From the Tower: 2015 Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix
Seventh annual event continues to provide excitement, right at the feet of the general public
The 2015 edition of the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix took place over the September 25-27 weekend, as the southern California city once again transformed its downtown business district into the site for a three-day racing festival. This was the seventh straight year that the BLVD section of the city hosted the event, and the fifth working with Superkarts! USA, welcoming the California ProKart Challenge’s final round for the fourth year. Roughly 150 racers took part in the two-day on-track event, while the City of Lancaster VIP ‘Battle of the BLVD’ rental race events were held on Friday and Saturday evening.
Behind the Scenes: Hard Work and Dedication
A street race is unlike any other event. Contrasting a typical karting event where the series and the competitors arrive to a facility, all ready to go, with minimal effort to prepare the track to host a weekend-long race, a street circuit is the polar opposite. For a temp street race, you must convert city streets that are used day after day as a means for transportation, into a safe and enjoyable race course. Since the organization has been under the guidance of Tom Kutscher, Superkarts! USA has hosted at least two temporary circuit events on the year, including the SuperNationals and typically one for the California ProKart Challenge.
In 2011, SKUSA was called upon by the City of Lancaster to help take their new upstart street race to the next level. From the very first year, you could see the event was making improvements in leaps and bounds in terms of marketing, exposure and their support of karting. Months of planning and coordination between Lancaster and SKUSA leads to the week-long implementation of the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix. It takes three days to turn the city streets into a racing facility, which includes the placement and activation of video and audio equipment that keeps all the competitors and fans updated on what is going on around the circuit. Three days of racing, including one solely dedicated to the VIP rental race kart events keeps the city streets busy with action. When the final checkered flag is thrown, the racetrack is quickly reverted back to ordinary city streets to culminate the hundreds of man-hours that are put in over the seven-day adventure.
This is just not another race, but an event for the city. Lancaster invests a significant amount of time and money into the program in an effort to make the festival an annual and memorable experience for their citizens and for the racers who travel into the city, and they’ve succeeded. A large number of sponsors and supporting companies assist in making all the added elements possible. In return, the city receives a large revenue stream thanks to the influx of competitors and their families who spend money at restaurants, supplies, gas, and hotels, and the local businesses on the BLVD are further supported by the locals who arrive on the scene to spectate. Year after year, we see the continued development around the BLVD area of the city. For SKUSA, creating great partnerships with members of the city and businesses within the area is key. The event comes in roughly around the break-even point in terms of profit, but it acts as a great marketing tool for the organization, its customers and the sport itself.
Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix Scholarship Winner Trey Brown
During the last two SOLGP, Superkarts! USA has worked with the City of Lancaster to provide the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix Driver Scholarship. This program is dedicated to supporting a driver who excels both on and off the track, and embodies to the spirit of competition and fair play. The scholarship includes the sponsorship of the winner’s racing the following season while they promote and represent the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix family and event throughout the year. Carter Williams was the first selection in 2013, competing in the California ProKart Challenge and SKUSA Pro Tour through the scholarship while representing the SOLGP. Last year, TaG Senior driver Austin Elliott was selected and competed this year carrying the SOLGP colors. Entering the weekend, a number of drivers were on the list of potential winners. During the event awards ceremonies on Sunday evening, Trey Brown was announced as the newest Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix Scholarship winner.
Brown is a TaG Junior rookie, coming off a championship season in the TaG Cadet division at the California PKC program in 2014. After earning a runner-up result in his TaG Junior debut, Brown led the California PKC championship throughout the year, only to lose the title following the results on the weekend in Lancaster. Throughout the weekend, Brown continued to show a positive attitude and sportsmanship as he had displayed throughout the season. Trey’s 2016 entry fees will be taken care of by the scholarship, along with a new helmet and suit that will represent the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix wherever he competes. Congratulations Trey!
Taming of the Streets
Street racing is a completely different element of the sport, one that takes a great deal of thought and focus, a lot of strength, and a little bit of courage. When you race on a permanent course, there is typically grass or run-off room available should you make a mental mistake. With Street racing however, if you miss by an inch, you are likely heading into the barriers. Most kart tracks have relatively smooth surfaces aside from the occasional bump. Street course are just that, city streets with their own unique aspects. The natural crown of the street provides both banked and off-camber sections, and the deterioration that any busy downtown street undergoes with age makes not only the turns rough, but the straights a bumpier ride than normal. A street layout is lined with barriers, hay bales and walls to help keep the karts within the course, in addition to keeping the spectators safe. The added element of reaching 80 mph within a ‘hallway’ of barriers and fencing takes a certain craziness that not all humans possess.
For the most part, the racers kept their heads in the game this past weekend, navigated the bumps well, and put on an amazing show for the spectators who lined up along the BLVD. Those who did make contact with the barriers were able to walk away, including 62-year old David Conyers, who went off the track hard at the end of the long straightaway. The long-time shifterkart driver from Colorado was among the top contenders in the new S4 Super Master division, racing alongside race winners Ken Schilling, Jim Kidd and Kalvin Chen in his first start on the year. Heat #2 opened up the racing on Sunday, and the entire S4/S4 SM field was making its way down the long 1000’ foot straight for the first time when David attempted a pass under braking, locked it up, and went straight off into the barriers.
It was a scary incident looking on, and thankfully, Conyers was able to get up out of the kart and walk away. In addition to the design of the kart and the bodywork and all the safety gear that drivers wear, Superkarts! USA has developed a now-tested approach to the design for the run-off area with a mixture of plastic barriers and haybales, separated by strategic ‘crush zones’. The layer system used racing plastic barriers, with two rows of hay bales, separated by a two-foot gap and ended with the ‘jersey’ barriers just before the fence. This design was fully tested by Conyers incident.
California ProKart Challenge Champions
The Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix also served as the series finale for the California ProKart Challenge series. Ten titles were decided during the final laps of the season, crowning 10 drivers as champions. Jarred Campbell battled through a difficult defense of his Streets of Lancaster GP victory from last year, but walked away as the S1 Pro Stock Moto champion on the season. In his rookie S1 campaign, Campbell won three times in six races to replace two-time champion Billy Musgrave on the throne. Celebrating his 15th birthday in Lancaster, Christian Brooks also became a champion in his rookie season in TaG Senior. Brooks also won three times on the year, and was in contention for the SOLGP victory as well, edging out Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix Scholarship winner Austin Elliott in the overall final standings.
Carter Williams and Aaron Schmitt entered Lancaster with their respective titles already locked up. Williams, the 2013 SOLGP Scholarship winner, bested the S2 Semi-Pro field on the season, while Schmitt celebrated his S3 Novice Stock Moto title with a victory in Lancaster. Darren Elliott added a second straight S4 Master Stock Moto title to his resume, while Ken Schilling became the inaugural S4 Super Master champion despite missing the main event in Lancaster following a crash in Heat #2.
The closest title chase saw the top two drivers finish just five points apart. This fight went in the favor of Vatche Tatikian for the TaG Master championship. Tatikian was shuffled to the back of the field in Lancaster, but he fought back to earn enough points over class winner Brian Phillipsen to steal the crown. Nicky Hays has been on a tear as of late, winning four of the last five feature races in TaG Junior. His victory at Lancaster helped to clinch the championship. Anthony Willis completed the wire-to-wire championship in TaG Cadet, leading from the opening round to the finale, securing his first SKUSA championship. George Diakoumopoulos was the only double winner on the year in TaG Cadet Rookie, and he used his Lancaster win to secure the championship by 60 points over Aiden Kempf.
Local Support of the Event
Many will argue that karting is its own worst enemy. The biggest complaint we hear is that there are not enough people in the sport. The problem has always been figuring out how to make sure people find out more about the sport. One solution is fairly simple – take the sport directly to the people through street racing to build awareness. The Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix has plenty of space on the BLVD for booths and information. Premier sponsor Toyota had a complete four-car display right next to the track, giving people a hands-on look at the models that they have available. There were food vendors, charities, and other organizations based in the city, in nearby Palmdale or throughout the Antelope Valley. Walking up and down the street, there was one thing missing…karting.
Not one kart shop, track, or club leveraged the chance to promote the sport outside the paddock, which would have allowed them to educate the spectators about the sport, how to do get started, where to race, or what to buy. Thankfully, spectators did have the option to purchase a pit pass, and from the feedback we received from the city, the competitors and teams were very friendly when asked questions in their pit areas. Moving forward, events such as this that bring karting in the front of the general public must be leveraged. We, as karters, need to be more focused on helping to spread the word about our sport; the purest form of motorsports there is.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help spread the word of karting. With social media what it is today, the work should really not be all that difficult. Introduce your passion, hobby, or lifestyle of karting to someone in your social media network.