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October 4, 2009

News & Features

Go-karts grow up: Kent's new racetrack lets racers satisfy their need for speed

Special to NWautos

Pacific Grand Prix

Zach McIntosh drives his kart though one of the 14 turns at the Pacific Grand Prix karting track. (Jeff Layton)

Zach McIntosh, 14, and Krystian Portmann, 13, of Maple Valley, are typical of teenage adrenaline junkies.

Both eagerly brag about bicycle accidents and broken bones. They love things that go fast. But since neither is old enough for a driver's license, they are years away from racing most vehicles.

That's why a recent Saturday afternoon found them suiting up at Pacific Grand Prix (PGP) at Pacific Raceways, anxious to test out Kent's newest outdoor karting track.

Go-karts may conjure images of amusement rides at the county fair, but rental karts at PGP -- which has been operating since June -- are fun and fast, hitting speeds of 42 mph on the 0.8-mile course.

The track's 14 off-cumber and banked turns make it challenging for veterans and novices alike. In fact, most Indy Car drivers begin their racing careers in go-karts, says Joe Kitterman, a semi-pro kart racer from Portland, Ore. "The speeds, cornering loads and lateral G's are comparable to Indy Cars," he says.

About the track
  • Racing sessions at Pacific Grand Prix cost $25 and last 15 minutes.
  • The track is open Wednesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Drivers must be at least 12 years old and at least 4 feet 10 inches tall to drive a kart. Shoes and helmets are required.
Other area tracks

PGP's open-air karts are powered by four-stroke, 9.5-horsepower Honda engines and fitted with tiny racing slicks. The low center of gravity and wide design translates into sticky, gut-wrenching turns.

The steering is tight and responsive, as I found on a test drive when I nearly crashed into two racers who had tangled on a hairpin turn.

When I stomped on the brake and turned sharply, my cart spun a neat 180 degrees, stopping short of the pileup. The experience felt like driving a stunt car.

After a few laps, I learned how to hit the corners and accelerate into the next bends. However, the experienced drivers passed me with ease on most of the course, and I spent much of the race playing catch-up. I followed them as long as I could, which improved my speed and aggressiveness.

While bumping and spinouts happen occasionally, the karts are nearly impossible to roll. The track hasn't seen any serious accidents, according to General Manager Tim Musch.

"They're doing everything they can to keep it safe," says Charity Gustine, who brought Zach and Krystian to race at PGP. "I'd rather have (the boys) here than street racing."

Track owner Paul Zalud plans to keep the course open year-round. He says rain adds excitement to karting: "Drivers love to run in the rain, as it allows you to drift the karts a lot easier."

Zalud says the wide age range of participants makes for interesting match-ups. "There is an advantage for mature drivers; smooth, calm and consistent is typically the fastest way around the track. However, the young ones have the stamina."

Race statistics are recorded on-site, so customers can track their improvement and compare their times with fellow racers. PGP hopes to install lighting for night races, and it is planning several endurance races for this year.

After their race, Zach and Krystian beamed with joy. Within minutes, they were begging for a chance to drive again.

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