Tesla, Go kart Racers, and the Big Bang Theory

Mjordan
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Tesla Electric Roadster

The boys in Ann Arbor aren't the only ones to go karting.; I one-up them by doing it electrically.

So I found myself for the second time in five days at K1 Speed, a new indoor go-kart racing emporium just opened in Irvine, California, by NASCAR and sports-car racer Boris Said and his long-time pals from No Fear, Inc.; It’s one of those go-kart thrill rides, only taken to a triple-rarified level with two race tracks inside a facility of 100,000 square-feet, racing memorabilia on the walls, club-style strobe lights and loud music, and a $20 lunch special that includes a sandwich, a drink and a 12-lap race.

The thing that really makes it different is the Italian-built go-karts. Unlike the real, racing-spec, gas-powered karts at Dromo 1 in nearby Orange, California, these K1 machines are powered by 15kW electric motors.; The karts look like oversize plastic toys, but they’re fast and quiet, and you don’t collapse with carbon monoxide poisoning after an evening of racing.; It was interesting to see the way my friends – all legitimate car guys, many with racing licenses – were surprised to discover that anything electric could be fun.

As car guys, we have this prejudice that anything powered by electricity will be silent, soul-less, and sleep-inducing, pretty much like your typical home appliance.; When I drove the Tesla roadster in August, every journalist and car guy who saw it roll by at low speed, so quiet that you could hear only the tires against the pavement, figured the same thing.

It’s as if car guys all subscribe to the Big Bang theory.; They like the idea of fiery explosions inside a block of iron or aluminum.; Like blacksmiths, they like the sparks, the noise and the fumes – infernal combustion.; Whenever the subject of fuel efficiency and air emissions comes up, they want to talk about diesels, because it’s the kind of thing they understand.; The like those big bangs, and diesels sure have enough rattle and shake and stink for everybody.

But as the Tesla Roadster and the K1 Speed go-karts have shown me, electric-powered cars can have a personality, too.; When the electric motor spins at 13,000 rpm, as it does when you’re driving quickly in the Tesla roadster, it makes a strong turbine-like whine. Whenever you put your foot on the accelerator pedal, the motor responds instantly with a wave of torque combined with a unique willingness to rev quicker.; It even takes a little driving technique to get the most out of an electric motor, as the karts at K1 Speed prove.; Altogether it’s just a totally different experience, and speed can be a part of it.

It makes me realize that most of the negative spin you read about the relative merits of electric-powered vehicles isn’t really about driving goodness or environmental friendliness or well-to-wheel fuel efficiency.; It’s about attitude, not science.; It’s all about Big Bang theory, and some people simply prefer infernal combustion and some people don’t.

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