He's 60, Going on 80 (m.p.h.) : About the Only Thing Go-Cart Racer Al Faas Won't Try Is Sitting Still

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There is a banner in Al Faas' garage that proclaims, "You're not getting older. You're just getting faster." It has hung there since a surprise party for his 60th birthday a few weeks ago, mounted over one of the go-carts he uses to race at speeds reaching upward of 80 m.p.h. on half-mile courses.

Faas and his fellow riders don't wear seat belts. Rules prohibit it, since it is figured that if you flip over you'd rather be thrown free than dragged along under your 200-pound cart. Racers wear helmets, neck protection and abrasion-resistant suits.

"The frame is only an inch off the ground, and guys are amazed we go that fast so close to the ground, but I don't get that way of thinking," Faas said. "You go the same speed on a motorcycle and they think nothing of it. In a go-cart, it seems to me the closer to the ground you are, should something happen, there's less far to fall."

Maybe some folks are just disturbed by the idea of the asphalt rushing by like a big belt-sander revving at 80 m.p.h. an inch from their rumps. Faas is too busy thinking about other things.

"You always want to get better, go faster. When I'm out there, everything else blanks out and I only focus on the race. And I can see an improvement every time I race," he said. He races pretty much every other weekend, rising at 5:30 a.m. to drive an hour and 15 minutes to a go-cart course in Riverside, where he remains until dusk most days.

At a time when many of his contemporaries are resorting to golf carts, Faas is entering his third season as a go-carter. In that short time he's amassed eight trophies, for second-, third- and fourth-place showings. He'd trade them all for one first-place win, which he's hoping to snare this year.

Faas is a rugged and compact man who doesn't look his 60 years, and he refuses also to feel it. He has no intention of letting the golf cart get him.

"There has to be a certain level of excitement in a sport; otherwise I can't even consider doing it. It's like skiing. I've done it for 30 years and really enjoy it. I ski with 19-year-old kids and go at it just as fast and hard as they do. It's a little hard on my back, but I can still do that. So golf is way down there as far as excitement level for me," he said.

He and his wife, Linda, have led active lives, full of skiing, diving, bicycling, surfing and travel. Most of their friends, they note, are a decade or two younger than they are.

They live in Huntington Beach in a custom-built, 5,000-square-foot home in a ritzy newer community bordered by horse trails. They aren't entirely as well-off as appearances suggest. Faas--a semi-retired home builder--and his brother, John, chiefly built the home themselves over a two-year period, with the intent of selling it. Then the market dropped out from under them and Faas wound up living in their investment.

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There's a nice, little-used street in front of their house, which would seem just right for checking out his go-cart after tinkering with it in his well-equipped garage.

"I thought it would be really neat, just to buzz up and down the street here," Faas said. "It's really hard to think about driving 50 miles to the track just to try out what you've done. But I've gotten a lot of static from a couple of neighbors. Some of them think it's pretty neat, but the horse-owning people don't like it. I guess cars and horses don't mix and they never will."

In its infancy in the 1960s, go-carting was largely a kids' activity. Most of a cart's parts were scavenged from other sources, with the motors usually borrowed from lawn mowers or chain saws.

The sport waned for a time.

Faas said, "In the '70s, the motor thing was out. People wanted to go another way, with that whole back-to-the-earth thing. But now it seems everybody wants to do everything."

As with so many other hobbies that have hit the '90s, go-carting has become more high-tech and more expensive. The cart Faas now races cost him $4,300 in kit form, with a European chrome alloy frame and a British engine made specifically for go-carts. It arrived without instructions, but fortunately the carts aren't yet so complex that Faas couldn't piece it together on his own.

Curiously, many of parts come from Europe because that cradle of civilization has taken to go-carting in a big way. On a recent trip to France, Fass discovered scores of cart tracks, and many races are televised.

"You never even hear about go-carting here, but professional drivers over there can make $100,000 a year racing for a factory team. Over here, it's still an amateur sport: You spend a lot of money, have a good time, and if you win you get a little trophy or something," Faas said.

Amateur sport though it is, go-carting doesn't want for rules and regulations. There are a dozen classes of racers, each with its own standards and rules. Faas has done most of his racing in a novice class. One of its dictates is that, for the engine type and size he uses, the combined weight of cart and driver must be 360 pounds. He has lead weights bolted to his seat and other parts of the cart to bring it up to spec.

Faas never go-carted as a kid, though he certainly didn't miss out on many other aspects of the California lifestyle. Growing up in Downey, he'd sometimes street-race his '40 Ford sedan. In the late '50s, he and his brother began building racing boats. Both got into surfing, and in 1961 they opened a surfboard-building shop in Long Beach.

"Those were really the fun days of California, I'll tell ya," he said. "Back then, jeez, it didn't seem like there were so many people living here then, and that's what made it nice. I don't even surf anymore, it's so crowded now. And there used to be so much wide-open land down here."

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After a stint as an assistant cameraman in Hollywood, Faas and his brother moved to Vail, Colo., in the '70s, where Faas met and married Linda. When not skiing, the brothers started building condos. They moved back to California to develop a property they owned in Huntington Beach, and Faas has been active in construction ever since.

Does he ever feel any guilt at being responsible for helping to fill up some of the once wide-open spaces?

"I've thought, 'Well, if everybody else would quit, I would.' But that's the way it goes. Nobody's going to stop."

He says he didn't get into go-carting to try to recapture the California of his youth, because the sport is an entirely new thing to him.

"I was young then, only about 58, and was just pedaling my bike one Sunday afternoon, and there was a go-cart race being held in a parking lot down here. I saw these things buzzing around down there and said, 'That's it. I've got to get me one of those.' I told Linda and she said, 'Well, what do you mean?' I said, 'I can't explain it,' and started shopping around for one.

"That was it. I couldn't think about anything else. I get that way, whether it's surfing, skiing, diving or whatever. If I have to do something, I have to do it."

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He didn't jump into the pricey carts at first, though, opting to buy a used cart for $1,300 advertised in the Recycler.

"I never had so much fun in my life as the first day I jumped in that thing. Linda just really cracked up, saying, 'What in the heck are you doing out here?' She thought I was going to get hurt. Then she saw 8-year-old kids out there, packs of 'em, and they were all just having a great time," he said.

In his novice class, most of the people he raced against were in their 20s and 30s. This year he's racing in a senior class, but, even now, most of his competitors are in their early 40s. Faas knows of only one older go-carter--a 64-year-old who runs a cart-racing training school.

It's a physically demanding sport, Faas says, with the steering particularly wearing on the upper body. It is no less wearing on the machinery, making it a sport best avoided unless you're mechanically inclined or can afford frequent trips to the repair shop.

There are no racing tracks in Orange County, so he usually goes to Adams' Racetrack in Riverside, or occasionally to one at Perris Lake. He belongs to two racing clubs.

"I get a little anxious before a race starts," he said. "But once I'm out there, I forget all that and only focus on what I'm doing. It's really interesting how you can do that. You know where you are, where you're going and where the other guy is, and that's it. It's really hard to explain that focus. The rest of the world goes away for a while."

In his ideal world, he'd have the time and money to cart his cart across the United States, racing all its tracks.

"I'll quit when I can't walk anymore," he says, but can't see surrendering to time before then. "It's never over 'til it's over."

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