Virtual game inspires real kart racingWhen speaking at international gatherings on how ubiquitous things from Korea have become, Information Minister Chin Dae-je enjoys mentioning two success stories: Cyworld and Kart Rider.
The former is an online homepage/community networking site and the latter an online arcade-style racing game made by domestic game developer, Nexon.
Kart Rider should not be dismissed as merely a child's plaything, however, as the company makes a minimum of 5.1 billion won ($5 million) per month from selling cyber accessories alone. Players use these to decorate their karts and helmets.
Due to the increasing popularity of the virtual game, real go-kart racing has also been gaining more attention. Many who enjoy the cyber game have headed to the racing track to see if the real thing is as much fun as maneuvering on a screen.
“I wanted to drive a real go-kart, not one of those bumper cars at amusement parks,” said Han Dong-bin, a 4th-grade elementary school student. “My mom was worried I was too young to drive, but when I came here, I saw a lot of kids who looked younger than me.”
Kim Jung-hwan, 31, said he had come to the racing track with members of a community that met while playing the online Kart Rider game. “We usually meet on weekends and go for a drink, but then a member said she saw some television program about the go-kart track and we thought it would be interesting to check it out,” Mr. Kim said. “But I don't think I'm an offline racing fan. It was a nice one-time experience, but it's too expensive.”
Karting, however, isn't just for leisure. Two young afficionados of the sport, 15-year old Kim Kun-ho and 18-year old Park Gwang-ok, are aspiring go-kart racers who hope to move on to race Formula One cars in the future.
Although go-karts are very different to race cars, young racers can get used to the track environment and acquire skills that are used in both sports, such as tactics and maneuvering techniques.
The go-kart itself is a miniature car in which the driver’s seat is only about six inches from the ground. Those made for leisure purposes can reach speeds of 50 to 60 kilometers per hour while professional models can reach 100 kilometers per hour. Because of the proximity of the driver to the racetrack, those speeds seem much faster than they would in a regular automobile.
Driving a go-kart doesn’t require a license, making it ideal for children. In fact, many elementary school groups visit for field trips since most children are familiar with the Kart Rider game and are interested in real karting.
Driving the kart is simple: all one has to do is steer using the scaled-down steering wheel and depress the accelerator pedal to increase speed. To slow down, ease off on the accelerator and apply the brake pedal instead. The steering feels “heavier” than most regular cars (most of which are equipped with power steering) but even a slight turn of the wheel will turn the go-kart.
There are several tracks in Korea where one can drive go-karts - located mostly in Seoul and the metropolitan area.
The most well-known tracks are Kartvil and Kartland, both made expressly for go kart racing. Other tracks are usually multi-purpose tracks or just leisure tracks and can not be used for professional racing.
Kartland is less than an hour's drive from Seoul in Paju, Gyeonggi province. The company that runs the racing track trains professional racers and hosts competitions, but it also focuses on the mass appeal aspect of sport, and aims to make go-kart racing part of Korea's leisure sports culture.
“We see go-kart racing as another form of sports marketing and hope to play a part in vitalizing Korea's sports leisure industry,” said Moon Sung-soo, head of IMTL Co. which runs Kartland.
The Kartvil track, located in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi province, runs training programs for children and adults. The organization also actively promotes the karting culture, and is currently developing go-karts locally for domestic manufacture, since go-karts and accessories currently have to be imported.
As a weekend hobby, karting can be considered a luxury sport, with fees averaging 15,000 won to 20,000 won for only 10 minutes of racing. Group rates, however, are much lower and recommended, as it is more fun to race people you know.
“A lot of schools, offices and private clubs like to come together and spend a couple hours on the tracks,” a Kartvil official said.
by Wohn Dong-hee
Kartvil is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m.- 6p.m. For more information, call 031-227-7020. Kartland is open every day from 9:30 a.m.- 7:00 p.m. For more information call 031-944-9736.