On a recent trip to Europe, I was invited by a group of Luxembourgish and German friends to race go-karts. Unaware of how competitive and risky the activity would be, I agreed and joined them at the Action & Fun Karting Center in Belgium.
It was terrifying.
And while I’m sure there are similar go-kart tracks in America, it’s hard to imagine they are as popular or intense as the ones in Europe — and anyway, this was my first time.
This is the only indoor go-kart racetrack in Belgium. The temperatures inside were a chilly 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dining tables, video games, a bowling alley, a mechanical bull riding machine, pool tables, 3-D movie theatre, and a bar overlook the track.
Here is my receipt showing which cart I was assigned and my race name, New Yorker. A half hour session was a steep 55 euros or about $US75.
All racers are expected to wear full facial coverage helmets. Some participants brought items to support their backs and wrists.
We hear a 15 minute briefing on track rules in German. To make sure I understood everything correctly, I was pulled aside for another lecture in English.
The go-karts were from Honda and weighed about 300 pounds. There was no seatbelt or padded back protection. One foot rested on the brake and the other foot was on the gas pedal since there was no legroom.
Each go-kart costs about 4,000 euros. I was told that racers who drove recklessly were either banned from the track or forced to pay damages on the kart.
Similar to starting a push mower, an attendant powers my kart. I'm about to give my first try at go-karting in Europe and my plan was to stay out of everyone's way.
Before starting, we were reminded the most common injuries are broken ribs and wrists and that we were not insured. I decide to not join the smack talk before we race.
There is giant screen at the beginning of the track showing lap times and racer positions. There was also a screen in the middle of my steering wheel that displayed my results after each completed lap -- I didn't realise this until after the race.
The track is extremely curvy and I can't get over how fast the other 16 drivers are going. Each kart can reach a top speed of about 50 miles per hour.
Here is the widest part of the track, enough space for three karts to pass each other. I ended up crashing into another kart while trying to take these pictures.
After I crashed my kart into another driver, I was not allowed to continue driving. I was basically a sitting duck until an attendant came over to realign my kart and display an official public warning -- waving a large black flag at me.
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