If you want to visit the Missouri Division of Tourism's official promotional website for Lake of the Ozarks, don’t bother typing in the lengthy four word title, and throwing a dot com at the end. Instead, just type funlake.com. That’s right. The website says it all. One needn’t look any further to understand, that with the seemingly endless array of premiere golf courses, miniature golf, lakefront dining, water sports, and natural and man-made attractions, Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri is a place where, as the website boasts, "summer is an endless celebration." And at the lake, no celebration is complete without a trip to the go-kart track.
To fully comprehend the majesty of go-karts, one must first understand the long and enduring history they have at the Lake of the Ozarks. Archaeologists suspect that around 47 BC, Julius Cesar held the first "go-khariot" races in what is now known as the Midwest. Bits of small chariots, and drawings depicting over sized gladiators standing in tiny carts being pulled by ponies, can currently be seen on display at the Smithsonian. As Christopher Kolumbus made his way north from the West Indies, he took notice of what he thought was the ancient Native tradition of "go-kanoe" racing. (Though we now know the Natives were directly influenced by Julius Caesar.) Kolumbus noted how only children of certain heights were allowed to participate in these races. If the children did not reach as high as first branch on the spring willow, they were not allowed to race.
This tradition continued all the way to 1804, when Lewis and Klark crossed the Mississippi. In their journals, they wrote about being the first white people to be invited to race in the new "double seater kanoe". Sacagawea, however, was forced to stand on the banks and watch because her child was not yet tall enough to drive alone. Eventually after two key events (the creation of Lake of the Ozarks by building Bagnell Dam and the invention of the gas-powered engine) occurred, the first go-kart track was built in 1952 by Juan Rodriguez. Though much of go-karting history is based on speculation, and weak evidence (as well as my lack of knowledge and disinterest in the subject), the fact remains that go-karts are a prominent source of amusement at the lake.
For those who don’t know, a go-kart is a small vehicle with a gas-powered engine located in the rear. A brightly colored plastic body usually covers the engine and frame, unless you get one of the new ones that is just the metal frame. Those ones are really cool. The engine of a go-kart is usually started in the same fashion one starts a push lawnmower, by yanking a string with a handle in a sharp, upward motion. A teenage boy, who, moments before you arrived, screwed a bolt back on after taking it off, so he and his kartboy friends could drive really fast around the track and take the curves at sharper angles, generally performs this task. If the kartboy does not start the kart, it will be started by a kartman probably in his thirties, who is undoubtedly stoned and just finished a conversation with a kartboy about how he worked at a go-kart track when he was the boy’s age. Then he offered the kartboy some pot. At this point, you’ll be seated in one of these carts (your favorite color or number if you’re lucky) and strapped in with a seat belt. A kartboy will then instruct you that the gas is on your right, and the break is on your left just like a car. In the double seater, it’s a little different. You have to break with your left foot.
There is no bumping or pushing, or you will be ejected and will not be allowed to ride again. When your 5 minutes is up, we’ll flash the caution sign. At which time, you’ll pull SLOWLY back in to the pit. No, sir, you can’t switch karts. No, they all go the same speed. Yes, the double seaters are faster, but not when there are two people in them. Sir, we can’t allow you to drive a double seater by yourself.
Lake of the Ozarks is host to around ten go-kart tracks, and each with it’s own special charm. It’s important to know where to go for the good go-karting. When choosing a go-kart track, you must ask yourself what you want out of the experience. Are you just looking for some quick amusement with the friends, or are you looking to take the whole family out? Are you wanting some late night drunken fun? It is important to remember that most of these tracks are run by teenagers who don’t care anything about your well-being, and are just waiting for some drunken people to mess with. You also might want to consider if you’re going to want to engage in any other activities before or after go-karts, as many tracks are also host to mini golf courses and bumper cars. What kind of atmosphere do you want to go-kart in? Something loud and busy just off the highway? Or something nestled in a more secluded area? What is the weather, like because most tracks are not open in the rain. To answer these questions, I have compiled a track-by-track account of many of the best go-kart tracks the lake has to offer.