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'These are not toys'

WHITE CITY — Steve Terry zips his leather jacket, pulls his helmet tight and channels his inner 13-year-old.

He straps himself into his 47-year-old vintage go-kart. Right pedal's gas. Left is the brake.

The right foot drops quickly, and man and steel steed bomb down the asphalt kart track at the Jackson County Sports Park, the perfect playground for motorheads who might age but never grow up. 

"You get in a kart, you get to be a kid again," says Terry, 67, of Medford. "And you get to go fast."

Going fast in something from the past is what Terry and other aficionados of vintage go-karts cherish as they keep alive their perpetual need for speed in the little machines of their youths. 

The public can get a glimpse and a whiff of this niche motor sport and its forever-teenagers Sept. 23-25 when vintage karters from throughout the West Coast converge on the sports park during the 14th annual Duffy Livingstone Vintage Go Kart meet.

The meet will include Terry Ives, a Sacramento-area kart driver whom Terry calls "The Babe Ruth of karting."

Those who go will get the feel of being at a Formula One event, but everything is scaled far down as drivers spin around a six-tenths-of-a-mile track at speeds on both sides of 60 mph.

The karts cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $6,000 or more. They run on two-stroke engines that rate out around 15 to 20 horsepower, with different karts sporting anywhere from one to three engines. The fastest can eclipse 110 mph.

"These are not toys," Terry says. "They're small race cars.

"It's probably the least expensive entry into motor sports there is," he says.

Vintage karters never race and keep their distances from each other. There are no trophies, no standings, no points tallies.

"It's like a gathering, a party," Terry says. "Go-karts are optional."

There's also no co-mingling at the sports park track with the bumpered rental versions that are boxier, fendered and surrounded with rubber scuffed from contact on the track with other karts.

To the vintage crowd, there's no rubbing paint here because the risk of losing control is extremely high, Terry says.

"The adage is, 'If you fly, you die,'" Terry says.

The go-kart realm traces its roots to Southern California in 1956 when a hot-rodder named Art Ingels was building a road-racing car, and he and friend Lou Borelli thought it would be fun to make a small cart for adults to drive instead of the soapbox carts for kids.

Ingels made the original design, strapped on a surplus lawnmower engine with a drivetrain and added a braking system. They discovered in a Los Angeles parking lot that the mini-car scooted over the asphalt at 30 mph.

Fellow hot-rodder Duffy Livingstone saw their creation and built one of his own, eventually forming Go Kart Manufacturing. Soon after, the men and a few buddies all had karts, and they held regular play-races in the Rose Bowl parking lot in Pasadena.

Vintage karting has grown since then, much like the way Gerry Milazzo fell into it a dozen years ago in Mendocino County, Calif.

A friend had a vintage kart and offered to let Milazzo take a spin.

"I thought, well, I'll be happy with one," the retired sculptor says. "Now, I have four."

Milazzo now lives in Central Point and attends several of the seven "play days" scheduled annually along the West Coast, including the Livingstone days at the sports park.

Like most others, he worked his way up the speedometer over time.

"I've been clocked at 80 (mph)," he says.

Not every karter has that desire to set personal speed records with their butts 3 inches above the road.

"For me, it's not about the running," says Mike Superant of the Applegate."It's about the restoration."

Superant grew up in Southern California, where he says "every kid was running them up and down the streets," but all on makeshift karts crafted from whatever parts they could find.

Superant brought two karts to the sports park track Tuesday, including a vintage 1963 model that sports all original pieces. Brand new, it costs $189, "way beyond a kids' reach back then," he says.

Superant found it in a Minnesota barn and spent two years combing the Internet for parts to get it back to that off-the-shelf vintage.

"It's very rare to find one like this," he says.

Terry also hails from Southern California, with a little street-rod racing in his past. However, he didn't discover karts until age 61. 

Terry's main ride is a 1969 Smithsonian-ready model completely tricked out with pieces from the past. In fact, Terry's even met the former owner at a meet who looked it over and realized he had welded it himself in his father's shop.

"It's pretty much period-perfect," says Terry. "This stuff's rare."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Central Point resident Gerry Milazzo, with the Vintage Kart Club, speeds around the track Tuesday at the Jackson County Sports Park. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch