published Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Go-kart legend Duffy Livingstone retires to Ooltewah

Duffy Livingstone, along with friend and business partner Roy Desbrow, created the first go-cart in the 1950s. He said he got the idea for the vehicle from four wheels and some tubing he saw at a friend’s house.
Duffy Livingstone, along with friend and business partner Roy Desbrow, created the first go-cart in the 1950s. He said he got the idea for the vehicle from four wheels and some tubing he saw at a friend’s house.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
FACT FILE

* Born in 1925 in Illinois.

* He has two children, his wife Deedee has three. They have three grandkids.

* They live with Deedee's son, Steve, and his wife, Jackie, in Ooltewah.

* He worked at a model shop as a teenager, for 75 cents a week.

Duffy Livingstone is the godfather of the go-kart.

He is also a father, grandfather, husband, veteran and friend of animals. He and his wife, Deedee, live in Ooltewah with her son and daughter-in-law and four dogs.

Duffy and Deedee have been rescuing animals for years, ever since they lived in Oregon. At one time, they had seven dogs.

"We rescued three donkeys, a couple of goats and a few sheep," he said. "It seemed like we were rescuing everything that roamed around."

He likes things with four legs and four wheels.

He served in the Navy from 1942-46, as a mechanic. He flew in Panama and in the Southwest Pacific. He makes model airplanes, a lifelong hobby that began well before he enlisted.

Before the go-karts, there were the hot rods. He bought a '32 Ford Roadster and put a Cadillac engine in it.

"I built a car from the ground up. I was originally going to run it on the dirt track. I got it built about halfway, and I decided to get into sports-car racing. The car that I built was so out of place with sports cars, it was ridiculous. I built a hot rod."

In his workshop, there are photos from days gone by -- his cars, photos from his racing days, karting days and military days.

A wooden bust of a buxom woman is nailed to the wall near the ceiling. "That's Amanda Fenwick," he introduces her.

Who's Amanda Fenwick?

"I don't know. But that's who it is."

There are several model airplanes, stacks of magazines and a large trophy with a plaque reading "The Duffy." This is the Duffy Award for the go-kart national champion, awarded by the International Kart Federation.

In 1956, Duffy and his friend Roy Desbrow had three locations of Duff and Roy's Muffler Shop -- he's wearing a shirt with the insignia.

"We started to manufacture glass-packed mufflers," he said. "We were coming along pretty good, and we were in the process of figuring out what we should do."

He said he got the idea to build a go-kart from four wheels and some tubing he saw at his friend Art Ingels' house.

"It stuck in my mind," he said. He acquired lawnmower engines from a company that had taken some of their mowers off the market and built two to start -- one for himself and one for a friend.

Then another friend wanted to build one of his own. And another. And another.

"I called Art and said 'Art, you got your car done?' He said, 'Yep.' I said, 'Let's go down to the Rose Bowl and play with these things."

There were boys and young men racing quarter midgets in the parking lot, and they wanted to know where to get vehicles like the ones Ingels and Livingstone had. So they drew up plans and told the guys to meet them the next weekend to learn how to build the carts.

"We ran at the Rose Bowl for quite a while," Livingstone said. "One Sunday, the newspaper showed up, and they wrote an article about us. The following Sunday, the law showed up. People finally found out where all the noise was coming from, and they kicked us out. We got kicked out of I don't know how many parking lots."

Eventually, the little cars started taking up more time and becoming a lucrative business.

"Why don't we do away with the muffler thing," Livingstone said to Desbrow.

So they called a friend, who worked in advertising, to help them name the little car.

"The ones I remember are dart kart, zip kart, fun kart and go-kart," he said.

They decided on go-kart.

His first kart was number 184, named for time spent in Company 184 in the Navy.

He had his last race in 1960, or so he thought. He attended a vintage kart race in 1997 and was asked to drive.

He won.

* On contemporary go-kart racing: I don't go to kart races anymore, because the modern-day karts, I don't enjoy at all. Vintage karts, I like them. I go all over the place to go to vintage kart races. The younger guys that are racing now, they seem to be out for blood to win that trophy. The last vintage race I went to, they gave me a plaque from the grand marshal. I don't know what you're supposed to do when you're the grand marshal.

* On fame and anonymity: Everybody knows Duffy, but nobody knows me. I can go to a modern-day kart race and nobody knows me, which is fine. In Oregon, I was going to the flying field one day, and I go right past the kart track. I thought I'd stop in to see what was going on. I was walking around and a guy came up and said "Hi, there, my name is Joe Schmoe. I see on your shirt, it says Duff and Roy's Muffler Shop. I said, "I'm Duff." He said, "That's funny, because we have a trophy we race for called the Duffy Award." I said, "I know, you just shook hands with him." The guys were coming off the track and he said, "Hey, guys, you know who this is? This is my old friend, Duffy." I'd known him about two minutes.

* On making friends in a new town: There's a model-airplane club I belong to, and the guys are keeping me at arm's length. I had some good flying buddies, but I just can't seem to make anything here. One guy said it's because I'm an outsider. I think [it's because] I'm a damn Yankee. I still keep in touch with my friends in Oregon.

* Memories of loss: The bad thing about being in a squadron is you don't lose one at time. You lose a whole crew, eight guys. They're there one day and they're gone the next day. Kind of hard.

* Best advice he ever got from a friend: "Don't ever make friends with someone who doesn't have a sense of humor."

* On his upcoming 87th birthday: "I really don't need anything. I'm happy with the life I have now. I've been there, done that. I've done everything I've wanted to do. I can't really think of anything I have to do. I still don't know what I'll do when I grow up.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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