From the Tower: 2014 Superkarts! USA Pro Tour SpringNationals
Things never seen before with my own eyes at Dallas Karting Complex
With the entire day spent up in the tower, watching every on-track session to provide the EKN Trackside Live program, not much time is spent roaming the paddock for the stories. This new ‘From the Tower’ column is our chance to delve deeper into some of the stories that developed over a race weekend, those that may or may not have been included in the daily race reports. – DC
The fifth season of the Superkarts! USA Pro Tour opened up with the annual SpringNationals, held this year at the Dallas Karting Complex in Caddo Mills, Texas. This was the furthest east the series had ventured since the 2010 SummerNationals at the USA International Raceway in Shawano, Wisconsin. The weather was perfect throughout the weekend, with clear skies and enough of a breeze to not make you feel like dying of heat. The observation deck (which served as our ‘tower’ for the weekend rather then the traditional scoring tower) and the lower bleachers underneath provided shade for everyone to enjoy during the racing action.
Record Numbers: This year’s SpringNationals set a record for number of drivers and entries, going over the 240 mark in just eight categories. The S1 division reached 26 drivers, including four from Europe, featuring the most in a non-SuperNationals event. This has brought the category to where the vision for the future was back in 2010 when the Stock Moto ladder system developed under the new Superkarts! USA era. The TaG Cadet, at nearly 40 drivers, bodes well for the future of the TaG program as well. Many graduated to Junior level this year, with others going from Junior to Senior. The future is bright for the top echelon of the sport.
Grip + Ribs = Pain: One thing I had never seen, only in photos at European races, is the amount of rubber laid down by the record number of entries. The sealer ‘cocktail’ placed around the Dallas Karting Complex mixed with the MG ‘SKUSA’ rubber gave the track the most grip it had every seen, and for many of the younger and in-experienced drivers, nothing they had ever driven on. Those experienced drivers compared it similar to that of the Phoenix SpringNationals and Miller Motorsports Park SummerNationals in 2012. The extra grip level brought on issues for a number, complaining of rib pain. Many drivers pushed through the pain to complete the weekend.
Over Before It Begins: I’m from the old school style of racing, where it’s a chess game. Starting from the pole position, you crept up to the start/finish line, trying to catch the off-pole position driver sleeping to get the jump. This past weekend, there was no creeping whatsoever. All of the TaG divisions on their rolling starts were too fast. With faster speeds into turn one, and the rear bumpers, it allows for bumper car action into turn one. This was more evident with the TaG Senior group.
I think the punch-off area and the waving of the green flag was too far away from the entry of turn one and allowed anyone behind the front row to use their nose cone as a weapon, pushing the drivers ahead of them out of the way to take a position away. To me, that’s not racing. In order to gain a position, you have to earn it.
This sends the wrong message to the TaG Cadet kids, watching the Senior drivers racing. They also have their own issues of trying to win the race on the pace lap. The kids, along with the mechanics and parents, need to reminded that leaving the pits is a warm-up lap. The accident we saw Sunday afternoon before the start of the first heat race could have been avoided had the drivers been at a reasonable speed, rather than race pace right out of the gate. Second, these young drivers need to build up awareness. Many are focused on the rear bumper of the kart in front of them, rather than looking beyond the kart directly ahead. These are key teaching points from the moment a young child enters the seat of a kart.
Should this type of practice continue for the younger classes, I’d love to see the karts fitted with the electrical system that monitors their speed, similar to that of rental karts. With the switch of a button, all the engines have the power cut and reduced to a very slow idle. It could help with starts and for red flag situations. Another alternative is standing starts, which are being tested out in the UK currently.
CRG West Loses Trailer, But Not Spirit: Sunday afternoon witnessed the first paddock fire ever seen by those in attendance. A rare electrical fire broke out within the CRG West trailer while the TaG Cadet drivers were on-track. Once the fire was notice, numerous members of the paddock began running their way to the site with fire extinguishers in hand. Despite the valiant attempts to put the fire out, the flames continued to spread within the trailer. The fire department was called and the Superkarts! USA and DKC staff began to evacuate the paddock area. A number of people helped to move tents, cars and haulers around the CRG West trailer, including its own transport truck. Unfortunately, the fire spread too quickly and flames began to take over the stacker trailer. Thankfully, no one was injured and the fire did not spread to any other parts of the paddock. The CRG West operation and the Kacic family may have lost items, but the karting family stepped up to offer any support possible. Their spirit however was still focused on racing with their drivers committed to finishing the day.
One of them included TaG Junior driver Sting Ray Robb, as the Tony Kart driver had his equipment transported by the Canadian outfit and pitted under their tent for the weekend. It was a challenging weekend for the rookie Junior driver, including a couple seized engines and flip during Saturday’s action. Walking away with a hyper-extended knee, Robb fought through the pain Sunday to come from 12th on the grid in the main event to finish runner-up, including the fast lap of the race. Truly a ‘never give up’ type of moment that describes not what type of racer you are, but what type of person you can be.
Great End to Autism Awareness: The month of April is National Autism Awareness Month and despite the SpringNationals taking place just into May, many of the event attendees were able to support a notable cause. SKUSA Chief Starter Aaron Likens was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age 20, and since, has become an Autism Ambassador for the Easter Seals Midwest – with the purpose to help people with developmental disabilities learn, live, work and participate within the community. Likens brought four blue checkered flags, two used on-track to close each session, and two raffled off during the podium ceremonies. Each flag was signed by the race winners of each day, with Saturday’s flag going to Koene USA’s Mike Maurini and Sunday to DKC’s Jim Hickerson. In total, $1,100 was raised during the two days, a truly remarkable achievement for Likens and the entire SpringNationals paddock.
Double Weekends: With the Texas ProKart Challenge opening weekend held the previous weekend, a number of drivers and teams took advantage of using the race to prepare for the SpringNationals. The event drew record numbers for the regional program, and allowed teams to be ready to go for the SpringNats week with their hauler, tent and equipment already in place. Superkarts! USA had never done a back-to-back weekend before, typically holding a regional event two or three weeks prior to the SummerNationals while teams took it upon themselves to travel for test weekends to the previous SpringNationals. Talking with a handful of the team managers, they favored the two weekend format from a business and logistic standpoint. On-track, of the 11 drivers to take a checkered flag, four (accounting for five of the 16 wins) did not take part in the Texas PKC weekend.
For complete coverage of the opening weekend of the Superkarts! USA Pro Tour, visit the EKN Event Page.