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Go-cart fans get their fix at indoor Tampa Bay Grand Prix

TAMPA

He gripped the wheel as the go-cart careened through the turn.

The motorway hummed around him as Dempsey Wilson, 47, pushed the accelerator further, aching to log a quicker lap time.

As of Tuesday, his name sat atop the leader board for the green track at Tampa Bay Grand Prix's Tampa location. Shortly after noon on April 1, he shot around the quarter-mile indoor track in 17:428 seconds. Halfway through the month, no other racers have eked out a faster lap.

Wilson checked his time after his most recent spin around the course. It's good, but it's no record breaker.

"There we are," he said, pointing to the screen that flashes the fastest times for the month. His son's name, Jordan, is two spots under his.

"And there we are again," he said as the times for the red track, the more technical of the two, lit up. Dempsey was third on that one as of Tuesday; his son, fifth.

When Tampa Bay Grand Prix opened a second location in Sabal Park just west of Brandon eight months ago, it immediately drew a range of people eager to push the carts to their 50 mph speed limit — though the indoor facility remains a hidden diversion to people driving by on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Kids (as long as they are at least 4 feet tall) celebrate birthday parties, couples go on dates, and grown men race each week, hoping for a faster time.

"We have regulars who come three or four times a week," assistant manager Alex Voccia said. "People love the rush and how fast the carts go."

The more serious racers said it's one of the more realistic experiences they've come across. The speed helps, but there's also the force it takes to steer and how the tires heat up just like a real race car.

While there are plenty of other places to race go-carts in Tampa Bay, most advertise speeds of 16 to 25 mph. They're also outdoors and thus subject to the whims of Florida weather: extreme heat that keeps riders at bay or pouring rain that can shut down courses for the day.

Both tracks at Tampa Bay Grand Prix are indoors. Thanks to electric carts, emissions aren't an issue. And though it gets loud inside, the electric engines are quieter than their gas counterparts.

"There's nothing really like this in Tampa," Voccia said. "Our carts are intense. People are sore afterward."

Raziel Morin raced at the track earlier in the week to celebrate his 14th birthday. His mom watched as he and his sister, Anais Foster, 17, tightened the straps on their helmets and buckled their safety harnesses.

At one point, Foster's cart crashed into padding at the far end of the course. Workers ran over and freed her car, and the two sped off again to finish their remaining laps. Foster later laughed about the crash and admitted that she didn't realize the wheel would be so much harder to turn than one on a regular car.

"I liked the speed and how there was no limit to how fast you can go," Foster said. "I have friends I want to come back with and tell them, 'Race me and see how it goes.' "

While the track hits its peak on Friday and Saturday nights — some racers have said they've waited as long as an hour to race on busy nights — daytime deals encourage people to come on their lunch breaks or on weeknights.

Matt Moore, 25, said he works down the street and usually comes in a once a week on his lunch break to log a few laps and try to improve his lap time. He enjoys the thrill and the goal of trying to beat previous times.

"Who doesn't like racing go-carts?" he said.

His friend O.C. St. Lawrence, 30, said he was happy to see the course open and hopes it brings similar types of businesses and activities to Hillsborough.

"Everything else in the area is kind of stale," St. Lawrence said. "When more things like this come to the area, the environment becomes a lot nicer. It gives us a lot more to do."

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

. if you go

Tampa Bay Grand Prix

3404 Cragmont Drive

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

Prices: Adults pay $16 for a 14-lap race or $39 for three 14-lap races.

Juniors pay $12 for one 10-lap race or $29 for three.

All racers are required to purchase an annual Tampa Bay Grand Prix racing license for $5. Present fire, police or military ID and get the license fee waived.

Specials: Adults pay $12 for a 12-lap race between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday to Friday. Junior pay $10 for an eight-lap race.

Buy two races, get one free on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

On Friday nights, women pay $10 per race starting at 6 p.m.

Go-cart fans get their fix at indoor Tampa Bay Grand Prix 04/16/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 5:12pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

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