CLAY CITY — The fronts of businesses on Ky. 15 in Clay City on Sunday were adorned with signs that read "Welcome Karters."
More than 600 go-karters from 41 states descended on this town of less than 1,500 for a chance to win the single largest payout in karting history — $50,000 for first place in a race dubbed "The Insane One."
The Clay City Kart Speedway, which hosted the event, looked a lot like a NASCAR track Sunday afternoon, the final day of three days of racing. People stood on top of pricey RVs to watch as racers qualified for the final race Sunday. Racing teams hovered over carts, making last-minute adjustments to tires and equipment before the final qualifying races.
Thirty karts competed Sunday evening for the $50,000, and Shay Chavous, 19, of Georgia won. Chavous said he had never raced in Kentucky and was drawn to the Clay City track because of Sunday's big purse.
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Chavous, who has been racing since he was 6, said some of the money would go back into racing, but, "hopefully, I can do something fun with some of it."
The Insane One was the brainchild of promoter Ed Hasty, who has been involved with various aspects of racing all of his life. Hasty, who runs a body shop when he's not at the racetrack, leases Clay City Kart Speedway but owns tracks in other parts of Kentucky. The previous largest purse for a single race was $20,000. Hasty thought if he upped the prize money, he could get more karters to the Clay City track.
"I've been nicknamed Crazy Ed all of my life," Hasty said. "When I came up with this idea, they just skipped the crazy and went straight to insane, that's how the race got its name."
Hasty was hoping to have several hundred karters participate in the races this weekend. Racers had to pay an entry fee, and spectators were charged at the gate.
The karts that ran Sunday do not resemble the go-karts found at amusement parks. The karts cost upwards of $4,500, and many travel at speeds of 80 to 90 miles an hour.
Dave Whitaker, who helped Hasty this weekend, said most people need a sponsor to be competitive in the sport, which is viewed as a steppingstone to other levels of motor sport racing. It is often viewed as the first step to any serious racing career.
Jerry Welch, who runs Welch Performance Racing Engines in Knoxville, builds go-kart engines and was on hand this weekend to provide support to the racers. Welch, who used to race, says karting is closer to NASCAR than it is to the rudimentary go-karts people used 20 years ago.
"The technology has come a long way," Welch said. Go-karts now are built with top-line technology such as laser alignment.
Some of the biggest names in modern racing started on tracks such as Clay City's, Welch said. Tony Stewart, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon all got their start racing karts.