Feel the Need for Speed?

Jack Ryan, a Rush Hour Karting staff member, demonstrates how fast the karts can go around the indoor track. The gas-powered vehicles can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour.

Speed, adrenaline, competitive, fun.

Ask drivers getting out of the karts at Rush Hour Karting about their experience motoring around a winding 0.3-mile indoor track at speeds up to 40 miles per hour, and any or all of those words are sure to be used in response.

Go-kart drivers can be six feet apart and still have fun competing against each other.

A few days after Rush Hour Karting resumed business during phase one of North Carolina’s coronavirus reopening plan, Cris Cooper, 20, of Zebulon, was among those ready to return to a routine.

“Oh man, I’ve missed this place,” said Cooper, who had vowed before the pandemic-induced sheltering-in-place to visit at least once a month. “Racing cars is just fun to me. I am not sure there’s a good way to explain it.”

This is not a typical summer for North Carolinians, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions. The recreational options for families looking for fun have become limited.

Rush Hour Karting, which opened in 2005 and is located just off Interstate-40 in Garner, emerges as a natural and viable option.

Bear, the mascot for Rush Hour Karting, grabs a stray ping-pong ball, interrupting a game between brothers and business partners Tamer and Adam Saad.

“Unlike some entertainment venues like movie theaters or bowling alleys, where you’re actually in groups together and in close proximity, here you’re in a go-kart and 6 feet apart at all times,” owner Adam Saad said. “Plus you have your own head sock, helmet and neck brace, so you’re completely covered. It’s nice to have an entertainment venue that in its nature promotes social distancing.”

While closed for six weeks during the pandemic, Rush Hour Karting went through a transformation “by deep-cleaning the entire track, completely remodeling the lobby so that it was more open and customers could feel more comfortable,” Saad said. He estimates spending nearly $20,000 to remodel and purchase improved cleaning and disinfecting equipment.

When they’re not zooming around the track, visitors to Rush Hour Karting can play arcade games or have a bite to eat.

Rush Hour Karting bills itself as “serious adult fun” because, according to Saad, kids tend to spread the word amongst themselves regardless of advertising. “We basically had to re-educate people on the karting business,” he said. “Many people associate carting with kiddie carting, which is spelled with a ‘C.’ This business is with a ‘K.’”

So, what’s the difference?

Each rider gets their own helmet, head sock and neck brace. Between customers, all the equipment is cleaned and sanitized, says owner Adam Saad.

The more prevalent carts — with a “C” — are typically associated with amusement parks. They don’t require helmets and generally reach a maximum of 12 miles per hour. Karts are considered an entryway into motor racing. Thus, there are greater safety restrictions, such as helmets. Junior drivers must be a minimum of 8 years old and at least 48 inches tall. Adult drivers must be a minimum of 15 years old.

The karts at Rush Hour are gas-powered and have Honda 6.5 horsepower engines (think lawnmower as a comparison). In the past 15 years, electric karts have become more commonplace. They tend to accelerate faster and can be controlled remotely, making them more appealing for customer safety.

Mechanic Austin Wall, left, repairs a kart engine as owner Adam Saad watches.

“In Asia and Europe karting is huge,” said Saad, noting that there are only a few karting tracks in North Carolina. The others are located around Charlotte, long considered the hub for NASCAR.

“When we started, we thought this concept would be an ideal for team building, especially considering all of the companies and three major universities located in the Triangle.”

The facility offers amenities such as ax-throwing and video games, a tavern, and a conference room to accommodate company outings. The venue also does its share of hosting youth birthday parties and offers week-long summer camps throughout the summer.

As a result of the high percentage of corporate business, Saad plans to open a second Rush Hour Karting facility at the Wake Competition Center in Morrisville. Originally scheduled to open in October, delays caused by the pandemic may push the opening to early 2021. The new facility will include a slightly longer multi-level track, electric karts and a 300-person conference room.

Ultimately, the draw of Rush Hour Karting is all about the racing. In NASCAR, there’s an adage that if you’re not rubbin’, you’re not racin’. While bumping is prohibited at Rush Hour, it does not decrease the intensity.

“I’ve driven bumper cars and other smaller carts, but they’re nothing like this,” said Zach Forbis, 17, of Chapel Hill, who had just come off the track with his two siblings. “The appeal is going fast … competitiveness.”

While taking the checkered flag is the ultimate proof of finish, a large television screen overlooking the track displays the drivers’ lap times. A typical race lasts 8 minutes, and the more skilled drivers can navigate the 13-turn course in roughly 30 seconds.

Cooper introduced his friend Jordan Love, 20, of Wake Forest, to karting about a year ago. Love admits that he is not as skilled as Cooper — as the lap times would attest — but the more laps he logs, the most addictive the sport gets.

“It’s certainly better than sitting around all day,” Love said.

Rush Hour Karting
Vehicle type: Karts
White Oak Business Park
5335 Raynor Road, Garner
(919) 662-9101
Check website or call for hours.

Frankie’s Fun Park
Vehicle type: Carts
11190 Fun Park Drive, Raleigh
(919) 433-7888

Adventure Landing
Vehicle type: Carts
3311 Capital Blvd., Raleigh
(919) 872-1688

Wheels Fun Park
Vehicle type: Carts
715 North Hoover Road, Durham
(919) 598-1944

Note: For up-to-date operating hours, call or check the facility’s website in advance.

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