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Reflections by Sammy Way: Go karts became popular in Sumter in '50s

By SAMMY WAY
Sumter Item Archivist and Historian
Posted 4/12/20

Reflections remembers a miniature auto racing machine that became extremely popular in Sumter. The "karts" or "go-carts" originated in California and were the creation of pioneering engineers Art Engels and Lou Borelli. This article was written …

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Reflections by Sammy Way: Go karts became popular in Sumter in '50s

Posted

Reflections remembers a miniature auto racing machine that became extremely popular in Sumter. The "karts" or "go-carts" originated in California and were the creation of pioneering engineers Art Engels and Lou Borelli. This article was written utilizing data and photos from The Sumter Item archives and the Capital Karts website.

Karts arrived in Sumter during January 1959. "Their first exhibition race was staged at the Cane Savannah Motorcycle Track in conjunction with the March of Dimes cycle race being held at the same time. Eight little cars putted around the track to the delight of the several hundred spectators looking on. Later, this number of karts increased to more than 30."

Sgt. Reggie Crowder, who was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, is credited with bringing the first of these karts to Sumter during the winter of 1958. He was invited to several local supermarkets to demonstrate this little four-wheeled racing auto. Most of the viewers could not imagine that this vehicle would soon lead to a movement culminating in the construction of 40 factories which helped spread this phenomenon across the country.

"At first, the karts were powered by lawn mower-type engines of relatively low power; however, drivers soon decided they needed more horsepower and started turning to peppier chainsaw and motorcycle power."

An article appearing in The Sumter Daily Item in October 1959 noted that "the real impetus was to come from Columbia when Billy Hampton and several of his friends brought a couple of karts over and demonstrated them on a cold December night. T.W. Savage, Arthur Shumaker, W.R. Guest, Keith Long and a group of onlookers tried out the little cars in front of the former A&P Supermarket located on Broad Street."

Arthur Shumaker took an active interest in the karts and constructed what became known as the "Shumaker Special," selling 20 of his automotive creations locally.

An article appearing in The Sumter Daily Item on Jan. 3, 1959, noted that "a meeting to organize a local G-Kart midget auto racing association was to meet at the YMCA. Backers of the movement issued an invitation to all midget car enthusiasts in Sumter and Shaw Field to attend the first meeting. Specially invited were stock car and motorcycle racers of this area."

Several kart enthusiasts formed the Mighty Mites Club, and a regular series of races were held at the Cane Savannah track every other Sunday afternoon. The races proved popular, as it soon became "family fun" in that mom, dad and the kids could each take the wheel because o the creation of racing "classes" based on the skill and age of the drivers.

Go karts quickly became a big business and enjoyed enormous popularity across the country. They soon became a source of amusement at all social levels and were affordable to interested families. The small automotive creations became classic racing machines through the years. The modified racing machines were often "used by aspiring professional racers," according to the Capital Karts website.

Today, go-karts are frequently used at entertainment parks, where they have proven to be immensely popular. These karts are often driven on supervised controlled courses to ensure safety.