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David Minton - DRC

Motor sports: Nine turns of fun

Profile image for By Steve Gamel / For the Denton Record-Chronicle
By Steve Gamel / For the Denton Record-Chronicle

North Texas Karters draws families with speed, camaraderie

Dan Engberson bought his blue Yamaha go-kart almost two years ago, yet he keeps it crammed inside a trailer that’s backed up to pit road at North Texas Kartway in Denton.

For now, Engberson is too busy fine-tuning son Andrew’s CRG Rotax kart. Andrew, 14, has quickly become one of the top racers at the track each weekend, and dad — who doubles as his mechanic between races — is happily along for the ride.

“I’ve raced a few times, but I really do this for Andrew,” said Engberson, a pilot from Copper Canyon who spends up to eight hours at the track with Andrew on race day. “It’s fun and people come from all over. I was staggered to find a quality place like this in our backyard.”

North Texas Kartway is a 1/2-mile, nine-turn asphalt sprint track on Memory Lane west of Interstate 35. It is a member-owned facility run by North Texas Karting Club. It’s billed as the only nonprofit karting club in North Texas, and families pay annual dues of $315.

The club, also known as North Texas Karters (NTK), has a six-person board of directors and hosts 18 races per year. Its drivers are as young as 5.

Karting has been around for almost 60 years, and its roots in North Texas include the old Wizzer complex in Carrollton and Denton Regional Kart Track. When those businesses closed in the late 1980s, a group of enthusiasts from both facilities formed NTK and bought the current site. NTK hosted its first race in 1987.

“I learned to race here and now I travel all over the country doing it,” said Bob Schabel, vice president of the NTK board. “Good people come here, and we all know where are kids are — they’re with us on the track.”

Racers are drawn to NTK because of that family environment. Engberson estimated that 75 percent of the racers are children, but the parents are fans, too, and either race or volunteer time to the club. Amye Engberson, Dan’s wife, volunteers with marketing and often is there with their daughter, Emily, to cheer Andrew.

Chris Williams, who was at the first NTK race 27 years ago, is there now with his wife, Lisa. Their daughter Hannah, 15, will be a sophomore at Guyer in the fall and has been racing since she was 7. Hannah is a three-time national champion.

“It’s hard to put into words — there’s just nothing better than driving really fast,” Hannah said. “It’s an amazing feeling when you are racing, and I love to travel and meet new people.”

More often than not, your fiercest competitor is your biggest supporter.

“I remember one race where Andrew broke his axle. Next thing we knew, everyone was jumping in to help him get ready for the next race,” Amye Engberson said. “They had his axle replaced in 10 minutes.”

NTK has come a long way. The original track was a 1/3-mile layout, and the design was carved out using a Volkswagen Beetle. The rest of the 16-acre property was barren, and races were timed with stopwatches. Over time, the membership added stadium lights, a two-story tech barn with permanent drive-on scales, a scoring tower and the paved pit runner.

“By putting all that money back in, that’s how we’ve been able to make NTK what it is today,” said Tom Harris, a board member who works the tech barn. “This is the best bang for your buck. I’ve got an 11-year-old kart and it’s still competitive.”

NTK has race classes determined by driver age and engine type. The track features two straightaways where karts can reach 60 to 80 mph. Drivers are required to wear approved race suits, gloves, rib vests, neck braces, full-face helmets with a working visor and high-top shoes.

“When I first came here, it was a track in the middle of nowhere. We used to bring stuff out in crates,” Chris Williams said. “Some of our best memories as a family have been when we are racing here.”

NTK boasts a mix of recreational and competitive racers, some of whom search for sponsorships to compete at regional and national events. A kart can cost between $1,000 and $10,000, and families will spend more on tools, trailers and other essentials.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Dan Engberson said. “Some of these karts run on a lawnmower engine; others have six speeds. There have been weekends where it was raining off and on and all I did was sit on my knees and swap out tires. Yes, it takes time and it can get expensive, but it’s worth it.”

The only glaring problem for NTK is effectively getting the word out to drive new membership. Last year the club had 232 member families; in 2007 that number was 240. This year, it sits at 182.

Much of that is because of location. NTK is more or less hidden behind North Star Dragway and CTC Auto Ranch, both of which sit right off the I-35 service road. NTK has one small sign at Memory Lane.

“We try to get the word out at festivals and parades,” Amye Engberson said. “We’d love to see our numbers grow, because the more members we have, the more competitive our races are and the more fun it is.”

The racers who are out there now agree on one thing — there is no substitute for NTK.

“It’s a cool sport and there is competition wherever I go,” Andrew Engberson said. “I just love it, and as it turns out I got pretty good at it along the way.”