How many friendships have been lost due to karting? How many have been irrevocably altered? Karting is a menace to relationships – a fast-paced, exhilarating, excellent menace that I want to do over and over again until the wheels completely dissolve into the tarmac.
I went a’karting at TeamSport Warrington a couple months ago. Warrington may be the least cultured place in ALL of the UK – despite our prominent statue of Oliver Cromwell AND an objectively top-notch Lidl – but the one thing it has not shirked on is the quality of its karting.
The Warrington location boasts the “largest purpose-built indoor go karting track anywhere in the UK.” It’s 1,000 meters long. As an American, I don’t know and refuse to find out how long that is, but I will assume this is roughly 8…fortnights? And when it says purpose-built, naturally, this leads one to wonder – is there a track that was accidentally-built that’s longer?
“What did you get up to last night, Fred?”
“I popped an Ambien and when I woke up, I found out I ate all the food in the fridge. Oh, and I accidentally built an enormous go karting track.”
“Yeah, we’ve all been there, buddy. How long was yours?”
“About 9 fortnights.”
A track of this Everest-ian length is contained in a large boxy building, located on Slutcher’s Lane. Here’s another thing I won’t look up – I assume that slutcher is an old English term for someone who slutches, which is to say, a slut who cross-stiches.
I was there to celebrate my friend Ben‘s 40th birthday. As a young, vital person of almost-37, still invulnerable to death and all ailments that don’t involve my traitorous lower left back, I am not 100% sure what I’ll be doing when I finally reach that advanced, very-far-away age. Before this night, I was resigned to an evening of dense chocolate cake, ice cream packed with at least 3 Oreos per square inch, and another solemn viewing of Magnolia. I will now reconsider the itinerary.
Outside the Kartesserie, two dudes, clad in official karting jumpsuit, were smoking, lookin’ like dudes who were out to have a good dude time, talkin’ about cars and how fast they go and CHICKS doin’ lame stuff like CHICKS do. Inside, 15 people of mostly Dad/Mom age were there to DadMom together like DadMom dudes, talkin’ kids and how fast they grow up and about POOP they’ve had to clean up recently, and where they cleaned it from. A bottom? A toilet? A floor? Off the stairs you say? Ha! How novel. The main reason parents of young children go wild on nights out is the extraordinary elation of not having to deal with a tiny person’s human waste.
Several windows allowed you to get a preview of the track you were about to race on. I don’t mean to brag about my lavish lifestyle, but I’ve been on several karts in my day. I was used to a prosaic 20 miles an hour, a speed so undaunting that you might use any extra mental capacity to think about taxes, or about how you might plate your next risotto. The karts kartin’ it past the window were going at Lethal Speed, the only speed I EVER drive.
At computer terminals, we had to sign ourselves in, ackowledging all of this was quite dangerous. Having jumped out of two planes, I had already looked danger in the face and told it to get stuffed. I’ve also been skydiving.
Upon signing our life away, we were issued standard issue full body motor-race-suits and our choice of balaclavas. For £3, a durable, sleek, black model, ideal for burgling or ninja-pretending, or, for 50p, a flimsy model made out of old celery fibres and reclaimed asbestos.
Down 50p, I changed into my motor suit. I simultaneously felt ridiculous and outrageously cool. I could tell that the fellow Dads in the room, bodies and minds weakened by childcare, were similarly charged.
To a soundtrack I imagined was a hip hop song I was unfamiliar with, our group strutted, in slow motion, across the bridge that lay over the track. Cars whizzed by underneath. Idle motors purred with potential, active motors blared. The smell of engines and exhaust was all around. Just by typing this florid description, I imagine that, somewhere, Jeremy Clarkson is positively priapic.
We were led into a briefing room with a large video screen. A portly, animated fellow with the deportment of a comedy night host ran through his safety spiel, the gist of it being, ‘Watch for our flags, don’t be jerks.’ But his talk wasn’t enough – we needed to watch the official video, a video I wish they would’ve popped into a combination TV/VCR on a tall stand.
The video was shot in tones of black, gray, red and yellow – like a more optimistic yet caution-minded David Fincher. The visuals let you know that you were about to enter a slick world of black-clad racers, whose only joy springs from precision driving and correct pedal usage. The soundtrack, a homeopathic distillation of Nine Inch Nails and Prodigy, let you know that you were in for en edgy, non-trademark-infringing event.
A narrator in a jovial but firm English accent took us through the basics. The one thing the narrator stressed we musn’t be: a black karter. Initially, I heard Black Carter, which is the name of a throwback blaxploitation film that doesn’t exist, starring Idris Elba in the titular role, as heard in this dialogue:
CRIMINAL PERSON IN LONDON ACCENT ACTING ALL TOUGH:
“Who the hell are you? I’m supposed to meet with Carter!”
IDRIS ELBA BUT WITH PROMINENT SIDEBURNS AND LAPELS AND ALSO A LONDON ACCENT:
“ I AM Carter…
RAPID ZOOM IN TO IDRIS’S PERFECT FACE, NOW SPORTING A DEVIL MAY CARE SMIRK THAT HAS SOMEHOW MADE HIM MORE HANDSOME
Training complete, we were ready to be unleashed onto the tracks, green karters, all. We donned big black helmets with cool visors and a very tricky latch that I needed assistance with.
I sat in the car. I promised the car I wouldn’t press both pedals at once. The car motored its approval.
Our Rules Informer motioned us up one by one. He checked that we were able to press the brake pedal. All of us were able to press the brake pedal. The radio was playing “Walking in Memphis” and I sure as hell was ready to drive my kart 10 feet off a Beale. And I knew then that I had the makings of a hit parody song, Karting in Cheshire. What’s that, you want lyrics, sure okay:
Well I was Kartin’ in Cheshire!
I was kartin’ with my hands gripping the wheel
Kartin’ in Cheshire
Do be do be do the way I wheel
It needs work.
I drove around the track tentatively for the first lap. “They” told me that my hours of Super Mario Kart, Daytona USA and Gran Tuismo were a waste of time, quarters and time. And I would have believed them, if “they” hadn’t also told me that I shouldn’t eat Kraft American cheese by itself straight out of the plastic packet; my cheese instincts – and therefore my regular instincts – were correct. This training, Matrix-like, snaked its way back into my brain from years ago. It completed just as I crossed the finish line for the first lap.
Then I fuckin’ floored that shit.
You know how in Jaws and Vertigo and other Fine Films, the camera does that neat trick where the foreground stays the same but the background zooms in or out to indicate that something freaky is happening? Well, I just spent far too long in a YouTube hole looking this up so now all of you are obliged to know that it’s called the Push/Pull Effect. I got pushpulled, hard. The karts here travel at speeds up to 40 miles an hour. As you will recall, I only ever drive at Lethal Speed, so I didn’t think this would feel so fast. But when you’re in an open-air car mere inches from the ground, let me tell you, it feels like a Porche mated with a Lamborghini and spawned the living embodiment of a sonic boom.
All I could concentrate on was steering and breathing. Steering and breathing. Steering and breathing. Oh, and also, an uncontrollable blood lust directed at any human that was anywhere near my car. Many of these people were known to me, friends of mine, several of whom I had enjoyed very pleasant evenings with that involved superb stilton and port pairings.
But now, I viscerally hated each and every one of them. The Black Karter manifested in the form of a tiny wingless fairy with a giant helmet. He whispered in my ear, urging me to ram them off the track. I had gleeful visions of my mortal enemies careening out of control, screaming like an anonymous X-wing pilot whose fate we don’t care about, exploding into nothingness.
I resisted Black Karter’s entreaties. If a fellow karter tried to pass me, I let them pass, though I silently swore eternal vengeance on everything they held dear.
Others clearly did not resist. At the start of the second race, in which the slowest people from the first race started first, someone from the back of the group floored it straight up the middle, slamming into about 10 cars at once. I saw others try to pass on the inside of a turn even though there wasn’t even room for even the largest of thimbles. At one point, I came upon the immediate aftermath of a crash, in which one of our party had, I assume, been made to collide into the barrier. She had been lifted entirely out of her seat, and crashed down hard on everyone’s favorite bone to say, the coccyx. She hobbled out of her car and off the track. She was done. The Black Karter had claimed another victim. Somewhere, Idris Elba felt a twinge of sadness, though he knew not why.
Why do this to each other? For glory? No. For personal achievement? No. Is it the children’s fault? Of course it is. Day after day, wearing us down with their constant demands for food AND water, and crying at the slightest thing, like when we gave all their toys to charity because they forgot to sweep up a pencil shaving. It’s chaos and unfiltered, unmangeable id. Out on the track, anonymous, whoever gets to the finish line first is the winner. It’s unambiguous. That’s worth a sacrificial coccyx.
When the last race was over, we took off our helmets and looked at each other, eyes narrowed, suspicious. True natures had been revealed.
We gathered in the post-race lounge. The birthday boy himself was the winner. His prize: a cheap gold plastic trophy, which he received to a chorus of boos and “It’s a fix!!” Had he run everyone off the track? It’s possible. A father of young children who turns 40 is capable of anything.
What will become of his trophy? What becomes of the thousands of other trophies? Some, I imagine, are kept, placed on a shelf to be admired and nostalgia’d over. One day, you can can say to your older, wiser children, “Children, stop reorganising the larder for a second. Come here. Look at that trophy. I karted hard that day. I stared into an abyss blacker than the kart’s tyres. Some of that darkness is in me still. For goodness sake, do not go karting. But, if you must: Run ’em all off the track. In this life, you never kart soft. You kart HARD.”