We are living in the era of the free trial. From gyms to meal-delivery services, most businesses employ some version of giving a little to get a lot—to varying degrees of success. Netflix, for example, provides prospective members with one free month of streaming before it asks for their credit card, in the hopes of converting the curious into the committed. As of last year, the red “N” had a 93 percent conversion rate of free trials into yearly paid subscriptions.
Missouri-based kart builder Margay Racing has incorporated this try-before-you-buy methodology into its offerings. Contrary to Netflix, Margay believes you only need a few days–not a whole month–to get hooked on its product.
The karting company has lead the pack in production and competition since 1964, and offers its own version of a trial run at an extreme discount. For one weekend, at several tracks around the U.S., you can rent a professional kart and compete in its Ignite spec-racing series. This arrive-and-drive program allows you to go wheel-to-wheel with other kart racers without worrying about prep or maintenance. Even better, you have a personal mechanic at your side, who can help with anything from pedal placement to chassis setup to gear selection. You simply keep the kart shiny-side up—and have as much fun as possible doing it. Be forewarned, though: This “trial” will likely blossom into a full-blown commitment.
First, let’s discuss the type of kart the program provides. Margay’s Ignite series chassis comes in two sizes: K2 for ages 8–12 and K3 for ages 12 and above. These spec frames are manufactured right in the heart of St. Louis, Missouri, to a high tolerance so that all racers are in the same equipment. Scooting these karts around the track, are sealed Briggs & Stratton L206 engines, which run on 91-octane pump gas.
Even still, the little four-stroke makes 8.8 horsepower and 10 foot-pounds of twist. The engine—also used in junior dragsters—is slow off the corner but packs plenty of midrange punch. No shifting here, thanks to a single centrifugal Hilliard clutch affixed to the engine. The whole shebang rolls on Hoosier R80 tires. This tire compound is ideal for the Ignite karts; they provide a decent level of stick yet are hard enough to be forgiving. You can slide-and-catch the rig with ease. Bringing the show to a stop is the job of one rather small rear disk.
Your placement within the six Ignite classes depends on age and overall weight. I fell into the Ignite senior class, which features drivers older than 15 years and an aggregate 360 pounds between kart and driver (weighed after the race).
The whole package is arranged to create even, close-quarter racing. Think spec-Miata at quarter-scale–plenty of sliding, bumping, and even drafting. In 2020, I sampled the Ignite karts at Margay’s Battle at the Brickyard in Indianapolis. Defined as a short course, the track designers used Indy’s network of infield access roads to create a 10-turn course measuring roughly one mile in length. Of the many kart tracks—both temporary and permanent—that Margay offers in the arrive-and-drive roster, the Indy event is by far the most prestigious.
For $1695, I was privy to a brand-new, battle-ready kart, a mechanic, tires and fuel for the weekend, catered lunches, and–above all–the opportunity to race on a section of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s legendary asphalt. I spent the entire weekend–Friday practice, Saturday heats, and Sunday feature–dicing it up with over two dozen other racers in my age group.
My mechanic was a veteran in the karting ranks and effectively doubled as a crew chief. I would tell him I didn’t have enough acceleration off the corners, and he would suggest a sprocket change. Too loose, and he would change the tire pressure. His input had me turning competitive times by Sunday, and I placed well in the feature despite having not wheeled a kart in more than ten years.
By the end of those three days, I was sold, and Margay expects that to be the case. The company allows you to own the (approximately) $3500 kart in which you race for sticker minus the arrive-and-drive fee. While I didn’t have the requisite cash or the commitment on site at Indy, I called the Margay sales rep several weeks later to inquire about inventory. Shortly after I placed the call, Margay kart sat in my garage.
Ignite-style karts can be campaigned at nearly any track that features a 206-based class. (If you prefer to compete solely in Ignite class racing, Margay has several local Ignite tracks.) Just down the road from my Ann Arbor home, East Lansing Kart Track has a similar 206 affair, and the only change necessary is a softer tire compound. I plan to visit the track often this summer. I’m hooked, all thanks to a trial run.