Go-kart track offers fast fun for former racecar drivers
If you go
The Sugar River Raceway, N2236 Mt. Hope Road, is southwest of Brodhead off Highway 11. The half-mile-long road course has been owned and operated by the Fairman family since 1959.
Weekly race programs are run April through October. The track is open during the week for private and open practice sessions. A kart shop is on-site offering retail and mail-order sales of go-karts and go-kart parts. Private parties also can be booked including rental of karts and safety gear.
The track will host its Sixth Annual Brodhead Historics Vintage Kart Event from Friday, Aug. 19 to Sunday, Aug. 21. Karters from across the country come to display and race their vintage karts. More information is online at sugarriverraceway.com.
BRODHEAD The group of mostly 60-something Janesville men spent years flying around racetracks in cars going 150 mph.
Now, the Wednesday night Gear Heads are content in go-karts going 60 mph.
The guys tinker with their toys, then race them around the half-mile track at Sugar River Raceway near Brodhead. A few take part in sanctioned Sunday racing.
"It scratches that itch to race," said Stan Milam, credited by many of his friends with bringing the group together. "We all had it, and you never get rid of it.
"For the most part, we're all former car racers, and that's all a part of our past," Milam said, "but this provides us with an opportunity to still do that in a much more affordable and sane and convenient way."
A constant roar and whir of engines filled the air Wednesday night as go-karts spun around corners of the track.
While many of the drivers are kids who might be starting racing careers, it's the opposite for Duke Ellingson, 66.
He never raced go-karts as a kid, but he raced cars for years, winning Midwest championships in 1979 and 1980. His friends got him into go-karts, and after coming to the track a few times, he was addicted.
His kart has only a 9 horsepower engine, but it can hit 60 mph at the Sugar River track or up to 80 mph on a longer stretch, he said.
"That (the engine) doesn't sound like much more than a good-sized snowblower or a lawn mower," Ellingson said, but horsepower alone doesn't dictate a kart's speed. It has more to do with the gears, the way the engine is built and how warm the tires are, he said.
Despite the lower speeds, go-karts are more difficult to drive than big racecars, the guys said.
"They wear you out more," Ellingson said. "The track is shorter, the steering wheel is quicker, the turns are real sharp and when you're going fast, you pull a lot of G-forces. Not a lot, but you pull some G-forces."
And if you hear the sound of a chain saw, you're right.
Milam and a friend took a quick spin around the track on vintage karts built in the 1960s—or maybe the '50s. They are powered by two-cycle engines taken right off chain saws.
"You know it's gonna be fun when you gotta wear this," Milam said, pointing to a rib protector under his jacket.
So how many karts do they own?
"What happens at the track stays at the track," Milam said.
They used to travel the country to race. Now, the regulars keep their karts in trailers stored at the raceway.
"We've just kind of evolved as a group," Bob Selck said.
They said it's more social than anything else—they meet every Wednesday night through the winter, too.
They take pride in the family-friendly atmosphere at the track and are sure to point out that Indy-car racer Danica Patrick got her start at the Sugar River Raceway.
Part of the hobby for the Wednesday night group is "it's the only thing left that's halfway affordable as far as motor sports," Selck said.
The other guys agreed.
"Compared to a car, it's really cheap," Pat Hilliker said.
"Racing is not an inexpensive sport, but this type of racing is probably the least-expensive investment that you're ever going to make," said Hilliker, who's been "21 for 40 years."
The raceway has rental karts available starting at $30 for a half hour, and karts can be rented for weekly Sunday racing. Costs can range into the thousands of dollars for a new kart and related equipment.
"This is a great sport," Hilliker said. "You can do more driving in this in 15 minutes than you can do in an hour in a car."
Bill Ehrlinger, 70, started racing sports cars in 1970 and has raced go-karts for a decade.
"We don't take it too serious, anymore," said Ehrlinger, who brought his two grandchildren to the track Wednesday.
"We just have a really, really, really fun time. The more friends you have racing, the more fun it is."