The rev of a gasoline engine. The smell of burnt rubber. The exhilaration of drifting around a slick corner. The feel of hot humidity masquerading as wind. Every sense heightened and screaming for more. There was nothing better than a ticket to ride at Lil 500 Go-Karts, which closed permanently this week.
I started going to Lil 500 in the mid-1970s and as a kid of 7, there was no better proof of a good time than experiencing the mid-summer burn of gravity down the galvanized steel humps and dips of the giant slide. If I close my eyes, I can almost see Randy Kline, then about 13, making sure we all stayed on top and made it to the bottom.
Randy told me yesterday that he was up there wondering if hed ever get a lunch break or a bathroom break, for that matter.
Randys parents, Ron and Mary Kline, moved the family to Orlando in 1967. They knew that Walt Disney World was going to be big for business, so they chose to give it a go in Central Florida. A hard worker, Ron had already owned multiple businesses, go-kart tracks among them.
The decision to build Lil 500 between I-Drive and Daytona International Speedway turned out to be a great one. On Feb. 1, 1968, a mini version of the speedway at Daytona, complete with pit location and the track turns, opened up as Lil 500 Go-Karts in Maitland.
From the start, Dad had a pretty simple philosophy, Randy says: Treat the women right and keep the ladies room clean. His mom, Mary, was always on hand to check whether that philosophy was being upheld. The pair was a true partnership until each passed away during the past year and a half.
Randy Kline, who had worked at, managed and operated Lil 500 his whole life, retired just over a year ago. For the past 15 years people told him again and again to never close.
At the time I was 50, and I didnt think we ever would close, he says slowly.
Lil 500 was a family operation through and through. Brother-in-law Robert Cirilo has been handling the operation of the track and maintenance of the 33 go-karts in the past year. Sisters Kathy (Kline) Cirilo and Connie Kline both work with operations and bookkeeping. Randys son Robbie has a marketing and web design company that handles the Lil 500 website.
Now most everyone is in their mid-60s, and the family has decided its time to close the business, slow down and retire.
Asked if he wanted to share a sentiment with fans, Randy says simply, Thank you. We would not have lasted this long if it werent for locals. There have been plenty of tourists, but locals have been it for us. Weve been crying all week. This really hurts.
If youre wondering what ever happened to that giant slide, Randy told me that galvanized steel has a coating but when it wears off, rust eventually erodes the metal. The slide was down to two operating lanes before they decided to remove it entirely for safety reasons. By then I was squealing around turns on the family track like a champ.
Over the past six years, Lil 500 was the place I would go after a stressful week at work. Those laps were a magical way to blow off steam. My last time there, I won a victory lap. It was my 47th birthday and I had my party at one of the reserved picnic tables.
We all rode for over an hour, eventually standing up on shaky legs, our hands tingling with adrenaline, throats dry from screaming, and noses full of tire smoke.
We walked away grateful and sad it was all over. A lot like today. Thanks for the memories, Lil 500. Orlando loves you.
Jennifer De Witt