Kart racing on Long Island
Drive by Nassau Coliseum on a Sunday and you might think the new management had installed a racetrack as part of the renovation plans. Amid the din of engines revving and the scent of burning rubber, kids and adults into their 80s race karts -- mini, gas-powered race cars -- as part of the Long Island Karting Association (LIKA).
"It's a family-friendly environment. We've got multiple generations that come out," said Peter Monte, the association's president. "This is a grassroots level of racing that is geared toward families getting started."
RACE FOR POINTS
Kart racing is not merely a hobby, but a competitive sport. The karting association is broken into different classes by age: kid kart (5-7), cadet (8-12), junior sportsman (13-15) and senior sportsman (16 and older). Drivers score points for each race they're in. Whoever has the greatest number of points at the end of the season in November is deemed champion of the class.
Richard Tures, 43, of Ridge grew up racing and is now passing the torch to his son, Richie, 8. "My family has been at the tracks since I've been alive," said Tures, who travels the East Coast to race in the North East Shifter Kart Series. "LIKA is a steppingstone to the nationals."
The Bedell sisters -- Shannon, 12, and Taylor, 17, of Copiague -- have been around racing their whole lives. Their parents run a professional racing team, Magnus Racing, using full-size cars, out of West Babylon. It hardly bothers them that that the association is dominated by male drivers.
"When I'm out on the track, I'm just one of the guys," said Taylor, who won a junior sportsman class championship last year. "It doesn't matter if I'm a girl. I just go out there and try my hardest."
Things can get intense behind the wheel.
"At points it gets scary, like when you are going around a turn and somebody cuts in front of you," Shannon said. "But the most exciting part is when you are passing someone."
Drivers keep safe by wearing racing suits, racing gloves, helmets, neck braces, racing shoes and chest protectors. Additionally, the assocition has rules about how drivers conduct themselves on the course. There's no insurance involved. Drivers must sign liability and insurance waivers at each race.
"We stress upon the drivers that this is not NASCAR where you'll see somebody pushing or bumping into another driver to get around them. There is no contact allowed," Monte said. "We have officials out on the track watching what's going on."
Parents and their kids set up camp, which starts at 8 a.m. and runs into the evening. Trailers are lined up around the parking lot, looking like a mini pit stop filled with tools and racks with suspended karts, which are fine-tuned until it's time to hit the track.
"You have to make sure things aren't broken, loose, cracked or missing bolts," said Chris Ferrara, assistant race director and coach for his son Dominick, 14, of Oceanside, who holds three LIKA titles. "There's a lot of vibration, so it happens."
GETTING INTO IT
One thing is clear: Karting is not cheap. The karts run $2,500-$10,000 to buy, or you can rent one from an on-site vendor for about $250 a day. Some parents are mechanically inclined, while others rely on the vendors for tech support.
Andy Elefonte of Williston Park is riding a comeback wave at age 59. After a 30-year absence from kart racing, he picked up the sport agWhen asked if victory is sweeter the second time around, Elefonte said, "It feels good to beat guys half my age!"
WHEN | WHERE 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays through November, Nassau Coliseum parking lot section 8
INFO 631-921-6420, longislandkartingassociation.com
ADMISSION $60 weekly for members, $80 for nonmembers, $5 nondriving spectators