The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Best of Branson

June 7, 2013

Dave Woods: New track's go-karts built to drive fast

BRANSON, Mo. — I don't have a need for speed. Ask anyone. When I'm behind the wheel of my '98 Mustang, it's hands at 10 and 2 all the way. I come to complete halts at stop signs, abide by speed limits and use my turn signals at every corner.

All of that law-abiding hoo-hah went out the window on a recent Branson trip when I strapped myself into an Extreme Racing Center go-kart and took my turn around Branson's only high-speed, extreme racing attraction. I'm not alone. Extreme Racing has hit the Branson strip at breakneck speed.

"Extreme Racing is brand new to Branson," said Jared Story, manager of the track, following my thrill ride. "They are not go-karts that have a little nine-horse power lawn mower engine on the back. These are actually European racing karts. It's a totally different approach to karting. They are actual racing karts built in Europe and run up to speeds of 40 mph. They are hands down the fastest things in Branson."

Jared, a former Motor City resident, came to Branson a couple of years ago to oversee the construction of a zip line and the new go-kart attraction. He said the attractions he developed in Branson are unique.

"Because of the speeds, you have to wear a helmet," he said. "Your laps (around the track) are timed, so you can race against the clock, race against your own lap times live and not just your buddies around the track."

Fans of the racing movies "The Fast and the Furious" and "Tokyo Drift" find Branson's Extreme Racing Center karts exhilarating. They're a different kind of attraction, Jared said. On a recent Sunday, he said it was almost 2 a.m. before the track cleared and all of the extreme drivers had called it quits. That's a long day for the attraction's safety-conscious pit crew.

Set beneath The Sky Surfer, a unique motorized zip line attraction, Extreme Racing offers a memorable experience for kart-crazy riders.

"It is that whole racing type approach that people love," said Jared. "It's not just a go-kart approach. Some still call them go-karts, but they actually have much better handling and much faster speeds. That gives you that racing feel."

The Extreme Racing track is unique. The snaking concrete track is lined with hundreds of racing tires that act as soft bumpers for those drivers who bump or hit the track's walls. The karts are designed to stay stable on the track and in motion.

"The track is a little over 3,000 feet long," Jared said. "It's about three quarters of a mile long. When you are used to racing on a short track, it's a lot. Here you are driving the karts for almost four miles, so it's worth it."

Even though the fast track is restricted to riders of a certain size and driving skill level, Extreme Racing's karts are available to most adults and children who meet the height requirement.

"You get a license when you come in," Jared said. "It's not a real driver's license. Kids get one, too. They can race here, too, as long as they are tall enough to ride. We don't have double carts here. We do have kids karts in a separate track. They are not on the course with the fastest karts, but even our kids karts are faster than the karts at other tracks. So, even a child ... gets the same experience driving a racing kart than driving a conventional go-kart."

The license is key to the attraction's appeal for repeat racers, Jared said.

"Racers here can get a license, and it holds all of their racing information," he said. "They can come back time after time to our track, pull up your old lap times and your newest lap times, and race and compare."

Kids of all ages are welcome to test their extreme driving skills with the track's 40-plus Sodi Racing Karts on site. Sodi-manufactured karts are the gold standard of European racing karts. They're produced by a French company and are sold and raced worldwide. The speeds achieved by the specialty karts and their ease in handling broaden their international appeal.

"You can easily get them up into the mid 30 mph range," he said. "Typically, speed depends on your weight, track conditions and how well you drive one. They will run right around 30 to 35 miles per hour. Weather makes a difference. The warm or cold weather or size of the driver is the variable. Comparatively speaking, they are faster than anything else in Branson."

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