While the United States is unquestionably the center of the drag racing universe, where competition at all levels is abundant and much of the technology in use around the world is cultivated, it is in England where ingenuity— or rather, hot rodding at its wild and crazy core — reigns.
This is the European nation that has provided us the world’s fastest dinner table, the world’s fastest coin-operated child’s ride, rocket-powered motorcycles, and the world’s fastest combine. And it’s also where you’ll find some deadly-serious go-karts designed specifically for going fast in a straight lane.
An organized group of brave racers from Europe compete at venues such as Santa Pod, Silverstone, and Rockingham around the United Kingdom behind the wheel of high-powered karts that are a far stretch from your first set of wheels on the farm. These purpose-built karts feature extended wheelbases, not only to fit an adult driver and the engine and drivetrain, but to provide some degree of stability at upwards of 140 mph.
The engines of choice are inline four-cylinder motorcycle powerplants — most of them carbureted with nitrous oxide added for a little extra oomph. At least one kart, owned and piloted by Scott Cooper, actually sports a roots-style supercharger and nitrous oxide, making it one of the quickest and fastest karts of its kind. The record is in the 9.0s and they’re currently locked in a battle among the higher-powered karts to get into the eights. The quickest machines are utilizing what are essentially junior dragster rear slicks (one has even gone with dual rear axles akin to the unique Formula 1 cars of the 1970s), with a clutch and manually-shifted transmission much like you’d find on the motorcycle that the engines were poached from.
With one’s derriere just an inch or two off the pavement and the wheelbase a little longer than a grocery cart, this has got to be one hell of a ride.
Now, we’re not ones to ruin a good time — it’s lawyers and insurance companies in the United States that have ruined things enough by striking down questionable means of high-powered creativity like this — but we’d be remiss if we didn’t note the lack of a suitable roll cage on these karts. Add to that the drivers are strapped in — not free to separate if need be like a motorcycle — and you’ve got a recipe for a bad outcome if one gets away from the driver.
But hey, it was fast and fun first and safety second that made drag racing what it was in the early days, so cheers to these brave and creative gentlemen for entertaining us all!