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TKART magazine Once in a lifetime | A journey into the 4 technical eras of karting history
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Mattia Livraghi
20 February 2022
Racing karts, as we know them today, are the result of an evolution based on four different technical paths, taken from 1956 up until today. We discover them thanks to Kees van de Grint, thanks to his precious narration and a sketch of his. Born by chance on a day at the track in Adria
Sometimes wonderful memories and thrilling stories come out casually. So it happens that a very interesting drawing pops up out of a bunch of papers on the desk. And the drawing is very interesting for two reasons. The first one: the drawing - it is just a pen sketch on the back of a WSK ranking on the occasion of a race in Adria - clearly represents the simplification of 4 kart chassis (and when it comes to karts, there’s obvious interest). The second one: the sketch is signed by Kees van de Grint, former CIK-FIA vice-president and engineer working for Bridgestone in F1 with Ferrari during the Schumacher era, a life in motorsport and a strong penchant for karting. Kees, a person with a charisma that really stands out, is among the leading experts of karting history, as evidenced by the spectacular collection of historic go-karts he owns, so when he speaks, there’s only one thing you have to do: listen. And we’ve done it. Indeed, we’ve done more: we’ve interviewed him, starting from those four simplified karts that represent, in a minimal but clear way, his theory on the four technical eras of karting history. Four turning points, each opened by a reference model, which have led us to the modern karts that we see every day. But let’s start from the beginning: United States of America, 1956, that is, the “where” and the “when” with regard to the birth of karting. There are actually reasons to believe that in Europe, in nations such as Italy, Switzerland and Holland, some activities already took place with what could be called a “go-kart”. However, it is generally accepted that the merit for the invention goes to Art Ingels, the first person in the world to produce the chassis of a kart. Ingels was an employee of an American Indianapolis-type racing car manufacturer called Kurtis-Kraft.
The drawing made and signed by Kees van de Grint (below) for TKART, on the occasion of a race in Adria in 2019.
Motorsport was quite popular in America in those days, especially because, after having returned from the Second World War, many soldiers competed. And they mainly did it with their English sports cars (MG, Triumph and Austin-Healey). But motorsport quickly became too expensive, so Ingels started to ask himself: “How can I create something affordable for people who want to feel the excitement of fast driving?”. He had luck on his side soon after that thought and it helped: the McCulloch company was dumping more than 10,000 obsolete West Bend lawn mower engines due to a technical problem. Ingels immediately took advantage of this situation: he obtained one of those engines and used it to produce the first go-kart in history, which he then drove in a car park in his hometown. When he used it, the audience wasn’t missing and, probably because of the novelty, probably because of the unusual appearance of that vehicle, people started to spread the word. This is how also other engine lovers stared building their own karts along the lines of Ingels’ one. And the first tracks were built too. Therefore, the ingredients to give life to what we call karting were all ready. Ingels didn’t stop at that first specimen and founded Caretta, a real company that produced karts and became a major player in the early days of this motorsport category, despite never managing to win a world championship or any other important international title. But regardless of what might have been the commercial and sporting success of Caretta, one thing was certain: karting was born and it also became extremely popular in the USA, after having written the first pages of its story like this, with some luck. Because if those 10.000 McCulloch engines hadn’t been affected by that technical problem, maybe today we wouldn’t be here writing about this sport…
Above, the first go-kart in history, built by Art Ingels (below, on his kart) with a West Bend lawn mower engine produced by the McCulloch company.
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