Tyler Butler is 10, and his friend Joshua Brimecombe is 11. Both are deep into a serious addiction.

As often as five times a week, the pair – better known as “Bomber” and “Flash” – can be found at Maine Indoor Karting in Scarborough. The two NASCAR fans first tried their hands at indoor karting in 2005. So far this year, both have participated in around 400 races at the track.

“It’s our biggest hobby,” said Butler, of Biddeford, one night last week at the Scarborough track. He and Brimecombe, of Portland, play other sports, are serious about school and plan on going to college – that is, if they haven’t already made it big as race car drivers.

Already popular in Europe, indoor karting is a growing sport in the United States, and in southern Maine, two facilities within 7 miles of each other are squaring off for customers in what has become a heated rivalry. Each owner claims to offer the only authentic indoor karting experience in the state.

According to business owners Rick Snow of Maine Indoor Karting and Rick Vance of Victory Lane in Westbrook, there are somewhere between 60 and 100 indoor karting facilities throughout the country. Neither Snow nor Vance is troubled by the proximity of the two businesses.

Snow had raced cars his whole life, but was first exposed to indoor karting when visiting his brother in Germany. He thought Americans would take to the sport, too, and dreamed of “bringing it to the masses” at home. With encouragement from his wife, Lori, after 26 years in the Navy and 10 years in finance, Snow decided to break open the indoor karting scene in Maine. That was four years ago.

Last Labor Day, Vance, who has been racing go karts since he was 9 years old, had the same idea, and wasn’t going to let Maine Indoor Karting stop him. “They’re totally different,” Vance said.

Both owners claim their karts are faster and safer, that their tracks are more authentic and that when it comes to “real” indoor karting, they’re the only game in town. While Snow says he hasn’t lost any customers to Victory Lane, Vance says hundreds have made the switch.

Maine Indoor Karting uses Sodi karts, which are more open than the cage-like Champ karts at Victory Lane and, according to Vance, not as safe.

Maine Indoor Karting requires that children under 16 take a $35 safety class, a practice that Vance implied was only in place to make money.

Both businesses charge $20 for an adult to participate in a single race, but each owner thinks his facility has the better deal. Maine Indoor Karting charges based on the time on the track – one race is 8 minutes long. At Victory Lane, the race is based on the number of laps completed, where one race is 35 laps.

Vance said that charging by the minute is unfair to inexperienced racers, who are more likely to get stuck on the track or have to pull over. Snow said that charging by the lap is unfair to inexperienced drivers because the race is over once the fastest car completes the circuit, cutting off time for slower drivers.

Regardless of their differences, there are a few things that Vance and Snow can agree on. Indoor karting is addictive, and most people who try it once won’t stay away for long.

Kart racing, or karting, is a variant of open-wheeler motor sport with simple, small, four-wheeled vehicles called karts or go-karts. They are usually raced on scaled-down circuits.

The karting bug does not discriminate by age. Both businesses are popular venues for birthday parties, as well as corporate events.

Sandra Batakis hauled her son, Stephen, and his friends to Maine Indoor Karting all the way up from Peabody, Mass., for his 11th birthday party in March. “It’s all he wanted,” she said.

Michael Crowley comes down from Brunswick with his wife, who watches as he fulfills his “need for speed” at the track.

“I’m addicted,” Crowley said, who has been to the Scarborough facility six times.

Whether Snow and Vance will eventually be able to claim that they conditioned some of the biggest names in NASCAR, both believe it is important to encourage younger kids to get into karting.

Vance, who owns Vance’s Driving School and taught driver education for over 20 years, has seen the positive effect of early driving experience on teenagers trying to earn their licenses. Vance said that beyond the mechanics of driving, like knowing how to steer, whether its on a snowmobile, a boat or a go kart, kids can develop reaction times and learn to look ahead.

“It’s a huge benefit,” Vance said.

Snow said that learning how to regain control of the vehicle is also skill that kids can learn at the track and apply on the road. “Experience matters,” he said.

Snow also believes that providing the opportunity for kids to drive on the edge of danger in a safe environment will end up making a difference in the number of teenage deaths caused by highway drag racing.

“What I want people to do is come here and learn what it’s like to drive near the limits of the car’s ability,” Snow said. “Get them to do it here instead of out on the street.”

Safety on the track is important to both owners, as well. Track managers constantly monitor the races, making sure everything is running smoothly, using flags to signal when there is a hazard on the course or faster drivers are approaching from behind and giving tips to drivers as they learn the line of the track.

Though there may be slight differences between the style of racing at Maine Indoor Karting and Victory Lane, both have the same goal in mind, and so do the drivers.

“It’s about just having fun,” Butler said.


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