Karting History: 1957-1958

This is Don Boberick's account of karting's early days 1957-1958.

I became involved in karting early on, when it was still Art Ingels, Duffy Livingstone and a few individuals doing some impromptu racing and gymkana type of events in a parking lot of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Roy Desbrow, a business partner of Duffy Livingstone, had constructed a kart that was called the "Drone". It was so named because it was powered by a 250cc engine originally used in a U.S. Army radio controlled drone airplane. I acquired that kart and joined the competition at the Rose Bowl.

Boberick-8.jpg (67150 bytes)
Don driving the "Drone" at the Rose Bowl parking lot 1957.


rosebowl.jpg (46669 bytes)

"This photo of the Rose Bowl gathering is indeed an early picture in the history of karting. I can recognize only a few things in that gathering. The kart that is closest to the camera is GP Muffler (later Go Kart Mfg.) chassis and not an Ingels-Borelli design. Two of the later can be seen at left center. The individual kneeling right behind foremost kart is Spencer Murray, a writer with Hot Rod magazine. Spence was active in early karting but not a constant competitor. I think I also recognize the kart immediately behind the foremost kart as the "drone" because of the view of the dropped front axle. That is the kart that Spence Murray appears, by his position, to have been examining the engine area--which was unique. I do not see any of the other central figures of early karting in the picture."

I had some background in sports car racing as did Duffy Livingstone and Marvin Patchen (an advertising manager with Peterson Publishing, Co.). We saw karting as a new avenue for organized motoracing at an inexpensive level. I also knew how to put a formal organization together and how to write technical regulations that could govern the kind of vehicles that would comprise the competition. So twelve of us agreed to form an organization patterned after the Sports Car Club of America; which I then incorporated as a California non profit corporation under name Go Kart Club of America. Dick Van der Veer was its first President.

We then went looking for a place to set up a road racing circuit where we could enjoy our new sport and promote its growth. The venue we secured was the huge parking lot of the May Company Shopping Center in Covina, California, which came equipped with palm trees and abundant curbing. The following photo is the "Drone"piloted by Marlene Duffy at the May Company parking lot in 1958. The kart immediately behind Marlene is Duffy Livingstone, followed by Marvin Patchen;both on what came to be GoKart 400 models.

Boberick-7.jpg (41491 bytes)

About Don Boberick

Boberick-4.jpg (72336 bytes)
Don, with Jim Rathmann

From Feb 1961 issue of "The Karter", the official GKCA publication, just after Don's being elected GKCA President (edited):

Don, a 33 year old attorney practicing in Pasadena, was first introduced to karting at its birthplace, the Pasadena Rosebowl. In the summer of 1957, he took a few unsteady laps on an old straight axle kart, and from that moment on his concern with karts has been one of the most important factors in the growth of the sport.

Prior to karting, Don was an avid sportscar and acrobatic flying enthusiast and competed in the early days of sportscar in unusual Javelins. His interest in sportscars and European Grand Prix racing has had an influence on the development of karting along road racing lines rather than dirt ovals.

Don's first kart was the Drone Special. It was a big 15-inch 2-cylinder opposed affair out of a target drone. The kart had been built by Roy Desbrow, and in that day, its 9 hp with gobs of torque was an impressive machine. It was considered the ultimate in karting. During the late '57 and early '58 Eastland days, Don was the man to beat in C class. Both his skill in driving and the meticulous care of his equipment kept him a consistent winner.

Don's wife Marlene also was an avid karter. Driving Don's big Drone, her coordination and deft throttle foot made her a hard person to beat when it was her turn at the wheel.

As karting progressed, Don was called upon more and more to help with various clubs and legal problems and advice on running events. Probably one of the most impassioned speeches ever delivered in karting was given by Don at a meeting of the West Covina city council when karters were threatened with being booted out of Eastland because they allegedly made too much noise. The basis of his appeal was that the pleasure karting brings to so many families certainly overshadowed the discomfort the noise might bring to a few. Because they had activities only twice a month, it seemed improper that the city should deprive so many of its residents from enjoying karting. With the conclusion of his speech, the gallery broke into cheers, and the council could do little but let karting continue.

Don was the designer of the famed Azusa track and also has continued with his activities in course design with many of the top tracks in the country being given the Boberick touch. ...

...During the early 1959 season, Don was active in the American Kart Manufacturer's Associationand constantly was protecting the interests of the club and the consumer. As AKMA grew, more and more traveling was required, and despite much opposition from certain manufacturers whose idea of karting was strictly how much money they could make and the heck with the karter after he bought his kart, the GKCA continued to be the dominant influence in AKMA's rules.

Karting is indeed fortunate that Don is a member of the sport. No one can deny that, in his post as president, his decisions are based on actual behind the wheel karting experience. The many problems that faced sportscar racing fortunately were avoided in forming the GKCA rules and regulations. Don, of course, is the first to admit that not everything has been perfect within the GKCA, but he works hard toward that day in the not too distant future that the GKCA becomes the largest automotive racing club in the world.

...Next time you see Don, stop and say hello. There is a good possibility that if Don weren't a karter you wouldn't be either.


History: The GoKart Mfg. Co.


The History of Go Kart Mfg. Co.
as recounted by Don Boberick (9/18/98):

As to Go Kart Manufacturing, Co. Inc., it came into being in 1958. The principles, Duffy Livingstone and Roy Desbrow, were partners in a muffler business called "GP Mufflers," in Monrovia, California. Both Duff and Roy were experts at fabricating welded components. After seeing Art Ingles' one-off creation, Duffy and Roy fabricated their own versions and then improved on them. And, Duffy built a couple for friends (including Bill Jeffery who did the upholstery for everybody - that's Bill in the above racing photo). Bill Rowles, then a salesman of surplus materials in the L.A. area, was a frequent visitor at the GP Muffler shop in Monrovia. Bill had located a source of inexpensive engines from a failed West Bend rotary lawn mower venture. The three individuals, operating out of GP Muffler's facilities, formed a loose partnership to manufacture and sell kit components for karts. They called them "Go Karts" after the name Lynn Wineland, a commercial artist, had coined in an ad referring to GP's products. "Dart Kart" was another Lynn Wineland creation. The kits GP produced were offered mail order for $129 and the business grew like Topsy.

I can remember one day lounging in the small office at GP Muffler with Bill Rowles and Duffy Livingstone when the postman came by with a handful of envelopes addressed to "Go Kart Manufacturing" and saying "It looks like another thirty orders today, guys." That kind of demand became constant and it became apparent that the business had to be elevated several levels. I formed a corporation for the company and it leased a five acre facility in Azusa from AeroJet General Corporation. The company had six stockholders. Roy Desbrow, Duffy Livingstone and Bill Rowles were the principal stockholders. Jim Patronite (the company's accountant, who later formed Azusa Engineering), myself and the companiy's office manager were the three minor stockholders. Go Kart Manufacturing Co. Inc. continued to thrive in its Azusa facilities into 1963.

In 1962, Art Linkletter Enterprises made an offer of $750,000 for purchase of the shares. The offer called for $250,000 up front with the balance of $500,000 to be paid at the end of one year. Go Kart declined that offer because the proposal gave management control to the Linkletter group prior to final payment and we did not trust their ability manage the company. Unfortunately Go Kart had, less than a year earlier, hired a very experienced, energetic and enthusiastic individual to manage the sales end of the business. To promote the product, Go Kart began to fly the six driver and four mechanic racing team, seven or eight karts plus spare parts to places like Mansfield, Ohio, Rockford, Illinois and the Bahamas. As spending escalated, sales hit a plateau industry wide. From just a handful of manufactures in 1959 the industry had grown to over thirty manufacturers by 1962. Go Kart failed to accommodate the recession in sales of its products by cutting back on spending. It went into bankruptcy.

One bit of irony in the demise of Go Kart Manufacturing Co, Inc. is that for a couple of years Go Kart was involved in trade mark litigation with Fox Body Company of Janesville, WI, over the trade mark "Go Kart." Fox called their kart the "Go Boy Kart" which we said was akin to calling a cola drink "Coca Boy Cola." Fox, on the other hand filed a petition to dissolve our trade mark "Go Kart," claiming it was generic. After Go Kart Mfg.. went through bankruptcy, Fox bought the "Go Kart" name for just a few dollars from the bankrupt estate. That was "Go Kart" from beginning to end--with a lot of fun in between.


Jim Patronite went on to make Azusa Engineering a success and it is still going strong with his son and nephew at the helm. Roy Desbrow has since passed on. Bill Rowles is enjoying life in southern California.

Before the company went into bankruptcy I gave up karting to get back into aviation. Then I got into aviation law and moved out of Pasadena. Duffy Livingstone spent several years operating a specialty welding company in Costa Mesa. He is now retired and living in Grants Pass, Oregon. I just talked to him tonight and he is in the process of restoring his original FKE kart, "the Mole." He was able to recover all of the original parts except for the body shell. The original shell hangs in someone's garage in Monrovia but the individual (despite having obtained it for nothing from Jeff) refuses to now part with it.

History: 1959

Karting History
as recounted by Don Boberick (9/18/98):

Duffy Livingstone and partners, Roy Desbrow and Bill Rowles, built a new Go Kart Mfg. facility in Azusa, California, for manufacturing karts. The facility included a test track in which we tried to incorporate a variety of turns from sweeping corners, to tight turns and even a high bank turn. It incorporated one straightaway of sufficient length to allow the karts of the period to reach speeds of 55-60 m.p.h.

Boberick-1.jpg (90833 bytes)

This is the old Drone (now a more reliable "B" class kart with West Bend engines) testing on the new "Azusa" track in early 1959. In July of that year, the GKCA put on its first "Grand Nationals" at the Azusa track. At that date, no current kart manufacturer was fronting organized racing teams;we were all still running with our own "colours." Several weeks prior to the race someone (I don’t remember whom) contacted me, told me that Jim Rathmann wished to enter a McCulloch powered kart constructed by him, and asked whether I would consider driving the kart in class "B" in lieu of my own. I, of course, knew of Jim Rathman, but had never met him. I agreed that if they brought the kart over (from Texas) for the practice days before the races, I would test the kart and then decide whether I would race it. They brought it to Azusa and I made a number of practice laps with the kart. After efforts (through changes in tires and tire pressures) to get the Xterminator to handle to my satisfaction were without success I opted not to drive the Xterminator.

Boberick-2.jpg (110386 bytes)

This photo was taken in the course of those tests. The man to the right of Rathmann was a person whose name I can no longer recall but he was a VP of Sales for Cushman. The man to Rathmann’s left, whom I also cannot recall, was a VP of Sales for McCulloch engines. At the time I knew both men fairly well as I was also on the board of directors for USKA, a fledgling organization that was trying to become the USAC of karting with representation of the manufacturers and kart clubs in one hopefully giant group. All it ever really did was provide a source of liability insurance.

History: 1960-61

Karting History
as recounted by Don Boberick (9/18/98):

1960: By now, we have "factory racing teams." GoKart Manufacturing and Bug (which was just down the street from Go Kart) both had bus transporters which each used to haul their teams and karts around California. GoKart sent its racing team east to Rockford, IL, for the NAKA (North American Kart Association) National Championships. At that time I was competing in class "C" again on a GoKart model 800 with a 250cc Villiers Mark 33A (English motorcycle engine) on the back. The engine produced 23 H.P. on alcohol, which was quite potent at the time. This is a picture of that kart being readied to start for the NAKA Class "C" champion ship races at Rockford.

Boberick-5.jpg (88872 bytes)

On the left is Duffy Livingstone. On the right is Tex Bell, one of GoKart Manufacturing Company's class "B" drivers. The folowing is a photo of me taking the checkered flag at Rockford in the finals of the class "C" series.

Boberick-6.jpg (82903 bytes)

1961: The following is the cover of the February 1961 issue of "The Karter" magazine published by GKCA, which is now "IKF" As a final note, it you wonder how GKCA later came to be IKF (International Kart Federation) here it is. I was GKCA President in 1961 and felt that (now that the sport had factory racing "teams") it was important to divorce the kart Club from the manufacturer, GoKart, which had earlier acquired a trademark on the name GoKart. The Club had also acquired some affiliated clubs in other countries.

Boberick-2.jpg (110386 bytes)


History: Rathmann Xterminator

xterminator 1960b.jpg (107357 bytes)

Marc Parker sent along these photos and some interesting historical insight into one of the most important racing karts of the vintage karting era, the Rathmann Xterminator. Here's what Marc has to say:

Attached are some B&W promotional photos of the Rathmann Xterminator kart I received from Brian Sheridan who restored the body of my Gold Rath.These are 8.5x10's, glossy in perfect condition. On the back of the "WorldChamp"....photos is penciled 1960, on the back of the "different" looking Rath with the strange engines and the man is penciled "John Koal Kozlauski approx 1958". I'm not sure the date is accurate in that the prototype was 1960 according to the Don Boberick article.

xterm john koal kozlauski 58.jpg (163624 bytes)
(photo marked "John Koal Kozlauski approx 1958")

On the back of the half shot rear of the kart is written "Sam Sarra's Kart". I have a photo copy of the Rathman Xterminator sales booklet and Sam is listed as Chief Engineer. Close examination of these photos reveals what appears to be a reinforcement or an extension of the body, both front and rear. It may be steel, chromed or polished, or perhaps a second layer of aluminum. The shot of the Kart rear appears to show it could actually be an extension, perhaps of steel in order to handle the stress of the rear axle, bearings, and motor mounts. It is evident that it is not annodized like the main body. Perhaps the front was the same concept to handle the stress on the spindles.

xterm sam sarra.jpg (149741 bytes)
(photo marked "Sam Yarra's Kart")

The Rathmans in production do not have these features. wouldn't you love to have one of these! What type of engines are in the John Koal picture? Who is John Kozlauski? Note the different steering wheel and different upholstery.