From the Tower: Superkarts! USA SuperNationals XVIII

Another historic event in Las Vegas as SKUSA bids farewell to the Rio

Logo-SKUSA SuperNationals XVIIIWe spend our entire racedays up in the tower, watching every on-track session while producing our EKN Trackside Live program, so 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 accounts that develop over a race weekend, those that may or may not have been included in the daily race reports. – DC

There were over 500 different stories that played out during the week in Las Vegas, as Superkarts! USA hosted the 18th edition of the SuperNationals. Nine different categories took part in the world’s largest event, one that welcomed drivers from all points across the globe. Four days of competition led into SuperSunday, where the winners were decided and the 2014 SKUSA Pro Tour champions were crowned. The weather was much warmer and drier than last year’s rain-soaked event, which meant for friendly attitudes of the racers, spectators, and of course, the workers who were not required to spend 14 hours a day in the wet.

Gone with the Sunset – Rio Hosts Its Ninth and Final SuperNationals

Greenlight TV was on hand taping for future primetime broadcasts of the SuperNationals XVIII (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

Greenlight TV was on hand taping for future primetime broadcasts of the SuperNationals XVIII (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

When the sun set after the action on SuperSunday, the lights of the Las Vegas Strip lit up one final time for the competitors of the SuperNationals at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. For the ninth time in the 18-year history of the event, the Rio parking lot was transformed into a racing facility for one week in November, hosting the very best in the sport. After two trips in 2002 and 2003, Tom Kutscher’s SKUSA called the Rio home for the SuperNationals from 2008 to 2014. From the likes of Formula One champion Michael Schumacher, to the late Dan Wheldon, NASCAR’s Jamie McMurray and 2014 IndyCar Series champion Will Power – each and every SuperNats event has a place in the sport’s history, with each edition having its own memories and exciting moments.

Ready for Primetime

Prior to this year’s event, SKUSA announced that the SuperNationals would be televised on CBS Sports Network via Torque.TV. Some erroneously believed that this would be in the form of live coverage, however, as many motorsports show are broadcasted, the SKUSA SuperNationals XVIII has been scheduled for three shows that will be run during primetime in the spring of 2015. From Friday and through SuperSunday, Greenlight TV collected footage for the upcoming broadcasts, using an assortment of cameras which included racers’ very own on-board GoPros. EKN’s own Rob Howden is set to be part of the commentary that will be heard on the broadcasts, and taped stand-up intros during the weekend.  EKN will have more details on the exact days and times as soon as they become available. For now, here is a little teaser:

 

Over Their Heads – Drivers Get Overaggressive in Tight Confines

Paolo de Conto swept the KZ2 division at this year's SuperNationals (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

Paolo de Conto swept the KZ2 division at this year’s SuperNationals (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

The majority of last year’s racing at the SuperNationals was run in wet conditions, so contact was expected as there was less than normal grip levels available on the soaked racing surface. It seemed that the drivers carried over some of the same uncontrollability into this year’s action, which was disappointing. When you have 44 karts on the track at the same time, a few minor bumper-to-bumper incidents or pod-to-pod side swipes are expected in the tight confines of a temporary circuit, especially with the magnitude of an event such as the SuperNationals. The real issue once wheel-to-wheel action began was turn two. At times, drivers didn’t seem to care who or what was in front of them, pushing their way into others and using the karts in front as a brake, rather than using the left foot of their own. Penalties were handed out throughout the week, but of course, not every single major act of ‘stupidity’ was caught in the process. Some day, the majority of the racers will understand that you can’t win the race in the first few corners, but you sure can lose it. Otherwise, the SKUSA crew did an amazing job with the construction of the circuit, which was at least 30’ wide from barrier to barrier at a minimum. The runoff room was plenty in the major crash areas, and we saw the double impact layers of Scribner barriers in front of the large water barriers, which helped to keep the karts within the racing area. We heard from a number of the competitors in regards to just how well the entire track crew did at removing damaged karts within a lap so that the field came back around to an empty course the next time through the incident area. A special tip of the hat to all those wearing the SKUSA colors throughout the week.

Picture Perfect – Lennox and de Conto Take Big Prizes

UK driver Jordon Lennox bagged $16,000 with the S1 victory and Pro Tour title (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

UK driver Jordon Lennox bagged $16,000 with the S1 victory and Pro Tour title (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

Two drivers left Las Vegas after scoring the jackpot, as the UK’s Jordon Lennox and Italian Paolo de Conto each won $10,000 on SuperSunday. Lennox partnered up with PSL Karting this season, taking on the entire Pro Tour schedule in the S1 Pro Stock Moto class. After two wins at the SpringNationals, it seemed the streak would end in Modesto when he was not up to pace early on. The true talent that he is, Lennox climbed his way to the top both days, earning four main event victories in four rounds. Throughout the SuperNationals, Lennox was barely a mention after heat race wins by Leesmann, Formal, and Fore – but Jordan found himself starting fourth with top-five heat results. Like they say in Vegas, never show the cards you are dealt, as he said when talking to EKN’s Rob Howden after the victory. The win locked up the Pro Tour championship for another $3,000 in cash, and another $3,000 as part of the 2015 SKUSA Circle of Champions program, should he compete at the Pro Tour next year, bringing his total to $16,000 and matching the feat reached by last year’s champion Joey Wimsett.

In his farewell event with the new BirelART program, de Conto displayed true professionalism in giving it all at the SuperNationals and sweeping the KZ2 category for the $10,000 payday. Laying down the fast lap in qualifying, de Conto scored all three heat race wins. The main event, however, was a challenge, as he was under attack by former winner Jonathan Thonon and five-time world champion Davide Fore. Paolo rose to the occasion, and assumed the lead with five laps remaining to hold on for his first SuperNationals triumph. With de Conto moving over to CRG, it will be interesting to see who steps up as the lead driver for the new BirelART in 2015.

Jennings Father/Son Duo Does the Double

John and Chris Jennings enjoyed two podium finishes at this year's SuperNats

John and Chris Jennings enjoyed two podium finishes at this year’s SuperNats

Karting has been, and always will be, focused around family. From the early days of the sport, it was about the father and son spending a quality weekend together at the racetrack. Many life lessons can be learned on and off the track, but time together is immeasurable. At every SKUSA Pro Tour race and at all the Texas ProKart Challenge events, you will see John and Chris Jennings working side-by-side as a team, and as a great father/son combination. Chris is a now three-time Texas PKC S4 Master Stock Moto champion and was the S4 (Stock Moto Heavy) winner at the 2008 SuperNationals. In previous years, Chris took on the challenge of racing in both S2 and S4, with some success. This year, he worked on lowering his body weight, and the weight of the kart as well, to be competitive in S2 and remain a contender in S4. The results speak for themselves, as Jennings stayed out of trouble to stay within reach throughout the week in S2, placing fifth overall on SuperSunday.  He survived a near miss in S4 during the second heat race, run under the lights, when his steering shaft lower mount broke while making the turn into pit lane after finishing sixth. The kart was welded for the next day, and Jennings went out and drove it to a win in the final heat. Starting fourth, his DRT Racing / DR Racing Kart came on late, pushing forward to third to land on the podium for the second time during SuperSunday. The only other driver to do that was five-time world champ Davide Fore. Nearly the entire DRT Racing squad was made up with fathers and sons working together, with owner Don Guilbeault and son Tyler (S2), Donald Formal alongside Danny in S1 and TaG Senior, and the Finley duo of Robert and Skyler in S2.  All in all, this tent was among the most incredible stories of the 2014 SKUSA SuperNationals.

Team USA – Sargeant Ends International Streak in TaG Junior

Logan Sargeant became the first American to win the TaG Junior division (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

Logan Sargeant became the first American to win the TaG Junior division (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

Since the creation of the TaG Junior division in Superkarts! USA competition, there had never been an American to win at the SuperNationals…until now. Florida native Logan Sargeant had found the top step of the podium in Las Vegas before as a TaG Cadet driver in 2011. This past season was one of solid results across the pond, with Sargeant racing for the Ricky Flynn Motorsport operation out of the UK, racing alongside CIK-FIA World and European champion Enaam Ahmed. Sargeant won all three heat races and walked away under the bright sunny skies of Las Vegas for the victory. At just 13 years old, we expect to hear more success in the upcoming 2015 season.

Consolation Prize – Guzman Triumphs in S5

It was a solid victory for Raul Guzman in S5 (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

It was a solid victory for Raul Guzman in S5 (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

It’s tough to fathom that a loose airbox can be the difference between earning the championship and ending the year as the vice-champion. That is the scenario that played out for Raul Guzman in 2014. The Mexican driver for GP Texas USA came out of the gate looking to sweep the opening round of the SpringNationals, until his airbox came off and he was forced to retire in the main event. This paved the way for Trenton Estep to claim the victory, which triggered a three-race win streak. Guzman kept pace, however, scoring the runner-up spot the following day in Dallas. He escaped Modesto with two solid results, unfortunately having a win on Sunday taken away due to a penalty for blocking. Securing the Texas ProKart Challenge S5 championship over Estep and Jacob Loomis, confidence was on his side coming to Las Vegas. The event at the Rio started out with the third quickest lap in qualifying, and Guzman then placed second twice in the heats, winning the final moto to claim the pole position for SuperSunday. That was all that Guzman needed, as he got the Honda Holeshot and led all 20 laps en route to a commanding six-second margin of victory to give GP its fourth win in the S5 category at the SuperNationals.

Road Racers for Life

The road racing family on hand in Las Vegas

The road racing family on hand in Las Vegas

There is no question or doubt that road racing is in my blood. It’s where most of my childhood memories at the track come from, it’s where I really began to drive back when I turned 15, it’s where I volunteered many hours as a series director and club official, and it’s just who I am. The Ocala Gran Prix operation had a number of familiar faces, all working together to help their drivers score wins and championships at the SuperNationals. A combined experience of nearly three centuries is what these seven ‘road racers’ bring with them, where ever they go. From left to right: Richie Warren builds his own laydown chassis, which have been very successful in recent years; Scott Grenier works daily at the L.A.D. Specialties shop outside of Chicago; Nate Grindell is considered the wildest driver in a laydown, and is the backbone of the OGP race team; John Russell comes from one of the most historic families in karting, and is the most eccentric wrench you want working for you; Brandon Fry spent the last few years as Chief Engineer at Muscle Milk Pickett Racing when not racing his brother and father in the laydown categories; Jim Fry is the ‘Iceman’ of karting, and is still racing after 50 years in the sport; Chad Dokken is possible one of the most diverse karters, from road race, dirt and sprint racing. Hands down, all will and do race each other to the edge, but are there for each other when help is needed. It’s always great to see family at the track.

EKN Prediction Contest

While Bas Lammers did not win it for Howden, he did help him earn the Prediction Contest (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)

While Bas Lammers did not win it for Howden, he did help him earn the Prediction Contest (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

Each year, the EKN Staff puts together their predictions for the top-five in every category at the SuperNationals. Reviewing the final results from SuperSunday, Mr. Rob Howden edged out David Cole by just one point. For each category, one point was awarded for each driver who finished inside the top-five. Five bonus points were added for selecting the correct winning driver, four points for the correct runner-up, and so on. Howden selected 21 drivers (47%) finishing inside the top-five, three more than Cole (40%). On the flip side, Cole selected three drivers to win, while Howden was unable to predict any of the nine winners correctly. He did select three runner-up finishers correctly to Cole’s one. Each had a best score of nine points in a class, with Cole shining in S1 while Howden locked up nine points in both S2 and KZ2. The deciding category ended up as the S4 Master Stock Moto division, where Cole recorded a score of zero and Howden correctly selected Trevor McAlister to finish fifth, giving him two crucial points. In the end, the score was Howden 40, Cole 39. More prediction contests will be offered up to the EKN viewers in 2015, with prizes to be announced.

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