Since Kennewick’s first indoor go-kart track opened, it has been a popular place for those who need to speed.
The Kennewick track is the sixth DirtKart facility to open since Brycen Tarr and his family launched the first one in Spokane in September 2019, after years of having a dirt track in their backyard and inviting neighbors to come by and race.
Since then, DirtKart facilities have opened in Post Falls and Boise in Idaho; Tempe, Arizona, although that one is temporarily closed; Oklahoma City; and now Kennewick.
The family plans to add more tracks in various cities soon.
When the Kennewick track first opened in June, the place was quite popular, sometimes with three-hour waits to race. “But since school started, it slows down during the week,” said Jade Pennella, who manages the Kennewick track. “Now, the busiest days are Friday nights, all day Saturday, and Sunday afternoon.”
Pennella’s fiancé, David Johnson, was the DirtKart business development manager and general manager for Kennewick when the place opened in June.
But he has since changed jobs to another line of business.
That doesn’t keep him away the Kennewick DirtKart facility though, as he considers it his baby.
The building at 2203 W. Fourth Ave. was once a grocery store and home to indoor batting cages.
“When I first got hired, I had two weeks to do something that should have taken six weeks,” Johnson said.
That included painting all the walls blue and getting karts from an outdoor facility in Portland.
The karts are Sodi RT8 European racing karts that use 13 horsepower engines and can go as fast as 50 mph.
Here’s how it all works: a customer pays $25 to compete in a race, which consists of 25 laps on a tri-oval track created in the image of Tri-City Raceway in West Richland. It’s the biggest track in the DirtKart family so far.
The more races a person does, the more discounts they get.
Drivers have to be a minimum of 56 inches tall to reach the gas pedals, and each driver has to wear a helmet that DirtKart provides.
After a race, each driver gets a printout of their lap speeds.
Each kart has a sensor and when it crosses the start-finish line, it gets picked up with the time of the lap, which then can translate to speed.
For instance, Johnson said his fastest time for a lap was 9.8 seconds, which translates to 42 mph.
Pennella said she gets a lot of repeat customers each week.
“A lot of people come back for the adrenalin rush. A lot come back to try to beat their speeds,” she said.
Pennella said they employ 9 or 10 people, almost all part time.
But a good mechanic to keep the carts running is extremely valuable, and the position almost has to be full time.
With all of the bumping into each other and into the walls, “these karts take so much abuse,” Johnson said.
At one point, DirtKart can get as many as 11 karts out on the track at the same time.
Using dirt or clay indoors is another matter.
The track is clay, not dirt. But it has to be watered frequently to keep the moisture in the dirt and not in the air. The track has 10 large fans that help direct the fumes and dust out of the building.
“If you don’t water it, you get potholes,” Johnson said. “That makes for a rough ride. All soil is local. It has a high silt context. Getting the track right took weeks, if not months.”
Johnson said you want to see some black on the dirt, which means the tires are rubbing off correctly.
“It’s just a matter of the guys staying on top of the potholes every day,” he said.
Johnson says it’s fun to be driving at such high speed and getting “tossed around like a rag doll.”
For Pennella, it was exciting to learn how to slide out a kart successfully on a dirt track.
“Getting the drifting part down was fun,” she said. “But I was disappointed I couldn’t do it in my own car out on the streets.”
DirtKart is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The facility also is available for private parties. Food and drink are available, but no alcohol.
DirtKart: 2203 W. Fourth Ave., Kennewick; 509-491-1330; dirtkart.com
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