Traveling 50 mph at Go Kart Hero Indoor Raceway is a privilege to be earned.
Among the fleet of karts at the eight-turn, two-straightaway indoor track are three Honda-powered karts rated at 9 horsepower, but drivers have to prove themselves on the track to get in one. "We want to make sure people who are out there can control that speed," General Manager Tony Workman said.
Adult karters start in one of the center's 6.5-horsepower karts with top speeds of about 45 mph, according to Workman. In addition to paying a membership fee of $30, plus $10 annually, drivers who want access to the elite karts must prove themselves on the track. "Depending on your weight, there's a qualifying time that you have to hit at least five times to get to the 9 horse," said Workman, who opened the track in June.
Although driver safety is the primary reason his business limits the high-performance karts, Workman says it also gives drivers something to strive for. "They're about a second-and-a-half faster," he said. "Our 9-horse will do up to 50."
The 6.5- and 9-horsepower karts are restricted to adult drivers ages 16 and older, but the track offers kids older than 7 and taller than 48 inches a 5.5-horsepower kart designed specifically for younger drivers.
Also available are youth racing classes for kids ages 7 to 14, which Workman says are individualized for each student.
"We actually do a follow-the-leader session so they learn the safest and fastest way on the track," he said.
Kids who graduate from the class get their membership at the end, he added.
Safety at the facility goes far beyond seatbelts. Workman said employees can govern each kart remotely, helmets and neck braces are required, track suits are available, and all participants must watch a three-minute safety video with course rules. "There's no slamming or bumping of any kind," he said. "Rubbing is racing, but slamming or bumping is not."
He added that the course has a zero-tolerance policy for drug- and alcohol use.
The 30,000-square-foot venue is at 550 Airport Road, at the site of a former warehouse.
Although Go Kart Hero isn't the first in the area to convert warehouse space into an indoor track, Workman noted that the grippy, eight-turn track takes a different approach from the smooth, oval track at the now-closed Slick Kart Track that was on Narregan. "That's the biggest thing — our track is not a slick track," he said. "You won't drift these karts."
Instead, Workman said considerable work went into converting the warehouse floor into a high-traction surface. "We actually had to grind the floor to get the slick finish off," he said.
Additionally, Workman said, plastic railing and impact-absorbing tires were mounted around the entire track. The tires come with their own racing pedigree. "All of our tires came from NASCAR," he said. The company's website, www.gokarthero.com, notes that the tires were used during the 2013 Daytona 500. "They really hug the road well," first-time rider Debbie Flower of Pasadena, Calif., said as she stepped off the track and removed her black helmet. "It was fabulous."
Flower said she had ridden in actual NASCAR vehicles with her sister Dana Airoudi of Marquette, Mich. Both attended Go Kart Hero during a visit to their parents in Grants Pass. "It was way more than we were expecting," Airoudi said. "You just get started in 10 laps," Flower said.
Workman said he hopes the facility will target an older niche than other family entertainment options in the area. "We're not geared towards the super-young, like the Family Fun Center," he said. "We're geared toward the teenage and older."
He said it will give locals a new activity when temperatures drop. "It's nice because a lot of people enjoy the karting experience," he said. "There's really nothing to do outside of bowling or movies in the wintertime."
In addition to a casual activity, Workman would like to see the facility serve as a gateway into other types of racing, such as Southern Oregon Karters. Workman serves as president of Southern Oregon Karters, a racing organization separate from Go Kart Hero in which racers own their own karts. "This is kind of the first stop," he said.
It was through his experience racing karts that Workman became a part of the business, which he said has been open a month-and-a-half.
"I've been karting for quite a few years," Workman said. "Myself and the owner, this is something we've been looking to do for quite some time."
Workman didn't divulge the owner's name, and said the owner wanted to remain out of the story, but did say he lives locally. Through the Oregon Business Registry, the Mail Tribune found an active listing for Go Kart Hero LLC with articles of incorporation filed through a Portland law firm on Dec. 12, 2012.
Workman said the owner worked with the developer of a similar facility in the Portland area to design a track that utilized the 30,000 square feet of warehouse space, and could be driven in either direction.
"It was a pretty long, intensive process," he said.
Reach newsroom assistant Nick Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.