Go Kart Club of America - Vintage Karts In Competition
The Heroes Of This Hobby Are Still Racing Old-Time Karts
From the February, 2009 issue of Rod & Custom
By Tim Bernsau
Photography by The Rod & Custom Archives, Tim Bernsau, Tom Medley
Karting quickly spread from...
Karting quickly spread from California to the rest of the country. The same year the big event in Azusa was held, R&C covered another GKCA race in Alton, IL.
Turn back the hands of time. The year was 1956 and Art Ingels was an employee of Kurtis Craft Company, Frank Kurtis' race car-building operation in Glendale, California. In his spare time, Ingels welded together a few steel tubes, added four wheels, and a small surplus two-cycle West Bend engine, and what would soon become known as a "go-kart" was born.
It wasn't long before a few others noticed what Ingels had put together, and decided to build similar racers of their own. Within a few short months, this group, which included Duffy Livingstone, started meeting at the Rose Bowl parking lot in Pasadena to run their new machines. The group quickly grew as more and more people became aware of the action taking place at the Rose Bowl. Among them were Tom Medley from Hot Rod magazine, Lynn Wineland from Rod & Custom, and Spence Murray, R&C's first editor.
When Livingstone and his business partners, Bill Rowles and Roy Desbrow, began manufacturing karts commercially, he commissioned Wineland to help design some promotional literature. Wineland also contributed suggestions for what to call the new little racers. They settled on Go-Kart.
Faye's late husband, Tom Pierson...
Faye's late husband, Tom Pierson (in the snappy straw), and Duffy Livingstone helped get her back into the race after replacing a broken chain.
Back at the Rose Bowl, nearby residents began to complain about the noise, and the Sunday racers were asked to take their fun elsewhere. The now large group relocated to the parking lot at the Eastland Shopping Center in West Covina. This location has come to be known as "the birthplace of organized karting." It was here that the first karting club, the Go Kart Club of America (GKCA), was formed in 1957. The location was perfect except for traffic jams on the adjacent San Bernardino Freeway (U.S. Interstate 10) caused by drivers slowing down or stopping in order to get a better view of the little buzz bombs racing around the parking lot. The resulting accidents led to the demise of go-kart racing at the Eastland Shopping Center.
By now, one thing was certain: Karting was here to stay. Any enthusiast could build a kart cheaply and quickly. There was no need for a trailer since a kart fit into the trunk of most typical '50s automobiles, and any paved surface free of obstacles could be turned into a racetrack. At Petersen Publishing in Hollywood, staffers from R&C, Hot Rod, and Car Craft turned the office parking lot into a raceway, and their interest helped spread the kart craze from coast to coast in just a short year.
R&C's editorial involvement began with the Nov. '57 issue, in an article entitled, "Putting Wheels Under the Peasants," but it was the July '58 issue that really ramped up the coverage. By the time Wineland was promoted into the editor's chair, the magazine had become, in his words, "the unofficial handbook of the karting sport." The Go Kart Manufacturing ad on the back cover every month was as familiar to many readers as the Rod & Custom logo on the front. The pages in between were full of promotions for the Bug, the Wee Bird, the Ingels-Borelli Caretta, the Reed Engineering Cool Cart, the Hellcat, the Dart Kart, the Bates Kart (with "built-in fun"), the Hovey Hawk, the Acer Racer, the Century Speed Kart, the Rocket Kart, the Swoopster, the Go-Boy Cart, the Pixie, the Bantam Kart, the Gopher, the Caper Cart, the Simplex Challenger, the Putt-Nik, the Scat Cat, the Cad Cart, and many others. There were some months during the late 1950s when entire issues were devoted to karting. The karters loved it, but many longtime readers wondered what happened to the rods and customs. In 1960, Petersen launched Karts specifically dedicated to the hobby.
R&C's Nov. '59 issue featured...
R&C's Nov. '59 issue featured the action from the first GKCA Nationals in Azusa, CA. That's Faye Pierson (Second Place finisher in A Class) in the pole position, with Dick Conners on the outside pole to her right, and A Class winner Jimmy Yamane behind her. All three were on hand at the VKA Reunion in Riverside, CA, almost 50 years later.
In 1959, Livingstone and Go Kart Manufacturing built the first track dedicated exclusively to karting. The Go Kart Raceway in Azusa, California, was the site of the GKCA's first National Championship that July, covered by R&C in its November issue.
The following year, Frank and Mary Adams opened a track on their farm, located on the eastern edge of Riverside. Tom Medley and Randy Holt, both of whom worked at Petersen, made the trek to Riverside every Saturday night (along with many other enthusiasts) to race under the lights.
The Go Kart Raceway has long since disappeared, but the Adams Kart Track continues to this day, still owned and operated by the Adams family (it hasn't hurt that there were 11 offspring and dozens of nieces and nephews to keep it rolling). The 48-year-old facility has expanded and evolved, and continues to be the venue of choice for many major events.
Karts, likewise, have evolved into more sophisticated machinery, but it's the simple vintage karts that still have the most appeal for many veterans of the earliest days. The GKCA still exists as the International Karting Federation, and the trophy awarded at IKF Grand National events is called a Duffy, in honor of Duffy Livingstone. In 2001, the Vintage Karting Association (www.vintagepowersport.com/vka) was established to promote karts originally manufactured between 1956 and 1975. Today, the VKA has nearly 200 members.
Reset those hands of time to February of last year, when the VKA's 3rd annual Reunion/Race/Show, held at the Adams Kart Track, drew racers from every part of the country. The list of event organizers and participants reads like a who's who of karting, including Livingstone, Sets Kanamoto, and Dick Conners from the original 1959 Go Kart team, plus Faye "Ladybug" Pierson from the original Bug Team, and Jimmy Yamane, Dick Geer, Wendell Shipman, and other legends from the early days. Of course, Tom Medley (formerly with the Hot Rod and Rod & Custom teams) was there as the VKA's official photographer, with Randy Holt on hand to race and wrench. The passion and forever-young attitude of these legends continues to attract people of all ages to the vintage kart movement today.
Almost 50 years later, everybody...
Almost 50 years later, everybody from old-timers to youngsters showed up to race vintage karts at the VKA Reunion at Adams Kart Track.
This is part of the action...
This is part of the action from the first Go Kart Club of America (GKCA) Nationals, held at Go Kart Raceway in Azusa, CA, in 1959.
Tom Medley and Randy Holt...
Tom Medley and Randy Holt teamed up again to create these handmade trophies for the VKA Reunion. In addition to his contributions to karting, Tom Medley is well-known for the "Stroker McGurk" cartoons that appeared regularly in Hot Rod, and these awards feature a distinctive Stroker-like character.
Bill Turnbeaugh was one of...
Bill Turnbeaugh was one of the competitors at the GKCA race in Alton, Illinois, covered by R&C 49 years ago. His kart features kill buttons on the steering wheel.
Not every vintage kart racer...
Not every vintage kart racer is an old-timer. Fourteen-year-old Michael Thorin competed in a '72 Dart at the VKA Reunion. His father, Tom, is president of the VKA. George Friend, age 13, is the grandson of Randy Holt, and raced a '60s-era Faller kart at Adams.
Ernie Fisher was the leaping...
Ernie Fisher was the leaping flagman at the VKA Reunion. Ernie's been in karting since the early 1960s and can still start a race with style. His involvement extends to collecting and restoring vintage karts.
Tom Medley has been involved...
Tom Medley has been involved with karting since the Rose Bowl days, and remains involved today. For decades, he raced with Randy Holt, including at this race at the Hacienda Hotel in Las Vegas in the late 1960s.
This is a reproduction of...
This is a reproduction of a '66 GP Muffler Sprint Kart by Duffy Livingstone, with a sidewinder Komet K-77 engine.
Nowadays, Faye is still very...
Nowadays, Faye is still very active-and very competitive-in vintage karting, as you can see. Here, at the VKA event at Adams, she's racing a sidewinder Bug Stinger, a replica of her original 41 cart.
Back then, as now, there were...
Back then, as now, there were advantages to a body-less, featherweight race car that could be lifted with one hand.
Two of the greatest living...
Two of the greatest living legends in karting have raced together for years and are still making the rounds. Duffy Livingstone (left) was one of the founders of the Go Kart Manufacturing Co. more than 50 years ago, and Dick Connors was one of the top kart drivers on the Go Kart team.
This Apache warrior from 1960,...
This Apache warrior from 1960, built by Precision Engineering, runs dual 5.3ci McCulloch super 55A chainsaw motors.
The first owner of this Bug...
The first owner of this Bug Wasp-with a Clinton Panther engine-got it as a Christmas present in 1960. It remains completely original and unrestored. It's now owned by the Tremper family
The mid-'60s Bug Sprint was...
The mid-'60s Bug Sprint was a common sight on kart tracks. A pair of Komet K-99 135cc engines powers this one.