Racing Go-Kart

A truly "grass roots" sport, organized "go-karting" arose in the late 1950s. In the 1930s and late 1940s, various types of smaller open-wheeled race cars had been developed for certain classes of organized racing on oval tracks, including the "midget racers" - diminutive but full-fledged, single-seat, high-speed cars. But for would-be racers of limited means in the 1950s, even these midget race cars were out of financial reach. Meanwhile, marketers of leisure-time products had started producing small, motorized "karts" for pre-teens. Such a kart, intended for driving on paved surfaces off the public roadways, had a light frame made of tubular steel, no "body" at all, a rudimentary open seat, and was equipped with a small gasoline engine mounted behind the driver and tiny tires. Adults thought up the idea of installing more-powerful motors, and the racing "go-kart" was born. Racing of such karts by kids was soon organized -- but racing classes for adults were created as well. Such races were sometimes held at regular paved race tracks but were usually run on specialized, short paved courses designed and built expressly for the karts. In the early days, races ran on large parking lots, with courses marked off for the day with stripes and rubber cones.
Many racing drivers who became well known in the 1970s, '80s, and through the present -- such as NASCAR's Jeff Gordon, 'Indy 500' drivers Al Unser, Jr. and Michael Andretti, and European 'Formula-1' drivers -- learned their early skills by becoming champion kart drivers in the classes for pre-teens.
Elwood "Pappy" Hampton (1909-1980), however, was one of thousands who took to the sport as adults. He was a Washington, DC, machinist who became interested in go-kart racing as a hobby. He built several karts, each time refining their design and improving their performance.
This kart is one made about 1960, which Hampton raced frequently from 1960 through 1962 to first-, second-, and third-place finishes, mostly at the Marlboro Speedway in Maryland. In 1962, he won the East Coast Championship. At age 51 in 1960, "Pappy" was one of the oldest successful kart racers in the mid-Atlantic area, hence his nickname.
The kart has a duralumin chassis (duralumin for strength with extreme lightness) made especially for racing karts by Jim Rathmann of Indianapolis (the winning driver in the 1960 Indianapolis 500), and a drive train engineered and made by Hampton. The engine is one made in England, fueled on alcohol.
Currently not on view
Object Name
automobile, racing go-kart
automobile, racing kart
racing kart, 1960’s
date made
ca 1960
Hampton, Sr., Elwood N. "Pappy"
Rathmann, James
Physical Description
duralumin (overall material)
steel (overall material)
synthetic upholstery (overall material)
overall: 21 in x 39 in x 66 in; 53.34 cm x 99.06 cm x 167.64 cm
in crate: 40 in x 46 in x 73 in; 101.6 cm x 116.84 cm x 185.42 cm
place made
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Sports & Leisure
Road Transportation
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Road Transportation
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Elwood N. Hampton, Jr.
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.