by Sandy Shepard
The majority of Americans today are still under the impression that go-karts are made for children to putt-putt around the yard. This thought dates back to the late 50's when go-karts were constructed like the yard karts of today.
The late 50's and the early 60's saw an explosion of karting that pales the growth of today. In the late 50's, this area had no tracks for go-karts. People in Denton, Texas drove their karts at the Santa Fe depot, located at Interstate 35 and Oak st. Other people in the Dallas / Fort Worth area used parks and parking lots, and a few people just used their neighborhood streets, with sometimes dire consequences.
As demand increased, Mr. R. L. Huey built the first go-kart track, north of Carrollton called The North Texas Go-Kart Raceway Association. The track was supported by its large rental kart business, and local karters who paid a dollar for a day’s use. Rental prices were fifty cents for 5 minutes, and the lines were long. Complete racing karts cost $200 back then with a maximum engine price of $100 for an A class engine. In the early days only 2 stroke engines were allowed. Quarter midget racers of the time were spending huge amounts of money on 4 stroke power plants and karting was started as an inexpensive alternative. Transportation of the racing karts was usually done in the trunk of a car. Few people owned pick-ups and even fewer people had a trailer suitable for hauling go-karts. The cars of the day had fins and trunks large enough to sneak four high school boys into the local drive-in theater undetected.
In Denton, the go-kart popularity did not go unnoticed. Denton's mayor Frank Barrow and Jack Bruton, formed a partnership and constructed Denton's first go-kart track. Costing $20,000 to construct, the Denton Karting Speedway opened up June 19, 1960, 1/2 mile north of hwy 24(US380 now) to great fanfare. Featuring a seven hundred foot straight, more than a quarter mile of twisting turns and a total length of one half mile, the Denton Karting Speedway proved to be a very popular track. The track was surrounded by farmland in 1960, and was considered out in the country. With no neighbors to disturb, the Denton Karting Speedway became quite successful, drawing on the two local universities and racers who came from as far away as Oklahoma. Rental karts and race karts shared the track at the same time, except on Sundays, which were race days. The biggest rental business occurred on Friday and Saturday nights. With few exceptions, the renters and racers co-existed well. Rue Simmons, the track manager, made it clear to everyone to be aware of each other, and John Hodnick, the track mechanic, made sure we always had plenty of rental karts to dodge. Regular Sunday race days showed good crowds similar to the hundred or so of today, and Jimmy Cobb always made sure to give you a fair start and a full twelve laps no matter how hot or cold it was that day.
The first race featured ladies from the Denton Women’s Club, local college faculty, and a large number of teachers for a "Grandmothers Lap". Racing in the track's rental karts, Mrs. Josh Roach was first to take the checkered flag. The ladies had a great time, and the general expression was "That was fun-can I ride again?"
By 1961 the North Texas Go-cart Raceway Association had a new owner E. F. White and a new name, the Whizzer Kart Track. The United States had a Supreme Court justice named Byron White who had acquired the nickname "Whizzer White" because of his college football career. E.F. White, no relation, also picked up the nickname from his friends. Looking for a simpler name, Mr. White decided on Whizzer Kart Track.
The proliferation of karting had increased enough to support eight tracks in just the Dallas-Ft. Worth area alone. Those tracks were: Whizzer Kart Track, the Denton Karting Speedway, Valley View, 77 South, Rendon, Southwest, J&J Kart Track and Fabian in Garland. These tracks worked together on scheduling so that a person could race almost every night of the week. I know some karters who individually collected close to 400 trophies in 1961, but I don't know if any of them ever graduated high school.
Denton had its own club, the Road Runners, and the dominant club, from Dallas, was the Big D Pacers. These clubs began as loose organizations, mainly social in nature with few goals. As early karting expanded, the clubs took on more responsibility helping with race officiating and organizing trips to other tracks out of the area.
As 1962 began, the Whizzer Kart Track had new owners once again. Dr. James Avann, Dr. Fred Popkess and Floyd McKenna purchased the track to give it some stability. The new owners contracted with the Big D Pacers to conduct the races and maintain the track for a very small fee. The rental kart business at the track had become marginal and was discontinued.
To spur interest in karting, the club joined with Dallas radio station KLIF to hold an annual disc-jockey race. Karts were furnished, with some trepidation, by club members. Dave Ambrose was the hot-shoe disc-jockey winning most of these events. Close calls, a few wrecks, and some engine problems were the order of the day. The crowds were very large tying up traffic on I-35E miles in either direction. It was all good fun and the exposure for karting was invaluable.
To break up the monotony of racing the same way every weekend, the club organized turkey races at Thanksgiving, shoe races, and backwards races. Coupons for turkeys were substituted for trophies during Thanksgiving. The shoe races required a driver to remove one shoe and put it in a pile at the starting line. The drivers started on the short straight away in front of the pits and had to run, get their shoe, put it on, and run back to the kart before the kart could be started. Some drivers were already pretty tired by the time they got back to the kart and still had ten laps to go. The backwards races were normal races in reverse direction which gave the drivers a change of pace.
Sprint karting had reached its peak and was on the decline but endurance karting was still on the rise. At that time, enduro racers also raced sprint, and the turnout for sprint racing would be greatly affected when the schedule conflicted with an enduro. Within the Big D Pacers, there was turmoil between road racers and sprint racers, which finally came to a boil in the mid-sixties. The sprint racers formed their own club, The North Texas Karters leaving the Big D Pacers to become the enduro club.
As karting continued to decline, and development expanded in the area, many tracks disappeared under housing subdivisions. The Denton Karting Speedway fell victim, closing in 1963. In less than ten years, most tracks were gone, and DFW was left with only one track. Dentonites were forced to travel 25 miles south to the Whizzer kart track, the only one left in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
With the demise of the Denton Karting Speedway, the Denton Road Runners drifted apart. Some joined the Dallas club, and some dropped out of karting altogether. As the years went by, enduro karting declined enough that the Big D Pacers disbanded in the late seventies. Enduro racers eventually were represented by a new organization, Southwest Road Racing.
By the end of the eighties, the Whizzer Kart Track had become a legal liability to the owners. With lawsuits skyrocketing all around, but not yet at the track, the owners made the painful decision to close the only kart track in the north Texas area. The North Texas Karters, who had enjoyed 30 years of track access for little money, suddenly found themselves with the realization of driving to Waco or Oklahoma City to race. Road racers did this once a month all over the Southwest, but this was completely new to the sprint contingent. Faced with the fact of driving almost 150 miles to race each weekend, and the sure demise of the club, the members committed to build their own track so this would never happen again. With commitments from members, NTK purchased six and one half acres of land just north of Denton on I-35, with options on more space, and constructed the North Texas Kartway. Eventually expanded to 16 acres and a full, half mile track with a large pit area, the North Texas Kartway has evolved into a National Championship caliber facility evoking memories of another half mile track just a few miles south and some years past.
The Mini-bike From Hell
by Sandy Shepard
I started kart racing in 1959 with a Simplex Challenger and am still racing today. In 1960 my father and I vacationed in southern California and brought back a big bear Scrambler mini-bike with a 580 West Bend. As I entered high school, I became very brave and replaced the 580 with a McCullouch MC 20. I just played with it around the neighborhood.
When I turned 16, I earned my driver's license and started drag racing. I decided one day to see what the mini-bike would do in the quarter mile. I was laughed at, but I beat the Cushman that I was matched against. In 1964, the AHRA Summer Nationals were held at Green Valley Raceway about 30 miles from my house. I paid my $25 and entered. In time trials, I was beaten by a Stock VW, but won my class. Being beaten by a Volkswagen did not sit well with me so I bought a new 125cc MC75 so I could go faster.
In 1965, my father and I flew to Scottsdale Az. in my fathers Cessna for the AHRA Winter Nationals. We rented a transporter for the "drag bike", a '65 Ford Fairlane rent car; threw the bike in the trunk and went to the track. I won my class again and was clocked at 70 mph. That mini-bike was verrry sensitive at 70 mph. Blink wrong and it would upset the bike.
Dad was worried that I wouldn’t live very long so he called up Bud Evans at Bug. Bud did some measuring and some thinking and sent us a Bug flea mini-bike. It was 3 inches longer and much more stable. I raced it in 1965, 1966, and 1967. In 1966, I replaced the MC75 with a MC101 and 3 carburetors on a mixture of alcohol and nitromethane. The clutch was an I.S. dry shoe similar to the 820 clutches today. We could only slip it 4500-5000 rpm, and if we didn't get the green quickly, I would cook the clutch on the line.
We flew to Long Beach Cal. for the '66 Summer Nationals at Lions Dragway. Our competition was a 90cc Honda. He could pull me 4 car lengths out of the hole, but I had him by at least 10 mph on the big end. In the final round, I fouled a plug and by the time it cleared out, I couldn't catch him. I did win the points final race at Green Valley that Fall though, and set a new mph record of 77.38.
I had installed a “maverick spark” button on the handle bars as a kill switch. I would push the button at about the 300ft. mark and the motor would really come alive. The AHRA tech guys knew nothing about karts so my “kill switch” was never questioned since it did kill the motor at low rpm.
Depending on wind direction, the bike would run between the low 16's at 75 -78 to the high 15's at 80-81. In 1967, we flew to Scottsdale Az. for the last time for the AHRA Winter Ntls. We won that event. Shortly thereafter, the AHRA changed the bike classes and we were put into "499 cc's and down". By this time we were running about 20% nitro, so that would put us in with some strong nitro burning drag bikes.
The mini-bike was a huge crowd favorite because of its top end charge, but everybody pulled me out of the hole. This situation would be aggravated competing against the bigger bikes. So, we called Bud Evans again and explained the situation. He sat down and designed a new duel MC101 mini-bike for me. The old bike weighed 185 lbs with me on it. I wasn't growing any, so we figured at 200 lbs, we could run in the high 13's around 100 mph with the new oil clutches just out. If one’s good, two’s gotta be twice as good.
I was very impressed with Bud's creation. The old mini-bike brake/sprocket assembly was gone and in its place were two rear sprockets and a hydraulic disc brake. The rear motor was offset to the left, so both motors had their own chain and sprocket. I laid down much flatter, completely horizontal, and it was difficult to raise my head high enough to see down the track. I would only be doing this for 13 or 14 seconds, so I could live with it.
I got it all together and went to Green Valley to test it. The extra engine helped it a bunch out of the hole but just about the time the clutches hooked up (at about 55 or 60), the bike would fall over. Either side, it didn't matter, it felt like it didn't have any balance. Bud and I worked for several months shuttling parts, but I never could get past 60 mph. I tried it on one engine and still fell over, so I finally gave up and sent the bike back to Bud. In August of 1967, I turned 21 and went SCCA racing, but that's another story.