited 1-year-old daughter who already knows the feel of a steering wheel.

“It’s crazy out there,” Marshall said with a laugh. “They’re doing 13-, 14-
second quarter-miles, nose-to-tail down the straightaways.”

While Mike Marshall ran stock cars years ago, it’s Anthony, at 11, who’s the go-kart veteran of the family. Now in his third year, Anthony started with a bang by winning a Tiger Spring Division title his first year. His father said racing has been in Anthony’s blood since “he was real little, when he went stock-car racing with me almost every Friday night.”

Eventually, marriage, children and a startup business replaced stock car racing, but his interest never waned.

Hence the family’s venture into go-karting. With Anthony well up and running, and wife Taylor accomplishing goals right and left, Marshall said he’s next. “I think there’s a kart at my house with my name on it,” he said with a laugh.

These days, showing up at the track is almost, well, like a day at the beach.

“You go to the track, and you’ll see kids who will be driving against each other later, hanging out, kicking a ball around, hanging out like friends,” Marshall said. “Where stock car racing was more like going to a bar with your buddies, go-karting is like a day at Disney.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).