SUMMIT POINT, W.Va. — Take a stroll through the backside of Summit Point Raceway and you see a collage of American society.
Go-kart racers and mechanics tinkering with their vehicles, friends and family cooking out, people walking their dogs and kids zipping around on mini-bikes and motor scooters past tents and trailers.
And then there’s the license plates — Massachusetts, Florida, Georgia, Virginia and Ohio are just some of the states represented at this pastoral West Virginia track. Parked at the start of the final straightaway, Woodbridge resident Giehl King and son David are relaxing before the second day of the World Karting Association nationals.
Giehl has called Prince William County his home for the past 13 years, but grew up in a sleepy Illinois town where he used to goof around on makeshift go-karts made from farm equipment and lawn mowers.
David, a graduate of Woodbridge High School and Old Dominion University, started driving go-karts when he was 14 and is currently working for the Northrop Grumman Newport News ship building company.
Families such as the Kings are as commonplace at Summit Point Raceway as the differences between those families.
“There’s lawyers, doctors, school teachers, mechanics [here],” Giehl said. “If you saw them during the week, you probably wouldn’t recognize them.”
At Summit Point Raceway, there’s no big monetary prize. And for most drivers, success doesn’t necessarily translate to interest from organizations like NASCAR or the Indy Racing League. Giehl and his son might spend over $3,000 on the maintenance of their kart this year and most people, David said, use their vacation time from full-time jobs to crisscross the country for the chance to compete.
“It’s definitely relaxing to come here,” said the 26-year-old David, whose day job involves analyzing information for launching planes off aircraft carriers. “For me, maybe someday I will get to race big cars but the reality is, I don’t think I’ll get there.”
Both father and son are members of the 43-year-old Woodbridge Kart Club — the oldest kart club in the country –?and are addicted to racing their go-karts, which can hit speeds of well over 100 miles per hour. Giehl and David run lay-down Enduro karts, in which the driver lays on his back just inches off the track surface.
Giehl is a retired Marine Corps officer who works for his wife Mary Beth at the Marine Corps Museum gift shop in Quantico. He is 58 years old but jokes he’s “58 years young.”
That is, until a weekend of racing. That’s when he’s reminded of his actual age.
On what track officials and drivers call the carousel –?a tricky S-type curve that forces drivers to slow down to around 65 miles per hour –?Giehl was humming along near the back of the pack when three drivers crowded around the side of his kart in an attempt to pass.
By the time Giehl got through the curve, the right side of his kart had been mildly torn up, with a foot-long gash showing on the black exterior paint.
“I think I’m 18 sometimes ’til the morning after one of these [races],” Giehl said while towing his kart up to be weighed and inspected after the race. “I like to say that I have refused to grow up. I’ll grow old, but I refuse to grow up.”
The competition can be intense out there, even between father and son. The Kings befriended Jim Fry and his sons Brandon and Lance while racing at Daytona International Speedway in the mid 1990s.
Jim, a project director for a hotel construction company in Atlanta, started racing karts when he was 12 and tried to make it on the professional circuits in his 20s.
Brandon, 26, lives in Indianapolis and works as an engineer for Herdez Competition, a team in the CART racing series. He remembers the first time his father knocked him around in competition.
“I returned the favor,” laughed Brandon. “I ran him off the track at Charlotte.”
While the Frys still compete against each other –?23-year-old Lance is leading the national Piston Port Can Light division while Jim is third –?most of Giehl’s efforts are concentrated on David’s racing exploits. Many of the parts David uses on his lay-down kart are used by Giehl when they become too old or too beat up for his son.
“I had a good run [July 19] but the main effort is on David,” Giehl said. “If we don’t get a new one [body panel], we’ll just tape it up. C’est la vie.”
Cars aren’t the only thing that gets beat up sometimes. The chance of serious injury is very real at tracks like Summit Point or Virginia International Raceway near Danville, especially with the faster sit-up carts where there’s less protection around the wheel wells.
As David was waiting on pit row for his race on Saturday, three karts were involved in a spectacular crash that left one person with a sling on his arm and another in an emergency helicopter that flew to Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C. During the subsequent delay, father and son mulled over the dangers of the sport that so far has only left six stitches on David’s leg.
The one crash that David vividly remembers somehow left him uninjured.
“Eight years ago, I was rear-ended and did a flip out of the kart and landed on my feet,” David said.
Throughout his 10-plus years of go-kart racing, David has had his share of success and driven on some of best tracks in the word. He finished fifth in the Yamaha Medium Class standings in 2002 and has driven on the likes of Daytona, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.
On July 19, David was in 12th place in a staggered four-car start but made up ground in the carousel, whizzing by his competitors on his way to a third-place finish in the 100cc Piston Port Light Class race. He completed 21 laps in 31 minutes and 14 seconds in a race cut short because of the previous accident.
Go-kart racing is timed, instead of having a set amount of laps. Most of the races that the Kings run are roughly 45 minutes long and David made the most of that time on Saturday.
“I feel pretty comfortable everywhere here,” said David. “The carousel is a pretty good place to pass, there’s lots of room.”
Unfortunately, he’s also had days where he was spun off the course in the second lap –?which is exactly what happened July 18 in a Yamaha EX class race. July 20 wasn’t much better. David’s engine initially didn’t start and once it did, it was slow the whole way –?he finished 15th overall.
“That’s racing,” said Giehl in an e-mail. “Next month will be better, at least that’s the theory.”
And that’s what keeps everyone coming back. The love of competition, the camaraderie exhibited between families and friends and the sound of revving engines echoing all the way to the entrance of the track.
“For a job, I have the funnest job I could have,” said Brandon Fry. “But to me, there’s nothing that beats racing go-karts.”