David Farnor says he has no regrets. When his girlfriend blew a turn and piled her "machine" into six tires at the Alexandria Go-Kart Raceway one recent evening, he swept by her without a thought.
"My friend Dale and me, we were out for blood," explained the Maryland teen-ager, dressed for the Raceway in a green Kawasaki T-shirt, aviator glasses and black, fingerless racing gloves. "I wasn't stopping for her. I wanted to make an impression out there."
And he did. Easily the leader of a pack that included dozens of people wedged into the five-horsepower, impact-resistant cars, Farnor, and others like him, show up regularly at the raceway looking for a respite from the workaday world.
The Alexandria track, a half-mile of asphalt curves just off Eisenhower Avenue on the edge of the city, pulls in more than 1,000 people on a midsummer night. The crowd of people who are either driving the cars or cheering in the bleachers ranges from grandmothers on baby-sitting duty to cool teens looking for a cheap thrill at $1.25 a lap.
"I come here every single night," said Daniel Blakenship, a Virginia resident who is currently living in his car. "These things will really get up and go. Once you get started, it's hard to get out of them."
Owned by three Department of Labor economists, the Alexandria Go-Kart Raceway advertises itself as "the largest and most challenging go-kart track on the entire East Coast."
David Callahan, one of the owners, said business has been rising steadily since they opened shop two years ago, and a new track in Crofton, Md., is planned for next spring.
The owners say you have to go to the mall at Cherry Hill, N.J., to find a track that rivals theirs. The brightly decorated cars can hit top speeds of 40 mph, but the winding track keeps the average below 30, they say.
The track's 30 karts cost about $2,000 each, but the owners say they usually recoup their money within a few months.
Makers of the karts say Alexandria's raceway is not the only one doing big business. "We're making more now than we ever have," said a spokesman for Johnson Kart Manufacturers of Milwaukee, the country's largest producer. "People are going back to the basics. You know, batting cages, miniature golf courses. This just fits in."
As the George Washington Masonic National Memorial glows eerily in the background, the prevailing sound on the track most weekend nights is cars screeching to a halt as children pretend to be adults and adults act like children.
There is something for anybody at this place," said David Callahan. one of the owners."The first time people come out here, it's a novelty to them," said Callahan. "But then they get addicted. They get a rush and they're out here every day for three solid weeks."
"It's a lot of fun except for that jerk who just drove into me," said Mark Scott, staring malevolently at a beefy schoolboy wearing a lacrosse helmet and a white windbreaker. "I passed four people and then that guy practically rode me off the track."
Getting run off the track may do some damage to a young man's Friday night fantasy, but it is unlikely to cause any physical pain. The Raceway has never had a serious accident, and each S-turn in the course is lined with tires.
Bruce Springsteen music blares out of crackling loudspeakers as Friday night Mario Andrettis make unplanned pit stops.
"The wheel just didn't turn," said Joy Austin, a frustrated Arlington woman on her first Raceway outing, as she waited for an attendant to reclaim her car from the tire heap. "But it's a nice night, and for $1.25 I can live with a few mistakes."