Racing at K1 speed an exhilarating escape





A claustrophobic feeling welled up inside me almost immediately after I squeezed into the unexpectedly tight helmet.

I actually considered wussing out. Then the race began.

I zipped around the track at up to 45mph a few inches from the ground in an electric go-kart.


There may be no better way to quiet one's fears than through an adrenaline rush.

I recently tried out a go-kart at K1 Speed, an indoor track at 19038 S. Vermont Ave. in Gardena.


The track opened May 1 in a 55,000-square-foot former furniture warehouse that had closed amid the recession and slumping housing market.

Husband-and-wife business partners David Danglard and Susan Graver opened their first K1 Speed track in 2003 in Carlsbad.

Since then, the pair and their other investors have been on a tear, opening a total of six Southern California tracks, at a cost of about $1.5 million per facility.

Danglard and Graver chose this path after giving up their previous business selling vintage Levi's jeans wholesale.

"One day, we said, `We can do it, we can do something different,"' Graver told me. "So six locations later, here we are."

They plan to open a seventh track in January in San Diego.

A recession is far from the best time to open a business. But Danglard said the track represents to customers a short vacation from their troubles.


Speaking with a light accent, the native of France recounted what some of his customers tell him: "You know, it's so stressful at work, and I came to K1 to release the stress. After two races, my arms are tired but my mind is somewhere else away from negativity."

About 60 percent of business comes from corporations seeking team-building activities for employees.

Racers can track their performance and progress on the K1 Speed Web site, www.k1speed.com.

"There's a lot of room to grow and that's why some people get addicted," Danglard said. "Speed is addictive."

Since my race - which I lost to Danglard and Graver - I had been racking my brain trying to put K1 Speed into a deeper economic context.


Perhaps the speed and competition at the go-kart track serve as a metaphor for our nation's bruising, ever-tightening job market.

Maybe my initial feeling of claustrophobia parallels the public's general economic angst.

But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a go-kart is just a go-kart.

Racing around a track is not about deep thoughts, but an escape.

A fleeting, yet welcome, respite from the recession and other dreary worries.