It’s a rainy day just about everywhere but the go-kart track. A patch of blue sky has opened and the track has dried up just in time for a group of racers to test their mettle on April 6.
They’re seasoned speedsters at the Fast Time Grand Prix track. All from the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (NRGH), the group has been racing at the track for the four years it’s existed in Parksville.
Their years of experience hasn’t dampened their excitement, nor that of Fast Time Grand Prix owners Norm Spann and Doug Mclean, who are busy fine-tuning a few more karts, and warming them up before the series of races.
In fact, Spann and Mclean are even more excited for the racers’ experience. It means they might just see a proper Nascar start this time.
Spann and Mclean got Fast Time Grand Prix started in 2014 after meeting at Saratoga Speedway in Campbell River. They met as the result of Spann’s son wanting to get into racing. As they were living in Nanoose Bay at the time, Mclean would help Spann out with repairs to their car at his place in Black Creek.
“Somebody needs a tool or a hand getting something done, that’s part of what racing is about,” said Mclean. “It’s not just about going out and winning.
“That’s important too,” he added after a small pause and a laugh. “But it’s about helping the people that are around you, and that’s where we sort of formed the friendship.”
The two began discussing go-karts, and they decided to go into business together.
“I guess it was one of those thoughts that, ‘if I could do something, what would it be?’” said Mclean.
With just two other go-kart tracks in the area at the time, Spann and Mclean felt they could create something unique.
“There is no track like this in B.C.,” said Spann. That’s due to the timing system, the karts, and the track itself, they said.
The karts come from Europe, built by a company with more than 35 years of experience, said Spann. “These things are engineered for racing,” and can go almost 50 kilometres an hour on the track.
“But at two inches off the ground, it feels like 80 miles an hour,” said Mclean.
The track itself has 35 turns, making it one that requires some forethought and experience to figure out where to accelerate, where to pass and where to make a tight turn.
Perhaps the most important aspect, though, is the tracks’ timing system. Each kart has a transponder that reports your lap times so that, at the end of each race, you find out your fastest time and average lap time compared to others racing, and compared to the fastest times reported that day, week and month.
During the colder days, some of the fastest times you’ll see are around the 46-second mark. But as the weather warms, lap times get into 45 seconds, said Mclean.
“We get kids out there that are 12- or 13-years-old, and they come in, they are just as excited to see their lap time as they are to get in the go-kart,” said Mclean. “They come in, they see their lap time, and you hear the comment, ‘Oh I did X amount better than the last race… I’m going to get another three one-hundredths off that time.’ And they are starting to understand that they are doing better. So that’s kind of a boost for anybody any age.”
That certainly includes the NRGH crew, who awarded a race-car toy to the day’s winner.
But for Mclean and Spann, it was the start of the race that was exciting.
The group had tried a Nascar start before, but it had never quite worked out.
Rather than each kart heading out one at a time, they do a lap as a group, with the car at the front setting the pace. If the formation stays tight, the green flag is waved, and off they go.
This year, the attempt went well. “That was awesome,” said Spann. “It’s exciting to see them zooming by, the way they started.”
While some may consider go-karts to be for kids, Spann and Mclean say, well, those people aren’t wrong.
What they’ve got is “the big kids’ track,” Mclean said, adding anyone ages 11 and up can race their track.
But these aren’t the go-karts of your childhood, he said. “You remember go-karts as a sheet of plywood with some lawnmower tires on there, or a couple of pieces of rope for steering. That’s what a go-kart was. And these are, we call them naskarts.”
The karts, combined with the track, deliver that racing feeling, said Spann.
“You almost get tunnel vision because you are focused and driven so much and you’re trying to catch that other person, trying to pass them around the corners. You’ve got to hang on tight,” he said.
“So there is a lot of adrenaline flowing through your body, and after the race heat is over, a lot of people feel that adrenaline. You come off and you’re vibrating, you’re shaking and you want to go out and do it again.”
And while you’ll likely make new friends at the track, it’s a different story when you’re racing on the track.
“When you show up with four buddies and it’s time to get on the go-karts, and literally when the helmet goes on, we are no longer friends,” said Mclean with a smile. “The gloves are off — it’s racing time.”
You might not feel that way the first time as you get used to the karts and the track. “But once you get a few laps under your belt, you know, you just get that thought in your mind that, ‘Now, I’m an official racer.’”
With four years under their belts, Spann and Mclean have learned a thing or two. They now have rain tires for their karts. And they are also starting up a new race league. The league uses a handicap system devised by Spann to account for weight differences in drivers. They hope to have it started this May.