LIBERTY — Competitive go-kart racing, or karting, has been around since 1956 and can be a physically and mentally challenging sport.

“For many drivers, karting can be a stepping stone to other motorsports,” said Chris Cunningham, chairman of the board for KC Karting Association.

Many NASCAR and INDY drivers started out in karting, he said.

Marco Andretti’s father, Michael, put him in a go-kart for the first time in a parking lot when Marco was 8 years old. His grandfather is Mario.

Pat Hammond from Liberty used to serve as race director at KC Karting. He has been a longtime member and races vintage karts.

“When you are younger, nothing scares you,” he said. “Like many sports, the interest ebbs and flows. Karts have changed too. However, one thing that doesn’t change for those who are part of it is the passion.”

Hammond said there’s a lot of adrenaline to the sport as well.

“You are going 50 to 55 miles per hour,” he said. “You are only an inch from the ground and you’re riding next to someone going just as fast. The sensation of the speed is almost indescribable.”

Hammond has been all over racing, including California and most of the Midwest.

“Early on, there are distinct skill sets that are gained through karting,” he said. “You learn to respect your competitor. ... You learn so much on the track. It’s concentration and better hand-eye coordination. When kids start driving, they have some driving skills too.”

Cunningham is a three-year member of the club that meets to race at 1090 Missouri Route B in Liberty.

“It’s a true functioning membership club with race fees,” he said. “More than that, it’s three years of racing for my kids and me. I always wanted to be a racer. This fulfills some of that, but it’s also about the family time. My wife loves it.”

Both of his children — son Oliver, 12, and daughter Quinn, 10 — race in the mini-Swift category.

The track in Liberty has been in existence since the 1950s and is designed as a sprint track. Annually, the races are scheduled once a month from around the end of March through the end of October, Cunningham said.

He classifieds karting as a hobby sport, one drivers can spend as much or as little time doing as they wish.

“While a lot of these drivers grew up is karting, others may want to see what it’s like, so we will go out to the track and give it a try as some members help us out,” Cummingham said.

Ages of those who participate range from 5 to 70.

“We stress racing safely,” Cunningham said. “There are barriers and hay bales. The racers wear crash helmets and rib and chest protection. It’s a safe sport.”

The club is made up of members that reach from the west as far as Topeka, Kansas, to the south as far as Bolivar, and include many from Liberty, Kearney and Excelsior Springs.

“Like most sports, to be good at karting, it takes passion, work and commitment,” Cunningham said. “There are not many sports that you can spend the day with your kids and be interactive in the sport on both a parental and participant level.”

Riley Johnston from Kearney, who is now a college student at Park University, started racing at KC Karting when he was 15.

“You learn a lot about car control, which is something that’s pretty useful for a teenager,” he said.

In 2018, Johnston won the Liberty Cup, and he’s a three-time champion of the series.

“Honestly to me, racing is a lifestyle,” he said. “It’s at the center point of my life. There’s just nothing quite like it to me.”

Randy Penrod from Kearney and his sons have participated in karting together.

“It’s a good family activity,” he said. “It’s not just about being on the sidelines, but I have been able to drive with them.”

Karting is a sport, hobby and passion for the family.

“Even our rides to and from tracks are filled with good conversation,” Penrod said.

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.

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