OnTrack: David Cole – Victory Kart – Rock Island Grand Prix
EKN Managing Editor takes on LO206 class at popular street circuit event
One of the perks that we enjoy through managing the ‘Internet hub’ for the sport is our many connections within the industry. Karting is filled with many passionate enthusiasts, and there are many great events figures which we are thrilled to be associated. The Rock Island Grand Prix exemplifies that status, as the all-volunteer crew works around the calendar, all for two days of racing action each Labor Day weekend. Similarly, Bill McLaughlin and his team at McLaughlin Motorsports have been in karting for over 40 years, and they have a drive to promote the family sport and build a stepping stone for those looking to move up the racing ranks. Over this past Labor Day weekend, I was able to bring both of these groups together for my first OnTrack outing of the 2013 season. While it is late in the year, it is never too late to sample the thrill of street racing and the opportunity to work with one of the top operations within the industry.
The event began with my annual trip west from Michigan toward the Quad Cities. For me, it was my tenth straight journey to the RIGP as I got my first taste in 2004 as a guest of Super Kart Illustrated. The trip, however, felt like one from 20 years ago, as I hitched a ride in the truck/trailer with my mom and dad, as my father Bob was competing in his second straight RIGP as well. The uneventful trip featured him handling the driving, while I was busy on the laptop for most of the five-hour journey. EKN never sleeps and I had lots to do to prep for the weekend, which we we’re broadcasting on our EKN Live page. Throwing in my OnTrack only proved to pack my weekend even tighter.
We arrived to the staging area early on Friday afternoon, and I was able to meet up with the McLaughlin Motorsports crew. Chris Wheeler, Dean Mack and Joe Neidigh were there ready to finish the assembly of the Victory Kart / LO 206 package that I would pilot on the weekend. Manufactured in the United States, the Victory Kart is constructed from 1.25” tubing – similar to 32mm. This particular model featured just two axle cassettes, with adjustable bearing cassettes. The engine side seat strut was adjustable, with the ability to move up or down, and provided enough room for the LO 206 engine despite its wide feature. The design of the frame rails is nothing different or unique from similar models on the market, as its designed to provide simplicity for the user.
The chassis was assembled by Wheeler back at their Mooresville, Indiana shop, minus the installation of the seat and engine.The initial set-up, which we never changed from the time we hit the paddock to the main event – was dialed into the following specs:
Front width: 46”
Rear width: 50 1/2”
Camber: -4 degrees
Ride Height: standard (front) / chassis up, axle down (rear)
Axle: 50mm (standard)
Hubs: Front – Freeline 17mm / Rear – aluminum medium length
Tires: 5” MG FZ Yellow – 4.5 fronts / 6.0 rears
Wheels: DWT M Series
Seat: IMAF 3
Gearing: 17-55 (35 chain)
Clutch: Max-Torque Draggin Skin
After bolting in the seat and the engine, the kart was ready to go, minus a few tweaks that we would make after pit move-in was completed. One of the unique, little features of the Victory Kart are washers that are welded to the frame near the front of the engine mount section of the chassis. These bent washers serve as holders for the fuel line and throttle linkage, along with gauge leads, which keeps the zip ties from getting ground off during on-track action. They’re a nice little touch that really let you know that the design team was thinking of the end-user.
The heat on Friday was terrible, as it reached 100 degrees at one point. Thankfully, there was a breeze, so while sitting in the shade was still hot, there was a little relief. Once the McLaughlin Motorsports paddock was set-up, I met with my Victory Kart teammate for the weekend – Calvin Stewart. The Top Kart USA driver would join me in the LO206 Medium class on the weekend, and he give me a measuring stick as to where I was, as Stewart is on-track nearly every weekend in the summer. After several hours of set-up and standing in the heat, I escaped to the cool hotel room for the night with an early bedtime to prep for what would be a long Saturday.
The early Saturday wake-up call got me going and out to the paddock, as we needed to put the final touches to my ride for the weekend. We were up as the first session on-track, so we had to be ready right away. Following the driver’s meeting, it was up to the grid area for practice. I was able to push up and get into the same group as Howden and Stewart. Calvin and I ran nose-to-tail the entire session, as we passed Howden as he entered the pits early, having been black-flagged for not wearing a neck collar. We made a little mistake and had MyChron beacons pointing the wrong direction, so we were unable to measure a true lap time. The quickest on-track was a 38.0, which we felt we were close to based on our speed. The track was green and slippery, so we weren’t going to gain much knowledge.
The second session began with trouble, as my engine would not rev coming out of the pits. I kept the throttle down the entire session, but the engine would never reach the rev-limiter. I pulled in and began going over the kart, looking for the problem. Finding nothing visual, I talked with Andy Finke of JET Karting – one of the stronghold LO 206 programs in the country. He mentioned that the float height in the carburetor could be the culprit, so we adjusted them back to the suggested settings. With new MG Tires strapped onto the Victory Kart and the right amount of weight, we were set up for qualifying. As I left the pits for the six-minute timed session, the engine felt and sounded the same as it did before – this was not good. I got passed easily out of the pits, so I pulled in after two laps and ended up 27th on the final classification out of 30. I was frustrated with not knowing what the issue was, so I went to work on my EKN duties for the day, putting off any repairs until the race day was completed.
While I was away in the timing trailer, little did I know that Bill McLaughlin Sr. was feeling the same frustration I was and that he took the entire kart over to the Faster Motors trailer in the paddock. The LO 206 ‘guru’ looked at the carburetor but could not visually assess the issue. He simply elected to strap on a new carb for me to use, hoping it would cure the issues. Those 15 hours from the end of Saturday’s on-track action to Sunday morning warm-up were gut-wrenching for me. Not being able to know if the solution was correct, or the problems still existed, was one thing I had trouble dealing with.
A few hours of Rock Island night life followed our traditional stop at Huckleberry’s Pizza, and I eventually got back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep. In the morning, I raced to the paddock and to the grid for morning warm-up, taking to the track right on the bumper of Howden. We ran nose-to-tail the entire time, with no issues. What a huge relief. In fact, we posted the unofficial second and third quickest laps of the morning warm-up, with me getting the better lap time as I rode in Rob’s draft. It was a huge relief and got me very excited for the 15-lap race.
As the first race of the day, we had the honor of signing autographs from fans and getting to open up the 2013 main events. While Howden enjoyed the perks of qualifying toward the front, doing interviews and signing many autographs, I was left all the way in the back plotting my way to the front. Once we were down in our seats, prepping for the Lemans-style standing start, the one-minute flag was raised, the engines fired and it was go time. Off the line, I noticed that I got the jump on a number of the drivers starting to my right, so I drifted out to the far left edge of the track, setting up for an inside run to turn one. I got a major push from Greg Jasperson, who started 28th after being involved in a nasty qualifying wreck that enjoyed major press in the morning paper.
As we made our way into turn one, I was looking to grab two more spots when two karts made contact in front of me. With cold brakes and an over-aggressive left foot, I locked up the brakes and began sliding sideways. I was able to collect it, so continued on with no contact with the wrecking karts or the barriers either. Through the start and the turn one incident, I was able to gain a number of positions – 10 to be exact – as we made it around to complete the opening lap. Clear of any issues, I began pushing forward. On lap three, however, I thought everything came to an end when I turned in too early and made heavy contact with the right-front tire on the inside barriers in the turn four. The right-hander corner has been trouble for many in the past, including my ‘SKI’ colleagues Howden and Blaney. Thankfully, the wheel stayed on and everything was working aside from the steering shaft carrying a really nice bend in it.
Keeping my foot on the gas, I continued on and began catching a large group of racers, including the Beamish brothers, Andy Finke, and a host of others. Lap after lap, I was able to move around a few and was looking for a way around more. I had advanced up to 12th, and I sat directly behind Finke, but I knew I was quicker then the rest of the group. I elected to play it smart, and not make any bold moves to disrupt my race or anyone’s race as well. That proved to be a poor decision as they all got wide on the exit of turn one, and I tried to duck back to the inside and lost all momentum heading into turn two, where I was passed by Becker Reardon. I tried to find a way back around on the final circuit, but I came up short and had to settle for 13th.
After a couple of handshakes on the cool-down lap and some talk in the scale-line, the race was completed. My goal of earning a top-10 finish was not achieved, but edging out Howden in the ‘fast lap’ category was half the battle, so I consider our war a stalemate. Back at the McLaughlin pit, everyone was happy to see me finish and put on a show for the Victory Kart brand. Stewart finished the day sixth after falling to eighth at the start. He was as quick as last year’s winner Connor Lund, and finished second in the ‘non-laydown’ seat category.
Over the two days, we accomplished a few things. I had a great time on-track, was pleased with my Sunday performance, and I had the chance to try out a new chassis and work with a team that has long been a supporter of eKartingNews.com.
The Victory Kart proved to be a solid package for the US market. For less than $3,000 brand new, the complete rolling chassis (manufactured in America) is a perfect product for the beginning racer or one looking to keep on a budget. The chassis worked flawlessly, took a hard beating and kept on pushing despite the damage caused by the driver. For lower horsepower classes, Victory Kart is a highly-rated chassis of choice.
Working with the McLaughlin Motorsports/Top Kart USA crew was first-class. The entire crew under the tent was there for anything we needed, and provided a great experience for the racer and their families.
The Briggs & Stratton LO206 is still by far the best entry level or club engine on the market today. It all comes down to driver and chassis set-up as the engine is ready to rock with just a couple small tweaks straight out of the box. As always, a few minor issues will arise, as is the case with any engine package. But once it’s running, it’s a blast to drive.
And overall, the Rock Island Grand Prix experience is unmatchable. Zooming around the city streets during the day, and enjoy the nightlife with the many karting members in attendance.