By David Knopf, News Editor
It’s a hot early-summer day, but Dale Carter’s wearing a fire-retardant red jumpsuit, black gloves, a full protective helmet and a neck wrap.
With his light complexion, he’s beet red even before sliding into his wife’s No. 14 car for a practice run at the KC Karting Association track in Liberty.
The protective gear is uncomfortable, but Carter won’t have time to think about how hot he is as he buzzes through a series of turns at 60 mph, just a few inches off the ground.
His interest in karting started when he and his wife Betty got curious about the track, identified only by a sign near the intersection of H and B highways near William Jewell College.
“Me and my wife were driving around Liberty and saw that they have kart races,” says Carter, a pressman for a printing company. “They (Car Car Motorsports) let me drive one of their karts and I was hooked.”
Carter bought a used kart and became a KC Karting Association member, which gave him track access to practice.
“When I bought my kart, I wanted to get used to it and the track so I started the next year,” says Carter, who lived in Orrick for 20 years after moving from Illinois.
The settling-in period paid off with two consecutive titles in the competitive TaG Seniors division for single-speed karts. With the right tuning and gearing – and on a track with longer straightaways – Carter has been told that his 28-horsepower IMA 125 engine could turn 110 mph.
Carter said that KCKA President Mike Parker led a drive this year to expand the paved, curvy Liberty track. But it’s neither long enough nor straight enough to turn those speeds.
Carter’s own No. 24 kart – named to honor Jeff Gordon, his favorite NASCAR driver – isn’t as pretty as his wife’s, but it’s just as fast.
High point man in his division the past two years, Carter’s competition is catching up and he doesn’t think he’ll win a third title this year.
But he’s having as much fun as ever and taking it just as seriously.
“That’s how most of the NASCAR guys got started,” he says.
Compared to other motorsports, karting is reasonably affordable. Betty Carter’s Parolin Wildkart, purchased new for $6,400, was virtually ready for the track when she got it.
And many of the more serious drivers find sponsors to help defray the cost, as Carter did with Andy Charlson.
“Most of the karts you can buy are race-ready,” Dale says. “All you’ve got to do is put fuel in it, start it and go.”
Betty, a photographer at the track, isn’t quite ready for the high-speed, wheel-to-wheel competition. There’s a risk, as her husband knows from personal experience.
As a rookie, he says he failed to raise his arm to signal that he planned to exit into the pits. The driver behind him couldn’t slow down and they collided.
“She went end-over-end into the grass area and all she did was break a toe,” Carter says. But the woman’s kart was destroyed.
“I’ve been hit and knocked off the track and such,” says Carter, protected a bit by side bumpers, his helmet and fire-resistant, padded jumpsuit, “(and) broken a sprocket, thrown a chain and stuff.”
For now, he’s letting Betty ease into a sport where the high-revving cars travel in tight packs, slide through turns and occasionally bump or experience equipment failure.
“I’m trying to (have her race), but I don’t want to have her out there with other karts and cause an accident,” he says.
Betty’s bright red, white, silver and yellow racer carries the No. 14, a tip of the hat to NASCAR racer Tony Stewart, her favorite.
Her husband says newcomers who are curious about karting can follow his example. “Come out there and watch,” he says. “Look at the speed, the karts, ask questions.”
Then drive one.
You can learn more about KCKA at the organization’s Web site, www.kckarting.com. The next race, one of 13 this season, is June 10.
Members pay $95 to join KCKA, which gives them access to the track for practice but also obligates them to pitch in on track- maintenance days. Members can opt to pay $150 a year, which frees them from the work days, Carter says.