THE NEED FOR SPEED
The Joys of Enduro Racing
By John Copeland
Have you ever watched your favorite racing heros on TV and wondered what it would be like to be in their place? Wouldn't it be great to hammer down the backstretch at Mid-Ohio like Michael Andretti or draft on the oval at Rockingham like Dale Jarrett? Karters who have tried their hand at enduro racing know first hand what it's like to race on the same tracks as their heros, and to experience the high speed thrills that nothing else in karting can match. When karting began in the 50's in California, Art Engles and his buddies were content to rip around, first in area parking lots, and later on the first purpose-built kart tracks. As interest in karting grew and more and more people discovered the low-cost excitement, it was inevitable that somebody would sneak their kart onto a sports car track to see how fast it would go. Not long after, sprint karts with hastily added extra fuel tanks ran the first enduro race.
Somehow, over the years, enduro racing and sprint racing drifted apart and participants chose one or the other. Only a few ran both types of tracks. Most karters who wanted to try big-track racing would get rid of their sprinters and buy lay-down karts and never go back. The development of dirt racing added an important new dimension to the karting scene, but many dirt track karters felt even less kinship to enduro racers than their pavement racing cousins. Unfortunately, most short-track karters today, be they pavement or dirt racers, have never even been to an enduro race. But in today's karting, it's no longer a matter of choosing one style of racing over another. More and more successful enduro organizers have actively solicited sprint karters to join them by including plenty of classes just for them.
There are lots of things about enduro racing that make it very different from short-track asphalt and dirt racing. That's not to say its necessarily better or worse than it's short track counterparts, just different. For openers, enduro events are most usually 2 or 3 day events, at least here in the Midwest. Its a lot like going to the Sprint Nationals or Kartfest, or other multi-day events. Usually there is a Friday practice day with alternating sessions of situps and laydowns, generally about 20 minutes of each, with a few minutes in between to pick up those stranded out around the course. Saturdays and Sundays also feature a couple of hours of alternating practice sessions before the racing begins. Some racers come for all 3 days, some just for Saturday and Sunday, and some just for 1 day. That's quite a contrast to the Saturday night at the dirt track or Sunday afternoon at the sprint track, and it has it's pro and cons. On the plus side, it's hard to match the amount of track time you'll get at a typical enduro weekend. You can usually log more on-track hours on a single Friday practice day than you'll get in half a season of short-tracking. When was the last time you really felt like you had all the practice time you needed?
And, for as fast as the on-track action is, life in the pits is much more leisurely than at the sprint track or the dirt track. With longer practice sessions, longer races, and a whole weekend to spend, there just isn't any need, usually, to wildly rush around. Of course, when you grenade a motor in the last practice session on Saturday and you're supposed to be in the 1st race of the day, well that's different. Generally, there's time to be more sociable with your fellow karters. When the day's events are over, there's time to clean up you equipment, get ready for the next day, and enjoy a cold one with your neighbors. Since you'll be back the next day, there's no need to pack up and rush home.
On the down side, 3 day events mean motel bills, eating out, and, of course, traveling expenses. In part, that's why most enduro racers don't race every weekend. Most enduro series' schedules allow a week or 2 between events. That allows a little more time for the wallet to heal up, and doesn't put as much strain on the home life.
But the real essence of enduro racing that sets it apart from short-tracking is the on-track experience. There's nothing else in karting like it! Until you've streamed down the backstretch at Road America at 100+ MPH, or ripped down off the oval at Daytona, you've missed one of the greatest thrills in motorsports. And the extended length of enduro events (usually 45 minutes for laydowns and 30 minutes for sit-ups) means that you get plenty of time to enjoy the sensations of high speed. Because most enduro events include lots of classes, (sometimes as many as 40!) it's
common to run several classes at once, sort of races within a race. Even so, karts can get pretty spread out on a big track. More karts mean more people to race with, but sometimes enduro racers find themselves running without any close competition. Even then, the thrills of high-speed driving are well worth it. But that brings up an interesting point. Some short-track racers have dismissed enduro racing because they don't think there's enough wheel to wheel action. There is some truth to that. Because of the higher speeds, and the correspondingly higher risks involved in kart-to-kart contact, enduro racers tend to be a little more reluctant to "rub fenders" than what you might find at an average dirt track. But that doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of close racing. This is particularly true in the classes for sit-up karts and the laydowns with can mufflers. These racers tend to run in packs of half a dozen or more, often separated only by inches, at speeds of 80 to 90 MPH. Drafting displays worthy of the best NASCAR has to offer are the norm in these classes, and "nudging", though discouraged, is not uncommon.
As I mentioned before, there has not always been much comradery between enduro racers and short-track enthusiasts. Sprinters and dirt racers have sometimes felt that enduro karters looked down their noses at them. An IKF publication from the 70's referred to enduro racing as the "Formula 1 of karting" where "only the elite" in karting competed. Unfortunately some enduro racers took this compliment a little too seriously. When clubs and organizers invited sprinters to come and run in classes of their own, some shortsighted enduro racers resented it and did not welcome these newcomers.
But how times have changed! Faced with increasing costs to stage these events, and needing to spread those costs over the greatest number of competitors to keep entry fees affordable, successful enduro organizations have make great efforts to encourage sit-up karters to participate. At many enduro events, there are as many classes for traditional sprint karts as there are for the laydowns. And these classes are providing some of the tightest, most competitive racing of the weekend. The aerodynamic limitations of these upright frames tend to minimize any horsepower advantages and the result is lap after lap, mile after mile, of super-close competition.
Most thoughtful enduro racers have recognized the important part that these "sprint-enduro" racers play in the continued survival of long-track racing, and have welcomed them with open arms. Some have even abandoned their laydown karts to race in the sit-up classes. Quite a change from the early days.
Even with the influx of sit-up racers, it's no secret that enduro racing is not growing as fast as other forms of karting. With all the unique experiences it has to offer, why do you suppose that is? I suspect that it's because nobody has ever invited most short-track racers to sample what enduro racing is all about. I'm not suggesting that every sprint track pilot, or bullring ace, will abandon their home track for the wonders of enduro karting. But no karter should consider his racing experience complete if he hasn't at least given long-track racing a try. So, if you spend Saturday night at dueling on the dirt, or Saturday or Sunday afternoon dicing it up at the sprint track, take a minute and look in the front of this issue of NKN at the schedule of events for road races in your area. Or check with the local kart shop about where and when the closest enduro event will be held. Chances are there's one within reasonable driving distance. Then go check it out. If you're an enduro racer now, you probably know some sprinters or dirt racers who have never been to one of your events. Why not ask them to come next time. Help them understand that there are plenty of classes for them to run their karts, and help them figure out the necessary gearing, etc.
You know it's strange. Karters are among the most passionate enthusiasts in motorsports. We can't wait to tell our friends, our co-workers, or anybody who'll listen, how great kart racing is. Yet many enduro racers, faced with a potential crisis in participation, overlook the most logical source for new competitors, other karters. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that enduro racing can, or should, ever replace short-track karting. But it is an important part of the sport. And like the rest of karting, it needs to continually solicit new participants, to renew it's unique place in the American motorsports scene.
In the months ahead I'll be looking at various aspects of enduro racing, from gearing, to aerodynamics, to tires. I'll try to give you a look at this important aspect of the karting picture through the eyes of a new participant. And, hopefully, you'll give me some other ideas about what you might want to read about on the subject of "flying on the ground". See you next month.