Junior Open Wheel Talent

News and Views on Drivers Chasing Open-Wheel Stardom

Driver Profile: Gary Carlton

by Ryan Stringfield
Posted November 27, 2009 at 3:30 am Driver Profile, Interview



It was an early spring morning in 1995.  Gary Carlton and his father George were about to start a new venture.  The duo had been observing local go-kart races for a few weeks and decided it looked like a fun hobby.  That morning, in 1995, the Carltons set foot in the paddock as competitors—- not casual observers.  Little did they know, that day was a catalyst to a very bright future in the sport.  Gary is now regarded as one of the best shifter kart drivers in the world.

George Carlton purchased a used Emmick chassis for Gary, who was nine years old at the time, and signed his son up for the Cadet class.  The seed was planted.  Gary went on to win numerous races and regional championships prior to making the jump to the senior ranks aboard a 125cc shifter kart.

Gary Carlton and Alex Speed

A young Gary Carlton and Alex Speed

Unlike most seasonal karters, Gary would keep his kart out and race-ready during the winter months.  Well, the California winter months that is.  George required that Gary run endless laps in wet weather, a condition that is quite common during California winters.  Not that it was much of a requirement really… Gary loved driving and racing in the rain, perhaps even more so than the dry.  The winter testing seemed to really help his car control as he continued to win races in both wet and dry conditions.

Away from the traditional karting track, Gary could be found at a neighbor’s house driving a four-stroke kart around a dirt oval.  Later, he and his friends created a rally course and took turns driving a Subaru Outback around the homemade circuit, each trying to outdo the other.  All of this, as abstract as it might sound, helped mold Gary into the driver he is today.

When he turned 16, his karting talent began to really standout.  That season, competing in the SKUSA ProMoto Tour, Gary earned the National #9 plate—-synonymous with a ninth place national ranking of all North American shifter kart pilots.

Another life changing moment occurred for Gary in 2004 when Trackmagic’s Fausto Vitello brought him in as a Factory driver and worked with Gary to create the Trackmagic FTR chassis.

Gary remained with Trackmagic until the untimely death of Fausto in 2006, who was both a good friend and supporter of Gary.  Fausto passed away early in the 2006 season from a heart attack.  Gary was competing in the 2nd Round of the 2006 Stars of Karting ICC championship when he learned about Vitello’s death.  It was a heart wrenching experience for the 20-year-old driver but he managed to turn that weekend into one of his most memorable moments:

From GaryCarltonRacing.com

We had heard news of his passing late Saturday night before our race on Sunday. It was a huge blow to myself and our team. Fausto was way more to me than a boss. He had given me a chance to race when no other team would. He had taught me great lessons in life and was a great friend. Racing for his team was much more than any other team. We had to develop our own chassis from scratch being an American manufacturer while all the other teams would just import all the European chassis over and race.

It was my long time friend and my current mechanic Diego Valverde, new team driver Andrew Alfonso, his girlfriend Kristin and myself at this race. We were running a small one kart team out of a 20 foot trailer with an EZ-Up. We were the underdogs but we knew we stood a good chance of winning. Come the day after Fausto’s death we arrived at the track with only one option. We had to win. That day was one of the toughest in my life. We were perfect as a team the whole day and we took home the victory. This is my most memorable moment in life.

Gary Carlton

Gary Carlton at the SKUSA SuperNats XIII

That same season, 2006, Carlton went on to win the SKUSA SuperNationals SuperPro division as well as the 2006 Stars of Karting ICC Championship.  He followed up his 2006 Stars of Karting National Championship with a repeat win in 2007, solidifying himself as the number one shifter kart driver in North America.

Since that time, Gary has been competing in both Europe and North America.  He remains one of the top shifter kart drivers in the world.  Unlike most karters, he is perfectly fine with being a career karter.  He has sampled cars here and there, but his real focus has been and remains karting.

Read the interview after the jump.

Carlton had some bad luck in the heat races of last weekend’s SKUSA SuperNationals XIII, but managed to put in a very impressive drive to finish 12th in the main event after starting 34th.  He improved 22 positions in 25 laps.

Following the event, Carlton took a few minutes to answer some questions for Junior Open Wheel Talent.

Gary Carlton Q&A

Junior Open Wheel Talent

JOWT: Gary, first off, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for the readership at Junior Open Wheel Talent.

GC: Thank you for having me.

JOWT:  With the shifter kart entry numbers so dismal this season in the U.S., this year’s SuperPro entry list presented a pretty awesome field.  Do you approach the SKUSA SuperNationals differently from other races? If so, how?

GC: Yes I did a lot more to prepare for the SuperNats. Typically, I show up to the Stars/CKI events with no testing and very little training. For this years SuperNats and also the World Cup… I trained very hard back home and did as much driving as possible in order to be sharp for the races.

JOWT:  The physical requirements of driving a 125cc shifter kart are very intense.  What kind of fitness training do you do, if any, away from the track?

GC: I do some weight training and the normal cardio workouts. I also focus on getting an adequate rest along with good nutrition/eating well.

JOWT:  You are currently employed as a karting instructor at the Jim Russell Racing School.  How do you like the role of an instructor/coach vs. being a driver?

GC: Being a teacher at Jim Russell is very enjoyable for me because they have a great staff of people to work with. I consider most of my co-workers friends, so we always have a good time and run a great racing school program. But, there is nothing like being a driver.

JOWT:  How much testing do you perform during the racing season in comparison to the off-season?  And do you have a specific testing routine you follow?

GC: I rarely have a specific routine in my life. My plans seem to change daily and I never seem to know what I will be doing the very next week. I just try to drive as much as I can between work and stay in good shape.

JOWT:  You have sampled a few race cars; a Midget Car, a Star Mazda, and most recently an Indy Lights car.  Do you have any aspirations of moving into the car ranks down the road?

GC: All I want to do is drive a race car or kart and get paid to do it. I have been lucky to sample a couple different race cars and that great feeling I get is the same in every car I jump into. I have been a racer most of my life and I have no intention to stop.

JOWT:  You are fairly well known for giving great feedback.  Do you have any advice for younger drivers looking to increase their ability to give chassis feedback to their tuners?

GC: I think I learned how to give good feedback from going out and doing all my testing by myself. While racing growing up I never had a tuner to help me. It was just my father George Carlton, who had zero racing experience, and me out at the track trying to figure it out. During those times it was very difficult but in the end I think it really helped me become the driver I am today. So for advice, I would recommend going out and changing anything and everything to see what the changes feel like and just try to learn every time you’re on the track.

JOWT:  I know you’ve discussed this previously, but what is the major difference between shifter kart competition here in the United States vs. Europe?

GC: Well there is a lot more karts on the track in Europe for one. But seriously, the competition is much higher over there because of all the factory drivers in Europe. It is their full-time job to race. They don’t have to worry about anything else but their own physical condition and developing new solutions for their karts. All that time in the kart adds to their speed. When you put all these fast drivers together and have them compete, they end up feeding off each other and make themselves better each time.

JOWT:  What are your long term goals in racing?

GC: Stay in the driver’s seat.

JOWT:  Thanks again Gary. I wish you the best in 2010 and beyond.

GC: Thank you.


One Comment

  1. P1 Sports on December 2, 2010 11:13 am

    Hi Gary,

    My name is Martyn Pott and I run P1 Sports here in the UK and I am based close to Silverstone.

    I work with young drivers and race teams etc, and should you have an interest in racing in Europe please do not hesitate to contact me.

    Best regards,


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