Racing isn't anything new to Hampton Park. In the 1830s, the park was home to a horse track. And now, some 180 years later, a new kind of racing has taken over: golf cart racing. The Charleston Cart Club (CCC) meets once a month to do just that. The carts race one at a time, whizzing around Mary Murray Drive trying to finish the mile loop fastest — without hitting any cars, bicyclists, pedestrians, or squirrels. The carts average 19-20 miles per hour, so that's about five minutes around the mile loop. But the racers aren't just doing it for pride — they're trying to win the coveted Charleston Cart Club trophy. Currently, co-founder Griff Ducworth is in possession of the winner's brass.
"The whole racing thing is kind of a joke, you know, because they are golf carts," Ducworth says. "They go about 20 miles per hour — none of them go over 20 — we say that just to kinda make it funny."
"It's more of a social thing," adds Hunter Ducworth, the club's co-founder and Ducworth's brother. "It brings the geek out of us a little bit."
The club started when Ducworth and his business partner Daniel Russell-Einhorn purchased a cart for their store, Affordabike. After their first golf cart, Ducworth got a second one. "Me and Dan got tired of sharing, so I bought one. He bought me out of my share, and then Hunter got one, and we know a couple of people that have them," he says. And that's where the club really took off.
Now, the CCC is up to about 12 or 13 different golf carts. And it'll continue to grow. Recently, Hunter and Ducworth went to pick up a cart at a golf cart shop in Mt. Pleasant, and they left with three others.
But the club doesn't always meet at Hampton Park. Lately they've added new routes, like taking rides to Dolphin Cay Marina or racing at the Bridge to Nowhere that leads to the non-existent Magnolia development just past the Charleston Rifle Club on Heriot Street, where the CCC held their November meeting. "We don't race in Hampton Park anymore since the club has grown in size. We choose more remote locations to avoid ruffling feathers in the neighborhood," Ducworth explains.
The Bridge to Nowhere races are a little different than the Hampton Park circuit. It's more of a drag race, with the carts starting at one edge of the bridge and flying down the other. This go-around they even tried a five-cart starting line, but some of the slower vehicles faded into the not-so-figurative dust, and it became a two-cart race with Hunter and Ducworth duking it out. Ducworth won.
"There's stuff you can do to make them faster," Ducworth explains. "Most of them come at like 15, 16 miles per hour." Hunter chimes in, "I think it's safe to say we've done some tweaks to get them to that 20 miles per hour."
One member, Graham Miller, upgraded his cart's engine to make it faster. He sent it to Plum Quick, a company in South Carolina, who Ducworth says holds the world record for fastest golf cart. "It was pretty much just for the club," he admits
Some members have even pimped their rides. Hunter's is made to look like a retro Army jeep, and Miller has a stereo installed — but he turns it off in critical racing moments. "It slows the cart down," he explains. Other members also have stereos too. Ducworth added a mini-truck bed to one of his golf carts so he can use it for yard work when he's not racing. Another member, Adam Strawberry, owns a three-wheeled golf cart in orange and pink.
The club is open to all — but don't expect to be in the driver's seat. "I wouldn't let them drive my cart.," Ducworth says. "But any one who wants to come for a ride, we've got extra space on our community cart, which is our six-person limo cart." He says that while the club has been cruising around they've even offered rides to strangers.
The best way to figure out what's going on with the club is to check out its Facebook page. It currently has about 60 members, but the most they get at a meeting is around 15 or 16 people. And it's not all dudes in the club: there are girl members, like Megan White. "She just beat Daniel for slowest cart in the club. It was a great race," Ducworth says.
"It's been harder to get people to meet in the fall with the time change," he explains. "We used to meet on Saturdays, but with football now that makes it harder." At the November meeting, which was at 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, there were six members with five carts.
And even though they do race, the Charleston Cart Club makes sure to follow the rules of the road. "You can't ride at night, so we make sure we don't drive at night — even if you have lights," Hunter explains.
"You do have to have a permit — and it's like a $5 permit you get at the DMV. We all have them," Ducworth adds.
There's a hierarchy of motorized vehicles in Charleston, and golf carts are at the bottom. "There's golf carts and the next step up is the low-speed vehicle. There's a couple of differences — they have lights, they have a tag, they're registered," Ducworth explains.
There are some other rules too: golf carts can't drive on roads with speed limits that exceed 35 miles per hour, proof of insurance needs to be provided when registering, and they can only be driven in a four-mile radius of where they're registered.
Jerry Ebeling, director of the Department of Parks in Charleston, let us know some of the parks' rules for golf carts. "They're not allowed on any parks or playgrounds," Ebeling says, "but we couldn't prevent them from driving on Mary Murray — they'd have to follow the speed limit just like cars. We don't have any rule about racing, but there's only one lane. You'd have to check with the police department, but I'm pretty sure the police wouldn't allow cars to race."
The police department didn't have much to say about racing. In fact, one representative laughed when we asked him about it. "Do you know how fast they go?" he chuckled. He also directed us to check out the state's laws, which were similar to the ones Ducworth told us. Some additional rules include being at least 16-years-old with a valid license to register a golf cart and one has to operate them like they're any other motor vehicle.
"We don't generally have a problem with golf carts," adds Charleston Police Department Sergeant Matt Wojslawoicz. "Knock on wood, but I do know they're more prevalent than they have been." And in terms of racing, Sgt. Wojslawoicz says there aren't any laws specifically about racing golf carts, but he adds, "I think you could probably cite them under vehicle racing statutes."
But that hasn't stopped officers from questioning the club members. "We have been stopped before by an officer, but honestly, I just don't think he knew the law. He was telling us we need turn signals, brake lights, and he couldn't give us a ticket — and I think he knew that," says Ducworth. "But most cops are really, really awesome."
But even with the run-ins with the law, it all comes back to the social aspect of the club. "It brings us together — and it's fun as hell," Ducworth says.
To find out more about the Charleston Cart Club, find them on Facebook. There's no actual membership dues, but members are encouraged to buy a T-shirt for $15.