SUMMIT POINT, W.VA. -- The noise is like a legion of supercharged weed-whackers, but it doesn't bother go-cart racers from the Woodbridge Kart Club Inc., lying on their backs just inches off the ground and looking at the road through their feet.
"The sound, I'd like to think, is like a horde of killer bees," club vice president Wayne May shouted over the sputtering drone of go-carts at the start of a recent Saturday race at Summit Point Raceway here.
May and other members were at the club's two-mile home track for the World Karting Association race, a national event. The club organizes six races each year at the track, and draws members from the Washington area and from as far away as California.
Its racers range in age from 12 to 56 and include construction project managers and newspaper editors. Some are former drivers of full-size race cars or have worked in pit crews on major racing circuits and now have turned to what many consider "the poor man's racing circuit."
For many of them, it all began with an innocent step into a friend's kart. After that, it was hard to give up.
"Jeepers, the juices," said Bill King, a Broad Run insurance agent and former race car driver. "It's tough to tell them what the experience is like unless you've done it."
For King, the thrill doesn't end when he unhooks his helmet or unzips his flame retardant racing suit after a 45-minute race. It's not even over when he pulls out of Summit Point Raceway and heads home. It continues in his sleep.
"It's like for the next two nights, I relive every lap," King said. "People think I'm nuts."
William Moore, of Mount Vernon, raced Fords in the 1950s and now travels to six races a year with his son, William Moore Jr., 25.
"It's addictive," said the elder Moore, a brick contractor, clutching his stopwatch at the side of the track. "If you spend any amount of time out here, pretty soon you get a set of wheels under you."
Moore's son, who is deaf, likes go-cart racing because it puts him on equal footing with everyone else.
"He doesn't have to worry about hearing someone hike the ball or yell 'two outs,' " Moore said. "All he has to worry about is keeping the kart on the track."
Competition classes for go-cart drivers are determined by engine size and the weight of the kart and the driver. Most karts weigh about 175 pounds, and there are two types -- enduro karts, which generally run longer distances and are driven lying down, and sprint karts, designed for shorter races.
The karts cost about $5,000. All have battery-operated starters and engines that do up to 14,000 rpms. Most do not have speedometers.
Racers do not rally for prize money, but instead receive points to become national or club champions or to win modest prizes and trophies. Still, there is a keen sense of competition and the requisite nerves.
"Most of the people are just as serious as if they were racing for $10,000, but in fact they'd race for a book of matches," Moore said.
At Summit Point, racers usually spend the weekend, either in campers and vans or at nearby motels. It's a family occasion, where parents, brothers, sisters and wives pull little red wagons with starter kits out to the track to do last-minute tire pressure and spark plug checks before each race.
Richard Curtis, a newspaper graphics editor from Fairfax Station, has been go-carting for five years and likes the sport because he gets to travel and spend time with his son. Tyler, who is 13, was eligible to race last year but "got a case of the nerves" just before a race, he said.
"Everyone says it's a real ball," Tyler admitted as he inspected and shined his father's kart. "I'd just like to try it and see what it's like; you get a curiosity to lie down and go real fast."
The day before, Fairfax City resident Eileen Carr said she was "freaking out" after her fiance', Dave Currin, spun out in the first corner and flipped several times. Currin, a land surveyor, had a mild concussion and some pulled muscles. He was given a neck brace, which he wore wrapped in a checkered-flag bandanna.
Currin used to watch auto racing every Sunday on television, but began go-cart racing about a year ago. He remembers the thrill as if it was yesterday, gripping the wheel and speeding around the track for the first time.
"I said, 'Hey, this is me. This isn't TV,' " Currin said.
The last race of the day was for novices, and among its participants was Candell "Candy" Willis, a first-grade teacher from Jacksonville, Fla., who had never raced before. Willis, who usually drives a Volvo, flew up for the race at the prodding of her boyfriend, a racer himself.
"I'm glad I put on two kinds of deodorant today," the teacher said, fanning herself nervously before the race. Minutes later, the race was over. Willis had been lapped but was pleased with her performance.
"I had this big fear they'd all be showered and shaved by the time I got back," she joked.
Back at his trailer, Wayne May and other club members were cleaning and covering their cars and drinking beer. Club member Spencer Payne, a 50-year-old health enthusiast from Dale City who keeps a juicer in his van, rode up on a collapsible mountain bike and happily divulged the secret of his win in an afternoon race.
"A little celery and carrot juice, it's a piece of cake," he said. "The people you meet here are really great. They're friendly, they're open, they share their secrets with you."
"There's a bonding thing that everyone does and we like it," added Susan May, Wayne's wife.