Start your engines in Austin
Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure EditorAUSTIN - Growing up, I never really watched NASCAR, but I was always aware of how the drivers were doing because my dad and uncles kept up with it. I was familiar with many of the drivers because I heard their names often when my Family and I visited my grandparents – some NASCAR race would be on in the background while everyone pitched in on cooking with grandma as she made giant meals for the many members of my extended Family.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Another reason NASCAR was a part of my life is because my older brother and I played a lot of racing games on the original PlayStation – if it wasn’t Gran Turismo, it was NASCAR Thunder. My favorite drivers on the game became the drivers I wanted to learn about in real life.
But, even though I was playing racing games and being a half-hearted NASCAR follower, my girly side beat out the need to know about the drivers and their stats, and I began choosing cars based on their looks. Elliot Sadler, driver of the M&M car in the early 2000s ... he was my favorite.
Now that I’m older, I don’t follow NASCAR very closely, but my competitive side keeps up my love for racing.
On Father’s Day, my dad was visiting my older brother and my sister-in-law in Arkansas, so I spent the holiday racing at K1 Speed in Austin, an electric indoor kart racing facility. I’m glad it was indoor and well air-conditioned, because escaping the Texas sun is still high on my priority list.
K1’s name comes from a clever spin-off of Formula One racing. The “K” standing for “kart”, just as the “F” stands for “formula”. Formula One’s American races began in Austin, so K1 Speed is in an appropriate place in the USA.
Right when I walked in the door, I was in the mood to race. There were authentic Formula One cars on display, sleek black leather couches and driver’s seat inspired chairs for racers to relax, and checkered flags everywhere.
Lining the lobby, registration center and “Pit Café” are huge windows that look out into the racetrack. There are high tables and chairs set up by the indoor track for spectators to cheer on the racers while they have a snack.
After I did the self registration at one of the computers, I walked up to the counter to schedule my race and I received my year-long K1 Racing license. I recommend arriving at K1 Speed close to when it opens, because the races fill up quickly. It worked out well for me because from the time I registered to the time I raced was about an hour, plenty of time for me to take some cool photos and watch a few races to get myself acquainted with the way things work at K1.
While wandering around, I found an arcade area that houses air hockey, pool tables and some classic arcade games over by K1’s Pit Café, where they sell everything from Starbucks beverages to trail mix.
I also found an area where they print out each racer’s results when they finish racing. The results show the personal lap times and ranking among the ten racers for each race. I’ll reveal my personal results later on.
Over the loud speaker they called my name, along with the nine other people I would be racing, signaling us out to the track. Once we were all there, we were given a safety brief by K1 track personnel, Thomas Johnson. He went over the meaning of each flag color, which is important because that’s how they communicate with the drivers during the races. We were then fitted for our helmets and assigned to the karts we would be driving.
After embarrassing myself by not being able to strap my helmet, Johnson helped and pointed me to car No. 8. I got in, strapped up my harness, familiarized myself with the “stop everything” button and waited for the previous racers to come back and park their cars.
Thomas gave us the green flag to go, and we slowly drove out onto the track. At first, they regulate how fast the karts go for about half a lap so that everyone can get the feel of the steering wheel, gas and brake pedals.
I was still getting to know my gas pedal when they stopped regulating the speed, so my kart jolted forward, slamming my head back into my seat – I was thankful for the helmet at that point. Two people passed me while I was getting my heart back to a normal speed, and I was overcome with a need to at least place in this race.
After one lap, I was comfortable with the extremely twisty track and the handling of my kart, and I took off. There was one kart in particular that was giving me a hard time, so I decided not to focus on him until the end, and only focus on who was ahead of me.
Fourteen laps flew by because I was having so much fun, and I was so absorbed in the race I was in, but when they flashed the white flag signaling the last lap, I stepped on the gas and went after the person in front of me. I had no idea what place I was in, but I knew I wanted to beat the guy right ahead of me.
I caught him right at the end while they were waving the checkered flag, and they regulated our speed again as we drove the karts back to their resting points in the briefing area.
After taking off my helmet and making sure I could still walk after the race, I went to the counter where they printed off our race results, found the one with my name, and saw that my best lap was at 30.7 seconds, with the first place racer’s best lap being at 27.8 seconds. I’ve run enough track races and played enough MarioKart to know that an almost three-second time gap is a big one, so I’ll have to step it up next time.
I finished in fifth place, not placing, but I was feeling okay for my first time at the track. I’ll just keep telling myself that they didn’t put me in with the beginners …
K1 Speed is open noon-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. For information on locations, scheduling group events, specials or challenges that are going on, visit their website at www.k1speed.com or call 512-271-5475.
Also, races at K1 will be available in a couple of weeks at a discounted price for all Department of Defense cardholders at Family and Morale, Welfare & Recreation on post. Stay up-to-date on this opportunity by calling Fort Hood’s MWR Leisure Travel Services at 287-7310.