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.

Date Made: ca 1960

Maker: Hampton, Sr., Elwood N. "Pappy"Rathmann, James

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: District of Columbia, Washington

Subject: Engineering


See more items in: Work and Industry: Transportation, Road, Sports & Leisure, Automobiles, Transportation, Road Transportation


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Elwood N. Hampton, Jr.

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1997.0378.01Accession Number: 1997.0378Catalog Number: 1997.0378.01

Object Name: automobile, racing go-kartautomobile, racing kartracing kart, 1960’s

Physical Description: duralumin (overall material)steel (overall material)synthetic upholstery (overall material)Measurements: overall: 21 in x 39 in x 66 in; 53.34 cm x 99.06 cm x 167.64 cm


Record Id: nmah_740813

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