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HomeLifestyleMotorsportsRace Into An Adventure at East Lansing Kart Track

Race Into An Adventure at East Lansing Kart Track

Where Do Racing Drivers Come From?

I’m certain that this question has crossed your mind at some point – whether you’re passively watching NASCAR, Indy, or any of the various forms of Motorsports around the world. These events range from single drivers participating in the Hillclimb events to the massive 62-car fields at Le Mans, requiring a minimum of three drivers to shoulder the burden of 24 hours of continuous driving.

With thousands of professional racing drivers in the world, surely, they couldn’t have all just arrived at the pinnacle of their sport out of the blue with fully developed skills. Even if they must train and go through junior divisions, don’t athletes usually do that in high school or college? As cool as it would be, there isn’t a dedicated racing team for every high school in the US. In fact, the path to professional car racing is about as unorthodox as it gets.

Nestled into the quiet Lansing suburb of Bath, East Lansing Kart Track (ELKT) has been one thread in the rich national tapestry of independently owned racing facilities that has fostered generations of racing drivers. Built in 1961 and later purchased by the Haun family in 1973, the 0.45-mile outdoor track plays host to the sport of Go Kart-racing, basically the little leagues of car racing.

From April to October, ELKT hosts bi-weekly club races (with open practices on off-weeks) that draws karters from across the state. Classes are divided by age, weight, and engine with competitors ranging from 4 years old to 60+.

How we drive differs greatly depending on which engine we strap under our right arm, but the competitive go-kart base doesn’t differ greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. An aluminum tube frame chassis just barely big enough to squeeze and adult sized driver, engine, and gas tank with some plastic bodywork for safety and style. While unassuming on the surface, these are highly tunable and modular platforms capable of blinding speed and cornering forces.

At a club track like ELKT, attendees vary massively. Often on the same grid you have young up-and-coming talents with professional setups that tour the country, scrappy teenagers with karts held together with bailing wire and prayers, and old timers who come out of the weekends to reminisce and have a good time.

It’s very strange for a former aspiring professional swimmer to change to this atmosphere. In traditional sports, there are formalized systems and institutions dedicated to athlete development. It’s so normalized, expected, integrated into the experience of simply growing up. I mean, how many of you reading right didn’t play a sport of some kind in your youth? I’m almost certain the thought crossed your mind while on the pitch or field of going pro, and it’s a path you can easily visualize. You join your school team, follow that through college, and then if you’re good and lucky enough to get drafted – bam, you’re pro. It’s systematized to the point of resembling a factory assembly line.

In motorsports, there is an anarchism I have a hard time finding anywhere else. NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula 1 are global sports that have collective viewership in the tens of millions and are worth billions of dollars, and their drivers are brought up here? At a small, family-owned ribbon of asphalt sandwiched between a subdivision and golf course, the likes of which is emulated by a vast majority of the two hundred some-odd kart tracks across the US?

Sure, there are travelling national championships that visit four to five tracks in a season, but even then the national landscape is so separate. The WKA, NKA, AKRA, TAGUSA, SKUSA, IKF are all national bodies that organize Cup Karts, the Ohio Sprint Series, the Texas Sprint Series, Route 66, California ProKart Challenge, and many, many more. It is unadulterated chaos.

And yet, as ugly as it is to look at sometimes, I can’t help but find it beautiful. Just under the surface, there is a whole sporting world invisible to the average viewer. Made up of professional karting teams, families with deep pockets, or just starry-eyed kids trying to make an ill-fitting chassis work. There are thousands of us, each one with our own East Lansing who helped us get started. That gave us a safe environment and friendly people to learn the ins and outs of this unorthodox and confusing sport and will give us a place to do the same for the next generation when we ourselves are old timers just looking to have a good time and reminisce.  

Watch Taran Race at East Lansing Kart Track.

Taran Damalcheruvu
Taran Damalcheruvu
The checkered flag symbolizes our unique pursuits, driving us forward and pushing our limits. "Anyone Can Cook" embodies this pursuit, offering a path to surpass others regardless of sport, profession, or lifestyle. Dedication and sacrifice are key. At 18, Taran is a multifaceted individual with impressive accomplishments. He excels as a podcaster, writer, designer, go-kart racer, and more. With a passion for history and sociology, he fearlessly pursues his dream of becoming a professional race car driver. Taran contributes to LIVE. LOVE. LOCAL. MICHIGAN™ in various roles in both the backend and as a writer. Follow his racing journey on his social media channels.
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