BETTER GO-KART TRACK GEOMETRICS – MORE FUN – MORE PROFITS

Peter F. Olesen

Today’s Go-kart riders have much higher expectations in terms of suitable go-kart driving experiences. This is a result of many of the newer facilities around the country offering improved track designs which have whetted the karting public’s expectations for more entertaining and exciting driving experiences.

Who wouldn’t want to make more money with go-karts? For most facilities go-karts are a major element in attracting guests that stay and also spend money on the other attractions. The reasons are simple; go-karts provide an outlet for individual performance as well as an entertaining experience as part of a group. For younger drivers go-karts are the first experience they will have driving a motorized vehicle at speed (most have their first driving experiences on tri-cycles and Power Wheel cars on their driveways) on a controlled course. They learn steering braking turning and judgment skills that will serve them in later life. Older drivers may gain some experience, but for most it is the ability to drive in a more entertaining environment at speeds that do not put them in harm’s way.

Most go-kart track designs are boring. Many designers seek to create interest with bridges and elevated, multi-level tracks, colorful barrier systems and related elements. All of these elements generate higher construction costs without creating a truly entertaining driving experience for the guest. Ride experiences are still boring after the first few times. While this can work well for facilities located in tourism areas, where repeat visits over long periods of time are not a requirement, it certainly won’t be as successful in typical markets.

For the vast majority of FECs it is of prime importance to generate repeat ridership. Without the ability to generate a high rate of return business, most facilities will fail. Visual gimmicks do not create excitement.

Becoming Entertaining and Exciting:
More enjoyment and exciting driving experiences generate higher return visits which are the foundation of a successful go-kart operation. As guests in most areas have a variety of entertainment options available to them, go-kart operators are well advised to be “the best they can be. As the difference between the majority of today’s go-karts is more cosmetic, whether for outdoor or indoor operations, the real challenge is making the track itself more entertaining and exciting. This means the physical design of the track itself must be improved.

Tracks can be made more entertaining and exciting by changing track geometrics, profile, curve banking and pavement surface. Each of these elements can result in some improvements, but a creative incorporation of all of them will have the potential of achieving the maximum in entertainment and excitement. This applies to both outdoor and indoor facilities.

Over the past 25 plus years Entertainment Concepts, Inc. (formerly Peter F. Olesen and Associates, Inc.) has been, and continues to be at the forefront of the industry in the introduction of many new , entertaining and exciting innovations in go-kart track design including:

 Reversible operations on all our track designs except high-banked ovals.
 Standardized prefabrication of barrier rail elements, including pre-rolled curve sections to improve final product while reducing construction costs.
 Use of slip-formed barrier curb & gutters to establish smoother profiles and serving as pavement forms.
 Development of new construction techniques utilizing Portland Cement Concrete Pavement with no steel reinforcing that eliminates most if not all cracking in the pavement surface.
 Integrated barrier curb/automobile tire/steel barrier system.
 First “Adult” slick road course reversible track design.
 Dual use track and pit design.
 First outdoor electric (battery powered) road course.
 Creation of “Keep Them Turning” geometric concept for road courses.
 First second floor electric (battery powered) road course with floor charging system.

Reversible Track Operation:
All our tracks, other than high banked ovals are designed to be reversible. By doing so, the owner has the option of reversing track operations during the week when business slows down. This can attract regular guests who desire a different driving experience. For many operators this concept has increased kart revenues appreciably.

Some of our clients have reversed operations every day, weekly, monthly or annually. A few have been satisfied with the initial direction and never changed.

When designing reversible tracks, we take care to create different curvature, banking and straightway lengths to provide a completely different ride experience. The geometrics are created to present a different sequence of experiences in the reverse direction. This is accomplished by changing the sequence of curves, both in banking and the total angles of the curves and the short lengths of tangent track between them. The purpose being to first of all create an illusion of speed and secondly to cause the drivers attention to be concentrated on the track ahead rather than playing demolition derby on long boring straight sections.

To provide our clients with a better finished product, we have developed more creative and effective geometric designs and construction details. Our commitment to excellence is reflected in the construction details included in every set of track plans and specifications. Details are presented in clear concise formats to permit contractors with no prior track building experience to be able to construct the track as designed.

It’s The Ride that makes a difference:
When potential guests have the opportunity to make a choice between two separate go-kart facilities almost all will choose the one that provides them with a more entertaining and exciting experience.

What makes a ride more exciting? It is a combination of having to negotiate a track with challenging driving experiences that generate a feeling of exhilaration and success. As stated above, we always look to take a more creative approach in developing entertaining and exciting track geometrics, which are the backbone of any go-kart track design. The mainstays of our track design concepts are the following:

 Make it safe and fun at the same time (safety takes precedence at all times).
 Create overall design that best benefits total site design.
 Reduce boring straight sections to their lowest lengths.
 Provide the safest barrier designs.
 Create the illusion of speed to reduce accidents and injuries.
 Make tracks reversible to generate more interest in returning on dates when the operating direction is reversed.
 Keep drivers concentrating on their driving, not looking to bump fellow drivers.
 Keep them turning as much as possible.
 Develop coordinated track geometric variations to provide challenging curve sequences.
 Utilize existing topography to introduce interesting elevation changes where practical.
 Incorporate kart control systems such as Kartrol or Kart Commander.
 Provide bright track lighting for safety.
 Avoid creating blind spots on track not visible from track supervisor position.
 Control pit area traffic to minimize the potential for injury.
 Make pit buildings serve double duty, use roll-up doors for pit lane storage.
 Include queue lines under pit canopy for shade and shower protection.
 Assist operator in obtaining audio system that repeats safety instructions.

To assure that the resulting track construction meets or exceed our clients’ expectations, our plans are based on a coordinated grid system providing horizontal and vertical coordinates and elevations that allow the track to be laid out and constructed with a minimum relative effort.

Modern Effective Track Pavement Design:
All our track designs are based on using Portland Cement Concrete (PCC) pavement. This is due to the long run economy of the pavement itself, up to 40% lower tire wear, much faster surface drainage and pavement drying, no rutting or shoving of the pavement surface in warm weather and much lower track surface temperatures. PCC pavement has a longer service life (40 years or more).

The use of plain, unreinforced Portland cement concrete pavement was proved viable more than fifty years ago for highway construction. Since we started designing go-kart tracks 25 plus years ago, all our tracks designs have used plain unreinforced concrete pavement. We include 1 ½ pounds of chopped fibermesh (fiber glass) per cubic yard of concrete to prevent surface hairline cracks during initial curing (to prevent possible future flaking of the surface), not to reinforce the pavement itself.

Our track designs are based on the use of slip-formed PCC curb and gutter whenever possible. The track profiles are established along both edges of the track and the slip-form paver follows these profiles to produce the curb and gutter forms for pouring the track pavement, resulting in a much smoother pavement profile, especially when the pavement rolls from one banked curve to the next.

The track pavement is so designed that there will be no flat surface areas that retain water. The track, if constructed as designed, will retain no rain water longer than it takes to flow on the pavement surface to the drains through the curb, which is only minutes after raining stops.

Safe Effective Track Barrier Systems:
In our professional opinion the safest and most effective track barrier system, and therefore the only one we use, is the steel plate/automobile tire/curb and gutter (or curb) system. This consists of a vertically mounted steel band bolted to a horizontally placed automobile tire in turn bolted into the vertical face of the barrier. The rail is mounted so that its bottom edge is ½ inch above the pavement. Every five feet the rail is supported by a two inch by four inch slide plate to facilitate the rail sliding easily. This system serves as an energy attenuator (shock absorbing) system which greatly reduces the impact of karts hitting them and also greatly reduces the impact on the kart drivers. We feel that this is the only fully proven safe barrier rail system.

Many track construction contractors bend their curved elements of their safety barriers by the use of manual labor, bob-cats or other means, which results in compressed or stretched tires and less attractive “at-rest” configurations. Our firm has always specified that the curved elements of the track safety barrier rails be rolled (at the steel fabricator) to correct radii to assure a clean, uniform curvature once constructed This is also a more economical method than previously used. Curved elements of the track barrier system shall be rolled to specified standardized radii by the steel fabricator preparing the rail elements.

Pit Entrance and Exit Gates:
A vast majority of the go-kart tracks in operation use pit gates consisting of either a steel band or a steel beam ( both designs generating serious impacts when karts strike them), or have no gates at all in their pit entrances/exits at all, which create potential accidents of all types unless policed carefully.

To provide greater protection at the pit entrance and exit, our firm designed a safety gate that provides the same energy attenuation as the rail system that parallels the track. It is basically a row of tires bolted front and back to a surrounding steel band having the same dimensions as the barrier rail. The gate is pinned to the concrete pavement at one end and locked into place at the other end with a pin that drops into hole in the pavement at the other end. The gate rolls from open to closed on a set of four go-kart tires.

Using this gate design greatly reduces the impact of karts hitting the gate, as well as protecting staff and guests in the pit area.

Improved Track Safety Barrier Rail Fabrication:
Go-kart pits are designed to hold one row of karts per lane separated by a raised 30 inch wide by 6 inch high raised island. Islands are protected at each end by a horizontally mounted spinner tire anchored into the pavement. The spinner tire is mounted one inch above the pavement, with an Inner tube inflated to between five and ten pounds per inch air pressure. The purpose of the spinner tire is two-fold. First it protects the end of the island, and secondly it helps re-direct karts into the pit lane.

A number of track designers and track builders have used the open pit design since the introduction of go-karting. While eliminating pit islands results in an initial cost saving, it greatly increases the potential for karts striking individuals standing in the pits. Many staff members and guests have been struck under these conditions.

Track Lengths and widths:
Track widths vary by type of track, specific state requirements, type of kart and operating speeds. Lengths are determined by available space, anticipated capacity requirements, number of karts and project budget. For track operational efficiency our recommended maximum track length is 1,200 feet for other than owner directed locations.
For today’s go-karts, a track width of 20 feet between barrier rails accommodates four karts side by side. This width also allows for one kart width by-pass clearance regardless of the position of a kart spun out on the track. This width also helps reduce the number of karts backed up in minor “pile-ups.”

Go-Kart Pits and Pit Structures:
Our pit structures are basically canopies covering the pit lanes, islands and queue lines, equipped with roll-up doors that permit karts to be left in the pits during non operating hours and off season, while being open during kart operations for greater visibility. Use of roll-up doors removes the need for separate kart storage. Kart maintenance can easily be provided in a separate prefabricated single or two car garage.

Track Security and Safety:
Track security is provided by a continuous 48 inch high chain link fence (preferably vinyl coated) or a 48 inch high child proof vertical bar (bars 4” or less on center) fence that extends the entire perimeter of the go-kart track from end of pit to end of pit. A 48 inch wide exit gate should be provided at the end of the pit platform to permit wheel chairs.

Track Illumination:
Today’s recommended lighting system is LED luminaires mounted on 30 foot light standards with an average lighting level of 16 to 20 foot candles on the track and 20 foot candles under the pit canopy. Local jurisdictions may have specific code restrictions reducing pole heights and levels of illumination.

Specific track Configurations:
There are a number of different track concepts that address specific segments of the total potential target market. In most instances a family oriented road course track addresses the largest market segment and would be the first one to be constructed.

For some facilities, the addition of a rookie track will be a profitable step. This involves the addition of rookie karts with lower driver height restrictions to accommodate the large number of younger potential drivers that are too short to drive the conventional go-karts used on the family track.

One concept modification that allows some leeway in age restrictions without building a “rookie” track is providing additional pit lanes in the pit configuration to hold a set of rookie karts. This could enable operating “rookie” cars during the daytime when the demand for adult karts is far less. Do not operate a mixture of ”rookie” and adult karts at the same time. The speed differential between the two types is a definite safety hazard.

“Adult” Slick Road Course:
Adding an “Adult” slick road course can be viable in larger markets. It is definitely a skilled driver’s track. This concept includes a smoother track surface, very tight, lower radii curves with minimum cross slope and polyurethane coated curves to generate a feeling of driving on “black ice.” Many operators use shuffleboard or similar wax to further increase karts sliding through the curves.

To maximize the slick track experience we specify go-karts with “live” solid axles so both rear tires are powered to increase sliding. With the greatly increased skill levels required, these tracks require a driver’s license only concept, which reduces the total number of potential riders, but increases the appeal to older drivers by eliminating younger, less skilled drivers from the track.

Regardless of your market, site size and available budget, take the time to consider your market demographics and the demographic you wish to appeal to in determining which track type, specific kart manufacturer, gas or battery powered karts, indoor or outdoor you wish to
develop. Entertainment Concepts, Inc. would welcome the opportunity to assist you in making these determinations and getting you going toward a successful and rewarding go-kart operation.

Benefits of Using Local Contractors:
Over many years we’ve found that our clients have had far greater success in having their tracks constructed by local firms with no prior experience. As professional engineers our plans and specifications are based on incorporating modern material and construction methods, not building tracks the same way contractors have built them for the past 20 years.

Our designs incorporate labor saving fabrication methods that result in more uniform assembly and reduced costs, safer barrier systems, plain Portland Cement Concrete pavement with no steel reinforcing, construction methods that eliminate pavement cracking, slip-form curb and gutter forms to maintain smooth pavement surfaces, coordinated pavement and infield drainage systems to insure faster return to operation after rainfalls, more uniform lighting of track surfaces and other safety elements.

Our firm’s experience with travelling track builders over the past 25 plus years on tracks we designed has shown that they often substitute our design features with their own concepts for their financial benefit rather than client benefit and take shortcuts that have detrimental impacts on various elements of the track. Many have used inferior materials and concepts in track barrier and pavement construction, did not follow the plans and specifications as designed and left clients with inferior final products, which we have often been called back to redesign to correct problems inherent in the contractor’s final products.

For the above reasons we strongly recommend than our clients at least consider the use of local contractors for many reasons, some of which are listed as follows:
 They have a better knowledge of material sources and local sub-contractors.
 They will have a pride of having constructed the facility.
 They are available to make corrections after the track is finished.
 They are far more likely to adhere to the plans and specifications.

Peter is a registered professional engineer in Illinois and the President of Entertainment Concepts, Inc. (formerly Peter F. Olesen and Associates, Inc.) a firm with more than 37 years of experience in the design of family entertainment centers, both outdoor and indoor, stand alone go-kart tracks and miniature golf courses, bumper boat ponds and related attractions. The firm has been at the forefront of go-kart, miniature golf course and bumper boat pond design, bringing about many innovations in safety, geometrics, design and construction methods that are now widely emulated throughout the industry. The firm has performed more than 590 projects in 46 states, Angola, Brunei, Canada (Alberta, Ontario and Quebec), Cuba (Guantanamo Bay), Kazakhstan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Projects span feasibility, concept development, master plans, final design and construction engineering. A member of the faculty of Foundations Entertainment University, he has also presented seminars at the IAAPA Attractions Expo, FunExpo, Kart Expo and Leisure Expo as well as writing many articles for magazines and internet newsletters.
Copyright Entertainment Concepts, Inc. 2020

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