Weighing in: SOLO KART
Last week, we had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Pettit, co-founder of Solo Kart. He also spoke on behalf of his partner and co-founder, Salvo Sparacio without hesitation. What impressed me was how Adam described their journey over the years and the story behind how this began and why. The two founders basically had gone from being “impassioned-competitive-nature racers-mechanics,” his choice of words, not mine, “to downright obsessed with the sport of kart racing.” I guess that would be as good a rendition as any of what their up-and- coming creation Solo Kart represents.
Mind you, Solo Kart is by no means the birthchild of ambitious dreamers. Both Adam and Salvo come to the premier league of go-kart- manufacturing from hugely successful backgrounds in all of the relevant fields: racing in its variety of forms, the art and science of mechanical engine-and-chassis- tuning, business management and industrial manufacturing. Here therefore is the story of what will be a kart-chassis manufacturer that the industry —and competitors—will undoubtedly have to reckon with in times ahead:
KC: Adam, before we get into the heart of things, tell me a little bit about your upbringing into racing. How did you get here?
Adam: I was born and raised in southern New Jersey with a father who had a passion for motorcycles and specifically motocross racing. My father’s motocross-racing enthusiasm was contagious, and his competitive spirit naturally rubbed off on me. I got my first 50cc Yamaha Tri-Zinger 3-wheeler when I was 4, then onto 2 wheels, and eventually onto racing motocross at a very young age. All I ever wanted to do was ride and race my dirt bike from that point on.
As I got older and moved up to the 125cc class, I climbed through the ranks and was one of the top pro-amateur district 6 and district 7 riders in the area. Motocross racing is such an aggressive sport. It is the most physically demanding sport under the sun, which of course always leads to the risk of injury. At the peak of my physical shape and riding, I sustained a series of injuries that put a pretty big damper on my progression in the sport. At that time, I knew I was getting older and my clock was ticking for any opportunity of making something out of Motocross racing. I felt like I needed to take a step back from the sport and riding in general. My brother in-law and father in-law raced Enduro karts with the Wood Bridge Kart Club and always egged me on to try it. The road course racing just wasn’t my style though. It’s cool but the sprint tracks and sprint kart racing is what interested me. So I bought my first kart and started racing.
KC: Did you find the same thrills in karting?
Adam: Kart-racing and racing motocross were of course different animals altogether. Motocross is about pure aggression, pushing yourself all the time to the limit. In kart-racing, patience becomes your greatest virtue. Often times, slower means faster lap times, a concept that I initially struggled to adapt to. There was so much to learn, as I had to retrain myself on how to think and react to get faster. I was totally determined though. I wasn’t about to be satisfied until I knew everything I needed to know about kart-racing, which is my nature with everything I do. The next few years were exactly that: learning.
KC: Were you competing in the big races at that time?
Adam: I started kart-racing in 2008. At the time, I ran a stock Honda shifter on an old Intrepid chassis. I quickly realized that starting in this sport on a shifter was not the best way to learn. I did ok I guess but a year later I wised up and knew that if I was going to actually become skillful at the sport, I would need to make a move to one of the Tag classes. That’s when I got my first Tag kart and just focused on driving. That’s also when one of the most important things started happening to me.
KC: What was that most important thing?
Adam: It was acquiring a feel for the chassis and its tuning. Over the next 4-5 race seasons of honing my skills, I was competing and actually started winning against some of the best Senior and Masters drivers in the northeast at a local and regional level. For example, I had several wins and podium finishes in the Northeast RMAX series, NJ Sprint Series, and NJ State Championship Series and actually won a couple championship titles along the way too. This past season, I had a dominating week at the Rotax Grand Nationals against the best Masters drivers in the country, winning qualifying and all heat races, and then unfortunately crashing out in the final. It was very frustrating because Solo Kart was the Kart to beat in that race, and we were fast —very fast. I’m still having a hard time getting over that one.
KC: And acquiring that “feel” was critical because. . .
Adam: Learning and perfecting this feel was precisely what drove Salvo and I to go further and achieve what we ultimately wanted with our Solo Kart brand.
KC: I’ll want to ask you about that in a minute, but first, tell me about Salvo.
Adam: Salvo is a couple of years older than me. He was born in Carini, Italy, and moved to the United States with his family when he was a young boy. Salvo’s father and uncle were devoted Formula 1 race fans with a very ingrained interest in car and kart racing. Salvo developed his love for kart racing at a young age as his father and uncle actually raced karts. Salvo followed their passion, which led him to kart- racing with his uncle Antonio. As he got older, he became more interested in the mechanics and hands-on portion of what made engines tick. He became connected with a couple of race car teams and had the opportunity to work for Abel Motorsports, tuning and working on Formula Vee, Formula Fords, Porsche cup cars, and Grand AM Race Cars.
KC: Is that when you connected with him?
Adam: No, he was then given an opportunity to work for BMW where he became a BMW certified Master Technician while he was attending college. He also owned and operated SDS Motorwerks which was a automotive performance tuning business. He now is the Service and parts Director and oversees management of the Service and Parts Department of the #1- ranked BMW dealerships in the country. In the middle of all of this, Salvo remained very much a part of kart-racing.
KC: So how did you two come together?
Adam: We competed against each other racing in the same class so our relationship initially developed at the track. We had a lot of the same understanding and ideals when it came to chassis tuning. Me and Salvo are both EXTREMELY competitive-nature and will literally go to the end of the earth to find answers, solutions or ways to win in everything that we do. Not only did that bring us together, but it is also why we work so well together and connect the way that we do.
KC: You told me about Sal’s career, but what do you do for a living?
Adam: I own and operate a company called Compressed Air Equipment. We sell and service big industrial air compressors to large manufacturing facilities, as well as servicing body shops and smaller-type businesses like that too.
KC: Ok… take us back to the importance of the “feel” you were talking about earlier?
Adam: The tuning of a kart chassis is so vitally critical to the performance, speed and feel to the driver. A poorly adjusted kart chassis could result in seconds slower on the track compared to the same chassis that is tuned properly. It always amazed Salvo and I how many people who think they know and understand tuning of a kart chassis actually have no idea at all. Some who are actually viewed in the sport as expert tuners or star drivers, actually have a poor understanding when it comes to tuning a chassis. That is where me and Salvo had such a strong connection.
We thought so much alike in so many ways when it came to chassis tuning! We shared the same beliefs of WHY a chassis did what it did, WHY it felt a certain way under certain conditions, and WHY you needed to soften the axle for example when everybody else thought they needed to go stiffer. Our connection with each other was all the more strengthened because of our understanding of the mechanics and processes that go into the WHY! Does that make sense?
KC: Absolutely! Did that pave the way for Solo Kart?
Adam: In a way yes. So eventually, me and Salvo started working together. We strategized in the pits and on the track against other competitors who were excelling all the time on a particularly renowned chassis brand. I really don’t want to mention the brand name although everyone in the sport knows what brand that is.
KC: Did the other kart brand you are speaking of play an important role in wanting to create Solo Kart?
Adam: Yes, totally! That and also in combination with seeing other kart manufacturers who don’t even drive their own chassis. I mean . . .how can you develop a better product if the people and designers making it don’t even drive it?? For the most part, they rely on feedback from drivers who 9 times out of 10 can’t properly articulate that “feel”. Ok so you have a superstar driver but that does not mean the feedback is going to be accurate. Not only is that “feel” not properly articulated in most cases, the understanding of what needs to change to correct the problem is not understood properly either! This is where manufacturers go wrong with the development of their chassis. You have to drive it and feel it yourself and furthermore understand that feeling and mechanically WHY it feels that way and know how to fix a problem or condition in a chassis because you know the WHY! If you feel a certain condition and you don’t know mechanically WHY it feels that way, you will never build a better kart. This is the leading force behind the development of Solo Kart.
KC: This other front running brand I am guessing has this combination down in your opinion?
Adam: 150% YES!! Have you ever been to a greyhound dog-racing event? If you have, you’ll know that it’s all about that electric hare that races ahead of the dogs and keeps driving them to catch up. Well, in kart-racing, the hare is this other brand I am speaking of. Everybody else is trying to catch up to them.
KC: Including Solo Kart?
Adam: Yes, without a doubt! BUT! We “modestly” believe we have the recipe in Solo Kart! The Solo Kart chassis is extremely easy to drive, and it is easily tunable right out of the box with all top-notch components. Once you’ve driven a Solo chassis, you could literally blindfold yourself and drive 10 different chassis brands and you’d know exactly which one the Solo kart was.
KC: Are you putting Solo Kart at par with this other brand?
Adam: That’s a VERY big statement but I’ll say this…..Solo Kart is going to attract a lot of attention in this sport that will be completely undeniable.
KC: Go back a little bit and explain your experience prior to Solo Kart with both you and Salvo racing karts getting to this point.
Adam: Salvo and I both ran the same chassis brand for a couple of years during which time we struggled competing against drivers on this other brand. We were totally determined to understand what it was about that chassis, and WHY it felt so different. We tested and worked tirelessly on our own karts to figure out how to get the same characteristics of feel as that other kart.
KC: So why didn’t you just switch to this other brand and call it a day?
Adam: Not our style at all. We were so dead set on ever going to that chassis because we wanted to figure out a way to beat it. There were many nuances that we figured out to get close, but there still was a missing element that didn’t click just yet. We actually worked directly with the manufacturer of the brand we were driving at the time, trying to figure out certain solutions to problems with the chassis. That however was taking us nowhere. This manufacturer was set in their ways and didn’t want to listen. They had all the answers but none of the solutions.
Other manufacturers have the same issues: too proud to acknowledge the obvious purple elephant in the room. That was exactly why and how Salvo and I started Solo Kart. We’d had it with witnessing another chassis brand that made it easier to go fast with. Yes, we were fast and we won races, and yes, you can win races on other brands there’s no question, but you have to work so much harder to get there on other chassis brands. There and then, Salvo and I were determined to figure it out on our own —which by the way was the reason for the name “Solo”. Most of the other chassis manufacturers do not drive their own product for better development.
In our case, we eliminated that problem. We are among the only ones who drive, tune, design, and manufacture all in one. “SOLO” .
KC: And all the time you had this other easier-to- drive chassis in your crosshairs?
Adam: Who else? There is no one else to chase.
KC: Besides the design, is there anything else that makes the Solo chassis so special?
Adam: Through all of our testing and design changes with the Solo Kart chassis, we learned how critical the material the chassis is made from was to achieve that “feel” we were looking for. Design is important but material is the secret weapon. With the help of a renowned metallurgist in Europe, we worked extensively on developing very specific material for the Solo Kart chassis, resulting in our very own proprietary Chromoly blend of tubing and characteristics that no one else has. Combined with our chassis design, Solo Kart started coming alive. After long and
arduous testing and development, we found the perfect partner to work with in the Italian manufacturer Righetti Ridolfi, the largest parts and components supplier to the sport of karting in the world. They quickly showed great interest in partnering with us for manufacturing the Solo Kart chassis and supplying all the custom components that make Solo Kart complete!
KC: What comes next?
Adam: The 2018 race season is Solo Kart’s first official break-out season where our factory team will be showcased running the entire F-Series Gear Up Challenge race series, along with other SKUSA events throughout the year. Our website will also be live by mid-to- late February, and we will continually be posting updates on our Facebook page to give up to date information and details on how and where to purchase or test drive a Solo Kart chassis.