by Peter F. Olesen, P.E.
Part 1 of this article appeared in our last issue. If you missed it, click here.
Only two tracks out of more than 120 tracks we've designed have bridges. In our previous career, we were responsible for more than 100 highway bridge designs. We don't recommend bridges on go-kart tracks due to their high cost (bridges and their approaches can easily exceed $100,000.00). The reasons to avoid building a bridge on a concession track include the requirement of an additional track observer to cover the blind spot created by the bridge and approach embankments, the potential problems restarting karts stalled on the upgrade (often requiring staff to assist in getting the karts started up the grade after stopping) and the delays caused by stalls will have a negative impact on your bottom line due to the time delays reducing through-put. Starting the karts on the steep bridge approach grades can also increase kart maintenance costs. In most circumstances it is possible to design geometrics that will provide an as good or better driving experience in approximately the same area at an appreciably lower cost without a bridge.
Many of the bridges we've seen at existing tracks are constructed with very low clearances, often five foot or less. This creates a potential liability situation as riders holding their hands in the air to wave, could actual end up with serious bruises or worse. Employee working on stalled vehicles under the bridge could straighten up and crack their heads and possibly getting concussions (it has happened). If you are considering including a bridge we would suggest a minimum clearance of more than 6 feet 8 inches. People taller than that seem to instinctively duck in the presence of anything over their head.
There is a misconception that is wide spread in the industry that the go-kart track must be designed to meet the needs of the specific go-kart manufacturer you plan to use. This is not true when a track is designed properly. A number of kart manufacturers emphasize that their karts turn better in one direction than in the other (they do turn in both directions). Unless you plan to develop a boring oval, you will be using a road course configuration, which means the karts will be turning in both directions. Our firm designs complex geometric layouts with many turns (in both directions) and very short straight segments. The turns are designed to permit karts to successfully turn in either direction.
To assure that these geometrics will accommodate karts (by all current manufacturers) with different right and left turn characteristics, all of our tracks are designed with minimum curve radii that effectively permit karts to go through them in either direction. With well over 100 tracks (designed by our firm) in operation, we've never had any manufacturer say their karts wouldn't run well on them.
C.J. Barrymore's, Clinton Township, MI go-kart track designed by Pete Olesen
The exception to karts making normal turns occurs on our “adult” slick road courses, which are intentionally designed with extremely tight turns, which require karts to slide around the curves. This track design also contains both left and right hand turns and is designed to be operated in either direction.
Banked turns add an illusion of speed and enhance the driving experience. Most drivers can negotiate the turns at the same speeds even when the banking is held to a bare minimum to permit drainage. We create varying rates of banking, different angles of curvatures (standard radii) and varying straight segments to keep the drivers' attention on the road ahead, rather than playing demolition derby and sizing up whom they are going to ram next.
Tight turns, varied curve banking and short straight sections also have the effect of reducing driver awareness that all the karts on the track do not have the same maximum speed (which can be the result of careless engine tuning, tire wear or driver weight differences).
A track with well-designed geometrics that create the illusion of speed can operate at lower speeds, leaving the guests happy and thinking they were going faster. Lower speed increase safety and reduce equipment wear and tear.
While banked turns increase the perceived driving experience, banks steeper than two to three feet (on a track rail to rail width of 20 feet) will increase the effort required by your staff members in pushing karts off the rail in the turns, thus reducing through-put. We therefore recommend that no steeper banks be used unless there is a compelling need for steeper banks at a given facility.
Battery powered go-karts come with reverse buttons that can allow backing away from the curb or other karts in a spin out situation. A potential hazard can exist if an inexperienced or careless driver elects to back up when karts are still moving around the track when a spinout is being sorted out.
Our firm has been designing family entertainment facilities for more than 31 years. Go-kart tracks have been an integral part of most of them. As civil engineering consultants as well as family entertainment center designers, we have incorporated many engineering innovations into our design of go-kart tracks, miniature golf courses, bumper boat ponds and related attractions as well as complete family entertainment center facilities. Over the years our firm has developed many innovations in concession go-kart track designs and construction specifications that are now used by our competitors. These include:
There are many firms that profess to be track designers, some have many years of experience and a wide range of completed tracks that can be checked out, while others are new or have limited experience. Some kart manufacturers also profess to be track designers. A review of their finished products will show a wide range of skills and creativity.
Few firms have the number of years of design experience and track designs completed and tracks in operation as Entertainment Concepts, Inc. We strongly recommend that you visit any of the tracks designed by our firm and to talk to the operators, their staff and guests to check out our designs. This should be done before making a selection that will have a sizable impact on your success and your wallet. This should be done regardless of the firm(s) you may be considering. This means more than reading a web page or brochure. Also remember that no one lists a dissatisfied client as a reference. Check out other projects as well.
Everyone should be concerned with the cost of designing, constructing and operating a concession go-kart track. It is important, however to recognize the very real difference between economical and cheap. The lowest price seldom results in the best facility. Conversely, quality design doesn't necessarily result in significantly higher construction costs than less desirable designs and construction. Check out the people you select to design your facility as well as the ones that will construct it.
Just as all designers are not equal in skills and expertise, not all contractors are equal in their skills or their finished products. Experience has shown that many firms that have been constructing tracks for years do not consider or adopt modern construction practices, or even understand why modern design is better. The industry's history is littered with “road kill” that resulted from placement in the wrong locations, poor design and shoddy construction. On the other hand there are other well located, designed and constructed tracks that failed because of poor management and operation.
We recommend that our clients seek out experienced local concrete contractors to construct their concession go-kart tracks. They have a vested interest in doing quality work by following detailed track plans and specifications, because the facility is being constructed in their normal market place. It has been our experience over many years that local contractors will follow the plans and specifications, whereas a number of specialty (track) contractors in the past have changed our designs to the detriment of the finished product.
In many cases these “specialty” contractors used the same procedures and practices they had used in the past, rather than what we called for on our plans and specifications. As a result, in several instances sections of track had to be replaced due to the contractor failing to follow the specified compaction specifications. At other locations, the track barrier systems had to be repaired or reconstructed because the contractor used his own specifications and construction methods. Still other facilities ended up with cracked or washboard driving surfaces because the contractor deviated from the plans and specifications.
The fact that a firm has constructed tracks for many years does not guarantee that they are knowledgeable in design, the reasons for using certain specifications or even in proper construction techniques.
Kart manufacturers and track builders may be very good at what they do, but they often don't have a clue as to the best ways to construct modern facilities. A person planning to open a go-kart facility should make certain they have the best information available before undertaking such a sizable investment. If the go-karts selected to run on your facility don't live up to your expectations, you can at least change them at a moderate cost compared with trying to change a poorly designed and/or constructed track.
We've found through the years that contractors with no track building experience have lost their apprehension once they've reviewed our plans and specifications, which clearly spell out how to construct the various elements of the total track system. As a result they have overwhelmingly produced excellent tracks based on our plans and specifications.
Based on a review of more than 100 projects, it is our opinion that clients utilizing local paving contractors working with detailed construction plans and specifications have benefited from better construction and better pavement performance than those hiring “travelling” track builders. Some benefits include better knowledge of local materiel and subcontractor sources, better adherence to plan specifications (less likely to try to use shortcuts or previous methods), lower mobilization costs, being more readily available in the event later problems occur and the local pride factor. These are all important issues to consider in terms of getting the best-finished product. Keep in mind, not all local Contractors are good or that all travelling Contractors are bad. Whichever one you choose, check out their previous history with other projects.
© 2017 Entertainment Concepts, Inc.
Peter is president of Entertainment Concepts, Inc. (formerly Peter F. Olesen and Associates, Inc.). He is a licensed professional engineer in several states. He founded the firm in 1984 and in the ensuing years has been responsible for the development of more than 500 separate family entertainment industry projects Peter's projects have spanned initial concepts, feasibility studies, assistance in developing business plans, final design and preparation of contract plans and specifications, construction layout and related services for both new projects and existing facility renovations and modifications. Peter can be reached via his website, at email@example.com or 847.561-7013.