When you're so far behind the competition driving a go-kart, you might as well pretend the reason you don't see your fellow drivers is because they're all so far behind you, eating your dust. There's no point in dwelling on how you'll never catch up, especially when you really are going as fast as you can without spinning out on the turns.
All that's to say, whether you're first, last or somewhere in between, driving a go-kart is pretty much always going to be fun, barring any freak accidents or personal sour moods. And with the opening of Bakersfield Karting Experience, anyone can come and enjoy karting — win or lose.
I knew Bakersfield Karting Experience would be big, located as it is in the old Costco building on Gilmore Avenue, but I was still a little taken aback by the size when I walked in Monday afternoon for a race with assistant entertainment editor Stefani Dias. The clay track is the centerpiece, visible through windows in the front part of the building that houses arcade games, pool, simulated golf and Smokey's Grill & Pub.
On Monday afternoon, the place was pretty quiet. There were maybe a dozen people besides Stefani and me, and the building is big enough that their conversations didn't travel. Once through the doors into the track area, though, it's another story.
As best I could, I listened while the do's and don't's were explained to us over the roar of the karts that were racing at the time. When we paid our $21 fee for 20 laps, we were given a black beanie of sorts, the first step in getting on our safety gear. Over that went our helmets and neck brace.
It was like getting ready for battle, only more awkward. I felt protected, all right, but my already limited hearing in the loud room was diminished further by the cushy pads in the helmet, which had the added benefit of gently squishing my cheeks like a grandmother. Getting into my No. 20 kart, I could barely see the seatbelt buckle over my huge bobblehead. On the track, though, I could see just fine. Unfortunately, I don't have that excuse to explain my poor performance.
Getting ready to go as our fellow racers got in their cars, I did not entertain for a second the thought that I would win. Maybe, just maybe, I'd best Stefani, but the guys and girl who joined our race looked serious, like they had done this karting thing before. I had not, unless you count the kiddie karts at Camelot Park.
Stefani was first on the track out of the starting bay, with me right behind her. I can't say they didn't give us a fighting chance.
I took the first lap nice and easy, wanting to get my bearings on the gas and brake pedals. My two decades of playing racing video games have taught me that you can't take a turn at the same high-speed as the straights without spinning out. To avoid this, I might have overdone it, putting just a little pressure on the brake around my first several turns until I got comfortable enough to take them at a faster pace.
Of course, by that time I was behind everyone. I never spun out, though! Stefani had that handled, and I thank her for the few times her spinouts caused the track light to turn yellow (slow) or red (stop), which let me catch up a bit. There was still no way I would get ahead of our competitors, but the last half of the race I was ready to gun it.
The 20 laps went by faster than I thought they would; we were on the track less than 10 minutes. I'm not certain I got all 20 of mine, though. I was second back at the starting line, which for one brief, glorious moment made me think maybe I'd done better than I thought. In reality, they probably thought it would take me too long to go around that last lap and decided to put me out of my misery. Or maybe the others were zooming by too fast to notice the call to come back in.
Despite our valiant efforts, Stefani and I came in seventh and eighth places, respectively. Yes, out of eight. Maybe we'd do better racing with our newbie-level peers another time.
The strangers we raced with had us beat, but for a minute we somehow intimidated them. Once off the track and enjoying our post-race lunch (more on that later!), digital news assistant Charmaine Cleveland told us one of our competitors asked her if we were professional racers, I guess because we were being followed by two people with cameras. Told no, the man said something like "Good because I'm not losing to a girl."
Had we known of that rude comment, Stefani and I both would have raced a little harder to attempt to beat the man who couldn't bear the thought of a woman outperforming him. But this day he did beat us, easily. That comment, though, just might encourage us to keep practicing for the sweet day we're faster than a smug man.
Now back to the food we were discussing all this over: Smokey's Grill & Pub offers a variety of sandwiches, burgers, appetizers and more. We ordered quite a bit among the three of us, wanting to get a fair representation of the food in the name of good reviewing.
I ordered a kids-meal grilled cheese and fries ($5), the good old vegetarian staple. The fries were great, a nice mix of thicker ones and crispier ones. The grilled cheese was a grilled cheese, and that's hard to mess up. It was fine.
I asked Stefani how she liked her pastrami sandwich ($10): "It was lean and flavorful and the bread had a garlickly taste that enhanced the sandwich along with the hot peppers." She had wanted to try the onion rings but was told she couldn't choose those as her side, despite the menu saying it was an option with sandwiches.
Stefani and Charmaine also shared a half-order of the trashcan nachos ($7.99). Even with the smaller size, it was a ton of food, with the chips and toppings layered high. We also each got a cookie fritter ($3.50 for three), a cookie in a deep-fried ball of dough covered with powdered sugar and drizzled with chocolate. These were delicious.
But the real star of the menu, the must-have even if you're not hungry, were the "s'mores," waffle-cut sweet potato fries with melted marshmallow and chocolate syrup on top. I expected it to be more of a single-serving sandwich-style dessert, but what came out was a tray with enough ooey-gooey s'mores for all of us to get our fill and take some back to the office. At $3.50, not only was it our favorite, it's also a great deal for a shareable dish.
Our food took longer than we expected, maybe around 30 minutes, but it was forgivable considering the place has only been open for a month. If you want a bite after your race, consider ordering before you hit the track.
Even with a longer wait for food, there's plenty to do until those s'mores come out, like play the arcade games near the entrance, shoot some pool by Smokey's or try Snookball, pool with your feet.
I don't know if it will be the racing or the s'mores that call me back to Bakersfield Karting Experience, but I'm certain I'll be back.