By Hilary Danailova
For go-kart centers, the biggest maintenance issue is keeping those karts in working condition. Mini-golf installations are less likely to suffer mechanical issues, but more challenging to keep neat and clean, according to a survey of facility owners and managers.
The classic American pastimes of go-karting and mini-golf come with their own set of distinctive maintenance challenges, the experts say. Go-karts, which fly around courses at top speed, inevitably have mechanical issues, and keeping the vehicles safe is a top priority, said Alisha Plummer, a manager at Racer’s Edge Indoor Karting of Burbank, Calif.
“Throughout the day, the concern is that the cars are still of quality,” said Plummer, whose team is ever watchful for low battery charge, uncooperative seat belts and the like. To minimize issues, Racer’s Edge employs a mechanic who checks each kart first thing in the morning before the facility opens, making sure vehicles are ready to handle customers, Plummer said. The in-house mechanic is also available to fix whatever problems arise during the day, “so we can get people back on the kart, and get it back out there.”
In Laconia, New Hampshire, Heather Hickey has a reliable mechanic for the go-karts at Weirs Beach Go Kart Track — her husband, Tom. “He’s been doing this for 20-something years, he knows the karts inside and out,” said Hickey by phone from South Carolina, where the Hickeys take a break from the New England winter. Wear and tear on the karts, especially the tires, is a perpetual issue for the Hickeys and other go-kart purveyors.
In frozen New Hampshire, the Weirs Beach outdoor go-kart course also takes a beating from the elements, Hickey added. “Pavement cracking is a huge challenge for us,” she noted. “And it’s very, very expensive to fix.” After a long winter of freezing and thawing, “every year, you just have to wait and see what spring brings.”
Icy conditions aren’t an issue for West Coast businesses like Go-Kart World in Carson, Calif., just south of Los Angeles. But longtime Owner John Harris said the maintenance challenges are just as constant for his 140 go-karts, which require constant vigilance to prevent the kinds of mishaps that can trigger negligence lawsuits.
“Southern California is probably the lawsuit capital of the world, and go-karting is probably the highest risk entertainment there is,” said Harris, who opened his facility in 1993 and credits his conscientious approach to maintenance with a successful 27-year business. “You have to constantly upgrade your vehicles to address situations that could cause problems. For us to be here since 1993, having never settled a lawsuit, it shows how seriously we take this.”
After wrestling with a chronic mechanical problem that plagues virtually all gas-powered go-karts with Honda engines, Harris finally came up with a fix that involved specially made bearings. “It was a specific problem that we were running into constantly, and I think 99 percent of the other go-kart facilities have to keep fixing this over and over,” he sighed, noting that a seal between the motor and transmission kept blowing out before he found his solution.
Harris cautioned that relying on the manufacturers to supply safe models is insufficient, given the potential for injury inherent to a high-speed sport. As with the bearing solution, Harris frequently conjures up his own safety modifications: “Improved seat belts, improved wrist restraints, improved padding and steering wheels,” he said, adding that such fixes are inspired by observation.
In Harris’s view, conscientious maintenance isn’t just about safety; it’s also about liability, which is why patrons sign a release form and are monitored on videotapes that Harris stores for two years, the statute of limitations for filing injury claims in California. “This facility has more go-kart tracks than most places, our tracks are bigger and our karts go faster,” Harris said proudly. “We’re not so much into the glitz and glamour, but rather the experience.”
Which brings us to another maintenance issue — that all-crucial first impression. While longtime facilities like Go-Kart World rely on reputation, others compete to wow customers visually in a crowded entertainment market. “We straighten the redemption desk and cash register up, and clean it all every day,” said Michael Mathews of the entrance area at Glo Mini Golf in Riverside, California. “It’s all lighted up with flashing and blinking lights, lots of toys and games.”
At Weirs Beach and Go Kart Track, the outdoor facility greets visitors with prominently displayed signage. “We’ve tried to keep our prices the cheapest in the state of New Hampshire, so people walk up and they say, ‘Wow, this is a good bargain,’” said Heather Hickey. The couple was tired of painting their building, which houses the Live Free and Tie Dye make-your-own-tie-dye activity room, so they recently spruced up the exterior with new siding. “And every few years, we do new signs and awnings,” Hickey added.
The mini-golf course at Sundae Funday in Columbia Station, Ohio is also outdoors, so that first impression depends on a spanking-clean lawn, eye-catching lighting, and freshly scrubbed exterior signage, said Owner Jackie Buehner. The biggest challenge, day in and day out, is “the leaves and everything that falls from the trees,” explained Buehner, who keeps the mini-golf area open year-round for enthusiasts, weather permitting. A crew also makes sure the water holes are clean and free of debris, especially in the summer months, she added.
Leaves and pollen are less of a culprit for indoor mini-golf facilities, but Michael Mathews of Glo Mini Golf in Riverside, Calif., still must contend with dirty surfaces. Stains, chewing gum and other unsightly blights on the carpeting are a constant challenge for the crew at Glo Mini Golf, said Mathews, who schedules a weekly professional deep cleaning to keep floors attractive. “Because it’s indoors, we have a lot of foot traffic,” he said of the sprawling facility, which also houses an arcade and a virtual reality café. “So carpeting cleaning is definitely our biggest maintenance challenge.” Whether indoors, outdoors, in sunny California or out in New England, cleanliness is the key to a successful facility.