CAMDEN — Go-kart racing is more than just a casual summer recreation for kids. It is a sport encompassing the same level of competitiveness as any other. At the G&J Kartway in Camden, one can watch or even participate in kart racing.
Kart racing is a family affair. Parents and children get involved in the pastime with a passion. Drivers from ages four and up participate in kart racing and the sport creates a special bond and system of family support that few other sports witness. Though a “team” of kart racers may not make much money in winning, the activity in itself is rewarding enough for everyone involved.
There are different racing classes based on age, engine type, and skill level. Some notable classes are the Kid Kart of ages 5 to 8, the Yamaha Super-Can of ages 15 and up, the Senior Briggs 4-cycle, and many others. A typical full day of racing on a Sunday in Camden starts with the gates opening at roughly 10 a.m., the drivers meeting at 11:30 a.m., and the races beginning at noon. Races are usually all finished by 6 p.m. or so. Races are also held on Saturdays at the Camden kartway.
Each racing class can have as many as 15 karts on the track and race for about eight laps per heat.
The G&J Kartway is deeply involved with the Ohio Valley Karting Association. The OVKA is a local kart racing club that has been around for a very long time. Made up entirely of families, they help run the events for fun and promote safety. A season of racing starts in early February with a swap meet and driving orientations in April. The first race begins in April and runs almost every weekend until the annual charity race in October. All but three of the races are held at the G&J Kartway.
The OVKA and the G&J Kartway are all part of the World Karting Association. The WKA regulates all of the kart classes and sponsors worldwide racing circuits. The OVKA is allowed to operate with their own regulations handed down by the OVKA Board of Directors. Well over 200 members are a part of of the OVKA.
“The track started for me in 1958 when it was a dirt track. It’s grown since then — we put black top down and have been able to host many national races over the years,” said G&J owner Gary Gregg. “This is stepping stone for racers to go up the ladder professionally. We’ve had Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, sven-time Grand National Cycle Champion Scott Parker, Bobby Rahal — and so many others have started here and have become successful in their professional careers.
“This is a family sport, and it’s more affordable than most,” Gregg said. “In racing, the biggest challenge is to beat your competitors, everyone likes to win but you can only have one winner. There is a lot of travel involved, there are tracks everywhere. The future in this area is very strong. In addition to us, we have a track in New Castle Indiana which is right off of I-70, there’s the one in Circleville, and many many dirt tracks in northern Ohio, Beaver Run Pennsylvania.
“It’s kinda like the NASCAR and Indy cars,” Gregg added. “Dirts and four cycles are more prevalent in the south while up here is the two cycles.”
The late Bill Gregg, Gary’s father, built the track for his family and local karters as a fun track until 1964, when it was opened for competitive sport for the OVKA.
One particular racing family “team” is headed up by Ebon Smith, who is part of the Spirit for Racing and runs with his daughter Ebony.
“Four years ago, my daughter and I started racing as just father and daughter. She is now 11 years old,” Ebon said. “Last year, several gentlemen approached me about Spirit for Racing, a program that teaches science, engineering, technology, arts and math to kids through the sport of racing. We have a good time out here.”
Ebony Smith, Ebon’s daughter spoke before her heat races: “Four seasons ago, my dad’s friend asked me if I wanted to race and he agreed. Ever since then I started racing. My first time racing, it was just my dad. I love doing this.”
Josh Wager is in charge of OVKA.
“G&J Kartway is 54 years old. We’ve been racing karts here since the beginning,” Wager said. He noted, there are 10 different classes in kart racing and a driver can start as young as 5-years-old and can keep racing until they decide they are too old to race.
“Some are as old as 70,” Wager said. “Great place to bring the kids and have a lot of fun. We feature all types of motors and kart classes, most of the them will drive for three heats and whomever wins the final heat wins the class today. Two or four-cycle motors are what most of the heats are featured on. The younger kids run right around 30 mph, while the older drivers easily hit 70 mph. We race for points, trophies and jackets. If you win the championship in your class, you earn the most expensive jacket you may ever get.
“We run a 14-race point schedule for the season, and at the end of the season, we have a big banquet and it’s a good time,” Wager added. “This is our main track — we have 11 of the 14 events here. We have nine different configurations here so every race is a little different.”
The next OVKA race will take place July 9-10 at the G&J Kartway — it’s the OVKA Memorial Championship race in memory of those who were active in kartway racing, including Carson Bogan and #14 racer Orie Cohen. Qualifying races begin on Saturday, and the finals are held on Sunday.
Information about participation in local kart racing can be found on the OVKA website www.ovka.com. Schedules and other racing information is located at the G&J Kartway website at www.gandjkartway.com.
Reach Oliver Sanders at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @osanders_RH