Hey, Mario Kart 8 is out and that means there's no real reason for any person to go outside except to acquire food for a good long while. But kids, did you know that go-karts are a real thing that you can totally go and do for real? I mean, there are no blue shells involved, but go-kart racing is all over Houston. Want to try it out? Check out...
10. Gulf Coast Karters 29726 Stockdick Road
I'm ranking GCK so low because it's really a class by itself and shouldn't really be compared to the others on this list. Located in Katy, this track is the closest thing you'll actually get to Mario Kart. The track is nearly a mile long and can be run clockwise and counterclockwise for variety. It was totally repaved in 2003 with specially designed karting asphalt, so the ride is smooth and safe. So what's wrong with it?
Nothing, except that it's a professional motorsport track. You need a $300 yearly membership to join and you bring your own kart and pit crew. Alternatively, you can go watch the races for $5, which makes it pretty cheap for a spectator motorsport. Oh, and you have to be 18 to join. So unless you're more of a watcher than a driver or have the sort of money to plug into an expensive tiny car GCK probably isn't for you. If those do apply to you, though, it's the best.
9. Zuma Fun Center 6767 Southwest Freeway
Zuma doesn't specialize in karting, and it shows. Some of the karts are in desperate need of attention and actually require push starts from attendants. The course is also nothing special. That said, it is centrally located and there is a lot to do at Zuma if you want to make karting just part of a day out. Also, $21.99 for three hours of unlimited golf, karting, and mini-golf isn't a bad deal.
8. Mountasia 17190 State Hwy 249
Mountasia got a new go-kart fleet a few years back and that really helped improve the quality of the racing. It's also the most picturesque tracks to drive through with some great elevation changes. It's more expensive than Zuma, but if you've got little kids that are too young to kart by themselves the $10 passenger pass is a pretty good deal. Stay out of the game room, though. The games take a ridiculous amount of tokens. If you want a good, cheap game room Chuck E. Cheese is down the street almost within walking distance.
7. MSR Houston 1 Performance Drive
It should really be called MSR Angelton, so we're talking another drive, but you won't regret this one. It's another professional track like GCK above, but with some very important distinctions. First off, they have rental karts, and while $25 for a 15-minute session (3 for $65) isn't cheap these are the fastest karts you can rent in the city. You will definitely get your money's worth. Second, kids as young as nine can rent karts. You can also purchase a membership for a third of what GCK's costs, but the deal isn't as good as you still have to pay $15 per session.
6. Bay Area Raceway 3825 Gulf Freeway
It's all the way down in Dickinson, but don't let that stop you. The carts are fast and well-cared for, and they go out of their way to be especially friendly and accommodating for birthday parties. Another perk? They have a fantastic game room with well maintained cabinets and lots of good ticket games.
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5. Go-Kart Raceway 2800 W. Mount Houston Road
This is the Houston Chronicle's No. 1 kart track and it's easy to see why. It's old, but well-loved and one of the cleaner establishments around. The track is pretty damned great and the fleet is always reliable. $25 for a one hour armband should be more than enough to keep any one rider occupied, and the game room inside is also top notch.
4. Track 21 4815 Highway 6 North Track 21 is a go-karter's dream! They've got three different courses and divide people up by level of difficulty and age so you test your skills against worthy opponents without worrying about ruining an eight-year-old's birthday. Less than $30 will keep you busy for around three hours, and the staff is excellent about maintenance, safety, and making sure you get the most bang for your buck by guiding the race. Oh, and you can drift, which is awesome because the courses are all very turny.
Pole Position 12552 Galveston Road
Maybe I'm biased because I loved the old Pole Position cartoon so much as a kid, but I think PP is slightly better as an indoor racing experience than Track 21. First off, the electric karts smell better and don't stink up the room with gas fumes. Plus, some of the karts reach almost 50 MPH. The atmosphere is pretty competitive and can get a little fierce, but not all that bad. Going on a weeknight can drastically reduce the wait times.
2. K1 Speed 14900 Northwest Fwy
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Another solid indoor racing venue (I really can't stress how much I love being indoors this month), K-1 is probably the most well-rounded of the three indoor locations. They definitely have the best staff, always alert and willing to bend over backwards to make sure you get your worth. The cars are electric and fast as hell. Plus, it's the most centrally located of the indoors. In fact, it's just a few short miles from...
1. Speedy's Fast Track 11440 Hempstead Rd
Fun as the indoor tracks are they're often driven by people taking the whole thing a little too seriously. That's why Speedy's is the best bet for a more conventional and low key bout of karting fun. It's the best laid out, non-professional course outdoors in Houston, with the perfect combination of turns and straight-aways that doesn't daunt a beginner and allows a veteran a chance to show off.
It's also the best and most cost-effective of the "fun center" model. $5 for their mini-golf course is a little much, but their game room is very reasonably priced and their ticket redemption counter is better than most. More than anything else, it's just welcoming and old school. The perfect classic go-kart day out experience.