Below is a 1956 picture of the first kart ever. Built by Art Ingels, “the father of karting”, in Echo Park, California. Art, who was an Indy 500 race car builder at Kurtis Craft, picked up a used West Bend 2-cycle lawnmower engine and devised a rugged tubular chassis that was simple but strong enough to withstand his 210 lb body weight. Mounted on a set of semi-pneumatic tires, and driving one rear wheel via bicycle chain, he surprised himself when his creation took off across a neighborhood parking lot.
Wherever Art drove his little car, on back alleys, parking lots or around tennis courts, he attracted crowds of interested onlookers who wanted to know where they could get one. Three interested Californians, Bill Rowles (a surplus dealer), Duffy Livingstone (a driver-builder of sports car specials) and Roy Desbrow went on to form the Go-Kart Manufacturing Company in 1957. Ingels in turn left Kurtis Craft to co-found the Ingels-Borelli Kart company.
In those early days of karting, the first group of karters raced in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl Stadium. They founded the first karting club, the GKCA, or Go Kart Club of America (which still exists today as the IKF or International Karting Federation) to promote the sport of karting, and to reduce the hazards associated with this new sport.
Modern karting divisions like SuperKarts and Rotax MAX shifter karts have moved far away from the low cost roots of karting, which were its initial appeal and source of rapid growth. Today, corporate sponsorship and professional mechanics capable of wrenching at the Indy 500 are needed just to participate in most FIA CIK sanctioned events.