Racing Dreams

PBS Premiere: Feb. 23, 2012Check the broadcast schedule »

In Context

The first auto races took place in Europe in the late 19th century (shortly after the automobile was invented), but kart racing didn't begin in the United States as a recreational activity until the 1950s. Spaces like shopping center parking lots, yards and airfields were used to stage informal races with go-karts that were sometimes made of nothing more than scrap metal and lawn mower engines.

While karting is still a hobby for many people today, it has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry and is viewed as a steppingstone to the higher ranks of NASCAR and Formula One. Professional NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and others started out racing competitive go-karts -- and Brandon, Annabeth and Josh (the three tweens featured in the film) dream of stepping up to the "big leagues," too.

Racing Dreams follows these three young racers as competitors in races organized by the World Karting Association (WKA) -- the largest national sanctioning body for karting in North America. The WKA alone boasts 10,000 active members (both youth and adult) and counts 120 tracks worldwide where competitive races are held. Other organizations regulating karting in the United States include the International Kart Federation (IFK) and the Karters of America Racing Triad (KART).

The film follows the WKA Pavement Series, one of the two annual WKA national series that race exclusively on oval tracks. A five-race national tour, the Pavement Series races on asphalt (as opposed to the other oval track series, which races on dirt) and is split into classes, with cumulative scoring determining an overall winner. In the film, Annabeth and Josh compete at the junior level, while Brandon is in his last season in the senior division.

For a list of WKA national touring series, visit

Organized karting events are open to drivers as young as 5 years old. Formal competitive classes with the WKA begin at the junior level (age 8) and typically run in three-year age groupings up to the senior level (age 15 or 16, depending on the series, and up). About 45 percent of competitive WKA racers are juniors.

While karting is considered a good way to get into professional car racing, karting can cost up to $5,000 per event at the World Karting Association level. Considering these costs (most of which are for equipment and travel), sponsorship has become commonplace in karting (even at the junior level), with companies willing to place bets on future racing stars.

Photo caption: Racing Karts.
Credit: Kent Smith

» Aspen Motorsports Park
» Bardi, Joe. "Movie Review: Marshall Curry's Racing Dreams, Starring Annabeth Barnes, Joshua Hobson and Brandon Warren." Creative Loafing Tampa, May 21, 2010.
» Burke, Tom and Tony Kovaleski. "Parents of Girl Killed at Go-Kart Race Talk to 7NEWS.", May 18, 2011.
» "Go-kart Related Injuries & Deaths to Children, September 2000." U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Library.
» Holden, Stephen. "Too Young for Driver's Licenses, but With Full-Throttle Ambitions." The New York Times, July 8, 2010.
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» Sugar River Raceway
» Wolfkill, Kim. "Superkarts - Super Speeds - Racing." Road & Track, September 29, 2005.
» World Karting Association
» 8W