eKartingNews.com Driver of the Month – August 2013 – Neil Verhagen
Young Cadet driver substitutes for fellow competitor, winning three races at WKA Pittsburgh event
Verhagen substituted for Brandon Lemke, winning three of six features at the WKA event
In a continued effort to highlight the many outstanding performances by drivers around the country, eKartingNews.com is proud to introduce the ‘Driver of the Month’ program. Each month, the staff at EKN will determine the one driver who stood out above the rest and give the viewers a chance to know exactly what they accomplished and who they are.
Karting has, and I believe always will be, a family sport at its core. Each weekend across the country, families get together in their RV, truck, or car and head out to the race track, all to spend valuable time together that make karting what it is today. One other great aspect about the sport is the willingness and kindness that many display, providing that tool you may have left at home in the garage, lending a back-up motor, or even providing a spare kart. The true sportsmanship that we see each weekend always outweighs any negatives that should arise at an event.
One example of that sportsmanship was on display at the recent WKA Manufacturers Cup Series, held on the Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Wampum, Pennsylvania August 16-18. Connecticut driver, now living in Mooresville, Neil Verhagen lent his skills behind the wheel to the Lemke family on the weekend. May 2013 EKN Driver of the Month Brandon Lemke was sidelined following a wreck July 27 during a Route 66 Sprint Series event at Badger Kart Club facility. During the last race of the weekend on the final lap, Lemke was going for the win against Merlin teammate Austin Schaff, when the two made contact. Lemke went over hard and broke his collar bone in two places. A few days later, the 13-year old had surgery to insert a metal plate for stability and aid in the healing.
That night, Brandon contact his friend Neil Verhagen and asked if he would race for him. When Brandon’s father Bill found out, he contacted Neil’s father Ken. After he called, the kids had already worked out the deal and both fathers were on board. Verhagen was already a winner in WKA previously, but this season was not competing in the full season.
Verhagen would compete in six classes on the weekend to keep Lemke in the hunt for the four championships on the line. For each class, Verhagen would qualify the kart, but start last in each prefinal to set his starting position for each final. First on the order list was Komet Sportsman, where Verhagen was quick to move toward the front in the prefinal. Into the top-five by lap two, he actually led the field as they took the white flag, only to lose out on the win by 34 thousandths. Running second in the final, he was looking for a way past David Malukas when the two made contact. Neil drove up over the rumble strips and lost the chain, ending his race early.
Cadet Sportsman was the second class of the day for Verhagen and Lemke. Neil started the prefinal in 17th position, and reached the top-10 by the end of lap one. Inching his way forward with each passing, Verhagen led at the five lap mark. Another last lap pass dropped Neil to second at the line by just 37 thousandths. The #01 kart would run second for the majority of the final, coming up 40 thousandths short at the line for the victory. The final class on Saturday was Yamaha Sportsman, with 13 drivers ahead of Verhagen at the start. Unable to get a solid start as he did in the previous prefinals, Neil drove to a sixth place finish. After 12 laps, a third place finish would the end to a busy Saturday.
Sunday would unfold much better for Verhagen as he was not comfortable in the Merlin machines. Once again in Komet Sportsman, it was the #01 at the front of the field by the halfway mark. Unfortunately, it was for only one lap as he got loose in the back section of the track and spun. He continued on and would eventually finish sixth. The final would be a battle, with a host of drivers fighting for position. In one instance, Verhagen went from first to fifth in a single lap. Fighting his way back forward, Neil was able to steal the lead on the final circuit for the victory.
Running the fast laps of the 16-kart Cadet Sportsman prefinal race, Verhagen put himself into the fifth spot after eight laps. Into the top-three by the end of lap one, Neil was in position for the top spot throughout the final race. Putting himself into second on the white flag lap, Verhagen celebrated as he crossed the line 64 thousandths ahead of Malukas. The day ended in Yamaha Sportsman with Verhagen moving from last to first in the prefinal, scoring the eight-lap race win by 53 thousandths. Starting from the pole position, Neil led all 12 laps for his third victory of the day.
Verhagen’s effort behind the wheel during the weekend has Lemke leading three of the four championships heading into the series finale at the GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina. In Cadet, Lemke leads Malukas by 69 points. In Yamaha, the gap is 234. Komet 1 has he and Malukas tied for the top spot while Malukas holds an 18 point advantage on Lemke in Komet 2.
The weekend was a complete team effort with Neil behind the wheel, Brandon playing crew chief, debriefing with Neil after each session, and going to his dad Bill with the changes they needed. It certainly is a demonstration of just what the karting community is across the country. Racers always willing to lend a hand, or more, at any given moment.
August 2013 EKN Driver of the Month – Neil Verhagen
Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina
Parents: Lynne & Ken
Height/Weight: 4’10” / 88lbs
Education: 7th grade student at Lakeshore Middle school
Job: lawn mower
Engine/Engine Builder: Woltjer Racing Engines/KartSport NA
Sponsors: KartSport North America/Bell Racing
Series You Compete In: WKA Manufacturers Cup/US Rotax Max Challenge/USPKS/SKUSA
Years Karting: 4
How did you get started in karting? At an indoor track called Grand Prix New York
What has been the high point in your racing career? Winning my first national race in the rain at Concept Haulers Motor Speedway
What are your goals in racing? Professional motorsports
In a few words, how would you describe your driving style? Persistent
Funniest moment at the race track? When I drove into the pond at New Castle and nobody knew I was there
Favorite Track: GoPro Motorplex – Mooresville NC
Favorite form of professional motorsports: Formula 1
Favorite karting driver: Ashley Rogero
Favorite professional driver: Sebastian Vettel
Favorite website: eKartingNews.com
Favorite movie: Identity Thief
Favorite actor/actress: Melissa McCarthy
Favorite music/group: Hip Hop/Rap
Favorite vacation/activity spot: Bonaire
Favorite food: Raspberry Pie
The Real Deal
What do you do when not at the track? Swim, bike ride and hang out with my friends
What are your goals outside of karting? Keep getting straight A’s in school
What type of street car do you drive? Not yet
What type of street car would you like to drive? Corvette
What are your pet peeves or things that irritate you? When someone cuts in front of me in the scale line
What do you think could be done to improve the sport of karting? Make it easier for people to get into karting
What are your favorite aspects about the sport of karting? Close racing/all the friends I’ve made/driving new tracks
August 2013 Driver of the Month – Honorable Mention:
- Oliver Askew: United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals – Senior Max champion
- Juan Manuel Correa: United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals – Junior Max champion
- Gary Lawson: WKA Gold Cup Series PIRC – Three wins
- Pier-Luc Ouellette: Canadian Karting Championships – DD2 champion