Putting the cart before the horse(power)

In one fell swoop, former Asheville mayoral candidate Dave Goree aims to save the Civic Center, promote the use of alternative fuels, and bring racing back to town.

Sound like a tall order? Maybe. But Goree’s a Libertarian, and anyone challenging the dominant two-party system has to dream big.

How does Goree propose to realize his ambitious plan? It’s simple: go-carts.

He is actively drumming up support for establishing an indoor go-cart-racing series in the Asheville Civic Center.

The term “go-cart” is a bit misleading. If you’re not a motorsports fan — and the recent boom in NASCAR’s popularity suggest that there may be three or four of you left in the South — you might think that go-cart racing is mere child’s play. But these are hardly the glorified lawn mowers of your youth.

Cart racing, once the domain of low-budget race fans hungering for a taste of speed, has carved out a loyal following among motorsports enthusiasts around the world.

Formula One drivers such as Michael Schumacher — easily one of the highest-paid athletes in sports — train in carts during the off-season. And for good reason: Some go-carts (such as the 125 Shifter Carts) can accelerate from 10 to 80 mph in 1.25 seconds. “For their scale, they’re actually faster than Formula One cars,” Goree relates. At roughly 200 pounds and sporting 50-horsepower engines, these carts can test the skills of even the most seasoned drivers.

Goree is approaching potential sponsors, interested drivers, local politicians, race fans and even casual observers to explain how his plan could generate revenue for the beleaguered Civic Center, exorcise the ghost of the legendary Asheville Motor Speedway (which was closed, sold and converted to a city park in one of the most divisive local controversies in recent memory), and perhaps even help address the region’s air-quality problems.

The key to that last goal is alternative fuels, which Goree plans to pump into the mini-vehicles.

In a recent conversation with Xpress, he explained how he came to his epiphany: “I ran for mayor last year and got attacked by local members of the Green Party about being a Libertarian — like Libertarianism and environmentalism are mutually exclusive concepts. And when they found out that I was a racing engineer, they really freaked — ‘Oh god, burning fuel … .’ And I’d say, ‘Well, what do you drive?’ They’d usually respond, ‘Ah, well, a little Toyota.’ I’d note that such cars do get really great gas mileage and don’t pollute as much, and then I’d ask them, ‘Where do you think that technology comes from?’ Well the flat, four-valve, fuel-injected motor and all that technology can be traced back to the DF Cosworth [race car] in the 1967 Formula 1 season.”

To Goree, advocating the use of alternative fuels is consistent with the Libertarian principles of self-reliance and minimal governmental intrusion into citizens’ lives, rather than relying on foreign oil and letting petroleum interests drive both foreign and domestic policy. Additionally, he notes, the racing world has long sung the praises of alcohol-based fuels.

One alternative is E-95 (a blend of ethanol and 5-percent gasoline — which, unlike straight ethanol, makes a visible flame if it ignites, calling attention to the safety hazard). And Goree says that two prospective teams have expressed an interest in running bio-diesel carts in Asheville. “The bio-diesel mixtures … that seem to work the best are about a 50/50 mixture of ethanol and some heavy vegetable oil — of which hemp looks to be among the best possible choices because of its high heat capacity.”

The idea of indoor racing came to him while he was a guest on a radio talk show hosted by Bill Fishburne. When a caller asked, “Why don’t they just blow up the Civic Center and build us a racetrack there?” Goree replied that you could build an indoor racetrack inside instead, then briefly explained his idea. “By the time I got home, I had five phone messages and six e-mails,” he remembers. “And the calls haven’t stopped.”

Goree also notes that Mayor Charles Worley, Civic Center Director David Pisha and some Asheville City Council members have been supportive of the idea.

As for the logistical challenges, Goree says he’s researched a modular track that can be configured in two different ways. “The first would be an oval … like in Indianapolis, [which] would run around the outside of the hockey rink,” he explains. “Then, after the hockey season we would use three sides of the oval and have a road course … up the middle,” he noted. “There would be a winter oval series and a summer road-course series,” he further explained.

Goree predicts enthusiastic local participation in the racing series. Part of the appeal, he believes, is the low cost of starting a team. “Some of these carts can be raced for about $1,000,” he points out. “If you get five people together, it’s really not that great of an expense.”

In addition, he expects some interest from NASCAR drivers and crew members looking to maintain their skills. And drawing fans and racers from outside Western North Carolina shouldn’t be a problem, either. “People who race carts travel all over to do it,” he notes. “The sport is particularly popular in Texas, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we get four or five teams from there.” There’s even an interested driver from as far away as Washington state. “Apparently, he’d heard about one sponsor’s promise of awarding a winning [go-cart] driver the opportunity to drive a Formula Atlantic car,” says Goree. [A Formula Atlantic car is an open-wheeled vehicle similar to a Formula One car.]

He also reports that a colleague from the racing world — a three-time Brazilian cart-racing champ, no less — has signed on to drive for a local team. If all goes well, Goree says he’d like to launch his idea in September, if the fire marshal signs off on it. Apparently, there’s some confusion over whether the state or the local fire marshal has jurisdiction over the matter (an ironic twist to this Libertarian’s plan).

Regardless, Goree is continuing his promotional efforts — driven by a love of both racing and politics. “I want to prove to the city of Asheville that they don’t have to lose money on the Civic Center,” he declares.

[For more information, call Dave Goree at 298-RACE (7223).]

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