eKartingNews.com Driver of the Month – September 2015 – Tony Neilson
Margay driver from Iowa makes history at Rock Island Grand Prix with six victories
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.
Each Labor Day weekend, top drivers from all across North America have a chance to do what many people dream of on a daily basis, breaking the speed limit by double or triple the minimum mark. The volunteer-based group of the Rock Island Grand Prix closes down the city streets along the Mississippi River for the annual two-day street race. Overnight, the 6/10-mile section of Rock Island, Illinois transforms from an ordinary city street and into a race course, with karts reaching 70-80mph.
The 2015 edition was the 21st running of the event, with 13 categories laying down rubber on the six-turn circuit as drivers fight for a chance at earning the prestigious ‘Rock’ trophy. Iowa driver and longtime RIGP regular Tony Neilson turned the event into an ‘Ironman’ marathon, registering for seven classes on the weekend by piloting a LO206 powered Margay and another Margay with a Yamaha SuperCan engine. Just making sure everything on the kart stays together and his body can endure the bumps of the street course is a challenge on its own. Neilson and his team accomplished that feat, and made history by winning six feature races that Sunday afternoon.
His bid for the six race wins began Saturday during the heat races in all seven categories. Neilson won five of the seven heat races he was in, going perfect in the 206 categories – Heavy, Medium, Masters and Heavy 2. Tony came away with just one win in the Yamaha divisions. The first heat in the Yamaha kart was the Heavy class, where Neilson made hard contact with the outside barriers on the exit of turn six, right in front of the paddock. His crew got to work, and had the kart ready in less than an hour, with Neilson going out to win his Yamaha Medium heat race. The final race of the day was another stellar drive, coming from 17th to fifth in just 10 laps.
Sunday was the big show, with Neilson making history. First up was the LO206 Heavy main event. After taking the lead on lap three, Tony led the remainder of the 15-lap event to notch his first ‘Rock’ trophy of the day. He jumped from the scale line to the front straight to get into his Yamaha kart for the Heavy feature. Starting at the tail of the 25-kart field, Neilson jumped into the top-10 on the opening circuit and was among the large lead group by lap five. On lap seven, Tony was fighting for the third position when contact sent him backwards going to the apex of the corner. The rest of the pack had no where to go, and were collected. Neilson pulled off course, suffering his only defeat of the day.
LO206 Medium was next on the agenda, with Neilson winning a shortened main event. Fighting with Scott Kleman, Tony was leading when a red flag came out on lap eight. The race was called and it was the second victory for Neilson. Another duel was right after, running over to the grid for the Yamaha Medium Final. Tony dropped to third on the opening lap, but was into the lead in as many laps. He and Killian Keaveny went back and forth during the 20 laps, with Neilson in the lead. The two fought for the victory on the final lap, with Neilson getting the edge on the younger Keaveny. Tony crossed the line first, earning his first ‘Rock’ trophy in Yamaha and third overall. Tony defended his LO206 Masters victory, leading all 15 laps for the fourth triumph of the day with two classes remaining.
Neilson was a bit slow off the line, dropping down to fourth on the opening lap of the LO206 Heavy 2 feature. Lap five, Tony took over the lead and was able to hold off Connor Lund and Matt Pewe for the victory, his fifth on the day and complete the Briggs sweep. The final race of the day and the weekend was the Yamaha Heavy 2 main event. Neilson found himself fighting with Texas driver Austin Osborne. Each took a turn at the point heading into the final lap. Osborne tried everything he could, but Neilson would not be denied as he reached the checkered flag first for his sixth victory of the day.
The six victories for Neilson broke a 17-year-old record set by Jason Birdsell in 1998 when he won five of the nine races he entered. Tony went home with six ‘Rock’ trophies from the event, along with $2,700 in prize money. Neilson entered the event with six total wins over the course of nine previous events. He doubled it with one weekend performance, moving past his wrench for the weekend Scott Evans (7 wins total), along with Birdsell (11 wins total) and all the others to move into second overall with 12 career wins. Neilson now trails the RIGP ‘Emperor’ Gary Lawson, who has 25 total wins at the event.
September 2015 EKN Driver of the Month – Tony Neilson
Hometown: Davenport, Iowa
Marital Status: Married to Rachel Neilson
Children: Maelea 6, Keely 4, & Colby 1
Height/Weight: 5’10” / 160lbs
Education: Associates Degree
Occupation: Concrete Foreman
Engine/Engine Builder: Kevin Williams (Yamaha) and Tom Rayl (Briggs)
Sponsors: 61 Kartway, Evans Carburetors, Kartland Sales, Margay, my wife, and the best sponsor my parents
Series You Compete In: None
Years Karting: 15
How did you get started in karting? Got started at a small local asphalt oval that a guy said ‘you could go racing just out of the back of a truck’.
What has been the high point in your racing career? Winning six races at Rock Island Grand Prix
What are your goals in racing? Have fun and do the best you can do
In a few words, how would you describe your driving style? Consistent and smooth
Funniest moment at the race track? Getting called to the tower at South Bend because Dittmer had some foul language at the scale house when he was wrenching for me at a Manufacturers Cup Series race
Favorite Track: US Air Motorsports Raceway – Shawano, WI
Favorite form of professional motorsports: F1
Favorite karting driver: Scott Evans
Favorite professional driver: Michael Schumacher
Favorite website: ekartingnews.com
Favorite movie: Rounders
Favorite actor/actress: Matt Damon
Favorite music/group: Country
Favorite vacation/activity spot: An all inclusive tropical resort or a hunting trip to Alaska
Favorite food: Seafood
The Real Deal
What do you do when not at the track? Work around our house
What are your goals outside of karting? Make a good life for my family
What type of street car do you drive? 2015 Chevy Silverado
What type of street car would you like to drive? Shelby Cobra
What are your pet peeves or things that irritate you? Lack of common sense
What do you think could be done to improve the sport of karting? Keep it simple and anything to make it more affordable
What are your favorite aspects about the sport of karting? Good family sport
September 2015 Driver of the Month – Honorable Mention:
– Brenden Baker: Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix TaG Senior winner
– Aiden Baker Crouse: WKA Gold Cup – 3 Sportsman wins (Pro Gas Heavy Saturday and Sunday, LO206 Sunday)
– Tanner Carter: WKA Gold Cup – 3 Sportsman wins (LO206 Saturday, Pro Gas Lite Saturday and Sunday)
– Jake Donald/Brandon Jones: RoboPong 200 Winners
– Matt Hamilton: Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix S1 Pro Stock Moto winner
– Sean Meier: WKA Gold Cup Series – 2 Senior Wins