From the Tower: Superkarts! USA SuperNationals 20
Historic event caps off two decades of Las Vegas competition
It was truly an honor to be part of the 20th running of the Superkarts! USA SuperNationals. For the 20th straight year, the organization hosted what is now considered to be the largest karting event in the world, welcoming nearly 500 drivers to Sin City. What began as an event that was designed to bring together the top shifterkart drivers in the United States, the SuperNationals has become a true gathering of racers – as young as eight-years-old to 65-years-young – from around the world, all connecting to end the racing season in style.
I attended my 12th SuperNats in 13 years, and I’ve watched the event itself evolve year after year. Different locations have hosted the event during my stint, moving from the Rio to Sam Boyd Stadium, returning to the Rio, and now a second year at the Las Vegas Convention Center, set along the famous Las Vegas Strip. The class structure has transformed year to year as well, developing into the IAME and Honda combination with is the current category focus.
Each year, there are hundreds of stories to tell from on and off the track, which include those from the paddock as well as the late night runs on the tables inside the Westgate casino. The social media presence was amazing to see with the #SuperNats20 hashtag being leveraging leading up to and throughout the event, as each driver, team and chassis manufacturer all promoted their success or their experiences.
No One Yelling at Moulton and Idelson
For the 20th edition of SuperNationals, Superkarts! USA brought two of the most experienced drivers into play to lay out a new circuit at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Bonnier Moulton and Howie Idelson were tabbed to give their input and focus on what the track layout should be for the event. The two collaborated on their ideas, helping to put thought down on paper, and then mapped potential options within the racing section of the LVCC. Overall, their design brought in sections of the old X-Plex – the original site of the SuperNationals – and parts of the past Rio layouts. Both Moulton and Idelson understood the responsibility of creating a circuit that challenged the drivers and provided multiple passing opportunities. In addition, they both made their 20th SuperNationals start.
Overall, the circuit was a success as drivers were challenged and the layout provided a safe venue for the racers. The long straight from last year’s course remained, serving as the standing start grid for the shifterkarts and the rolling start lanes for the IAME divisions. The finish line was re-located after the straight, following a long, sweeping 90-degree corner. For the TaG karts, and many of the shifters, it was flat out once the rubber was laid down. This corner set up for great draft passing opportunities and spectacular finishes. Moulton was excited about the turn nine corner (X-Plex) prior to the event, however, he and many of the Masters drivers were feeling the g-loads by SuperSunday. Starting on the pole position, it was shaping up to be a storybook ending for Moulton’s fourth SuperNationals victory; however, it was not meant to be. Idelson was overall happy with the outcome, and driving in the S4 Super Master division, he knows exactly the little details that he’d change for next year and beyond. The best part for Idelson was racing alongside his son Dane, who made his first-ever SuperNationals start, running in the Micro Swift category.
Taking the Event to the Next Level
There is always a chance to get better. It’s what drives us as competitors, and it is what SKUSA needs to keep striving for. Reaching the 20th mark for the SuperNationals is a great accomplishment, but heading into the third decade, there needs to be more attention to detail. There is no doubt that the reason people go to the SuperNationals is to race against the best. Some of the top talent from around the world comes and competes, and have been very successful, including this year with half of the 10 winners coming from outside North America.
Aside from the different track layout, what was different at this year’s race then last year? Looking around, it was not much. One positive was the return of the podiums following each of the main events. During the first few SuperNationals I attended, I had goosebumps watching the podiums and seeing the emotions first-hand right after drivers scored their victory or earned a position on the podium steps. The procedure this year was a little new to many of the racers who finished in the top-five, however, hearing the cheers from the family, friends and spectators in the grand stands helped to eliminate the bumps in coordinating the podiums.
What was missing was the visual aspect of being at the SuperNationals. Aside from the fantastic sunsets overlooking the Strip, there was not very much glitz and glamour. With all the barriers setup up around the facility, there needs to be banners lined all around the circuit and more attention needs to be focused on what everyone can see. The photographers had a challenge all week long, trying to eliminate items you would not want in a photo background. Those talented photogs did their best and many of the images captured will be memorable for years to come.
With the podiums moving to trackside, SuperSunday evening was reserved for the SKUSA Pro Tour awards presentations. Superkarts! USA and Chris Ortenburger did a phenomenal job with the presentation and the awards inside the Westgate International Showroom. Nine champions, along with the vice-champions and third-place finishers, in the point standings for each category were honored with unique Pro Tour trophies. Honda/HPD gave away a CR125 engine to the champion of S2 (Austin Wilkins), while the S1 champ (Danny Formal) was awarded a $19,000 support package toward an F4 United States Championship program in 2017.
Chuck Gafrarar of Chuck G Fabrications is working with Superkarts! USA, and he provided this year’s new podium steps, along with the new perpetual S1 Pro and S4 Master trophies. The ‘Janowski’ trophy will be awarded to the S1 Pro champion each year to honor SKUSA founder Don Janowski, while the ‘Murley’ hardware will go to the S4 Master champion in honor of Jim Murley, who launched the Pro Tour and was the architect behind the G1 Master shifter movement that is so strong today. With next year’s SuperNationals no longer set to be part of the SKUSA Pro Tour, the Pro Tour awards ceremony will be even better for 2017, rumored to be conducted early on in the SuperNationals 21 week.
Formal and de Conto Double Up in Vegas
Two of the biggest winners of the SKUSA SuperNationals 20 were able to cash in on the $20,000 bounty offered up by Tom Kutscher. To commemorate the 20th running of the SuperNationals, Superkarts! USA put up $20k to any former winner who could win on SuperSunday in one of the three headline classes – S1 Pro, X30 Senior and KZ. A number of drivers were in the hunt for the bounty in all three divisions. SKUSA’s CEO had to open up the checkbook to award $20k to both Danny Formal and Paolo de Conto for their wins in S1 and KZ, respectively.
Formal became the first driver to repeat as the S1 / Moto winner at the SuperNationals since Red Bull Global Rallycross and former F1 driver Scott Speed did in 2000-2001. The DRT Racing / DR Kart driver dominated the proceedings last year, and was at the front all week long this time around. Come SuperSunday, no one had anything for the former Florida driver, who now lives in Costa Rica. The victory gave him the $20k bounty, but also locked up the SKUSA Pro Tour championship, giving him another $6,000 in cash and Circle of Champions prizes for 2017, including the SKUSA #1 plate. Add in the F4 package from Honda/HPD, and Formal left Vegas with roughly $44,000 in cash and prizes to place him as the highest single winner at any SuperNationals in its 20-year history.
Coming off his first world championship, de Conto added to his 2016 CV with a second SuperNationals victory. His first came in 2014 to close out SKUSA’s run at the Rio, which also marked his last event with the new Birel ART operation. Into his second year with CRG, de Conto helped to give CRG Nordam a great boost heading into the 2017 season. The new North American distributor – directed by the CRG factory – is set up to attack the upcoming season. Paolo’s victory has established that momentum, as well as put him in the SuperNationals history books.
Godfather of Karting on the Internet
The SuperNationals also serves as a sort of class or family reunion. The 20th edition brought back some names from karting’s past out to Las Vegas to take in the historic event. One name, in particular, that many in the karting community will know of from the past two decades. My first-ever email address was created during my freshman year at Western Michigan University and among the first things I did with it was join the ‘Karting Mailing List’; the email chain that was created by Pete Muller. Before social media and high speed internet, there was Muller, sending out postal mail flyers and dealing with super-slow phone line connections to help spread the word about karting, and unite the community. I spent many nights following class reading the emails sent by the many members of the mailing list, which later transitioned into forums. While I have known the name for two decades, I finally got to meet him thanks to Lynn Haddock flagging myself and Rob down during one of our paddock walks. Muller continues to contribute to the EKN Forums, as one of the original members when the site first launched, and holds tons of information in his database. Without Muller, there would be no eKartingNews.com and I would not be in the position I am in today. For that, I thank you.
One Hand Better Than Two
One of the quiet stories of the weekend, which caught us off-guard, was the entry of Phil Giebler in the X30 Master division. The former Indy 500 Rookie of the Year was there at the first SuperNationals, standing on the podium in the 125cc Open (Formula C) category at the X-Plex. Giebler made his Master debut at the California ProKart Challenge event in Santa Maria, and was a late entry to SuperNationals 20. Instantly, Giebler was put among the top contenders for a podium finish, qualifying P8. In the opening heat race, Giebler slipped down a few positions during the first circuit, and then we noticed just one hand was on the steering wheel. The throttle cable had snapped, and he was navigating the kart with the left hand while controlling the gas with his right hand on the carburetor. The most amazing part about it…he regained a few of the spots he lost with phenomenal driving. That was until SKUSA officials black-flagged Giebler off the track. Looking at the SKUSA rulebook, we found no rule published that states a driver must maintain two hands on the wheel, or that a driver may not control the gas by hand. This ruling obviously diminished Giebler’s position for the main event grid after finishes of third and eighth in his other heat races.
The same scenario played out for 2013 winner Jim Russell Jr. A veteran of the sport and its many genres, Russell can jump into anything and wheel the thing. During his second heat race on Friday after qualifying ninth on Thursday, the throttle cable on his Russell Karting Specialties / Parolin machine failed, and Russell began navigating one hand on the wheel, one hand on the butterfly. SKUSA officials once again displayed the black flag, forcing Russell to pull off.
It is these random rulings that put a dent in an event, as both would have been amazing stories had they continued. Instead, both saw their chances at a podium finish vanish. Ironically, Russell and Giebler started next to each other in the main event (20th and 21st), and were involved in a turn two incident on the opening lap.
Swan Song for Terry Bybee
We can sit here and play Monday morning quarterback with the decisions on and off the track by SKUSA officials. For the majority of the those in the sport, they have no idea what it takes to sit out on the race track for 12 hours a day, watching over 500 drivers, observing hundreds of laps over the weekend, and be able to see everything on the circuit. Race Director is a thank-less job that requires a different personality, one that is able to be firm and authoritative, while having the ability to be personable and approachable. Many weekends are spent putting out little fires, dealing with rude and unruly parents, all in an effort to provide a safe and fair event. While there have been many times that I have disagreed with the decisions and choices made over the seven years on the SKUSA Pro Tour, I respect and admire the effort and work put in by SKUSA Race Director Terry Bybee. The SKUSA SuperNationals 20 was his final event in that position, and I want to thank Mr. Bybee for his services with Superkarts! USA and overall for the sport itself.
I Claim This IAME Swift Engine Mine!
It has been a while, but on the Monday after the SuperNationals, we had some EKN Forum chatter surrounding what happened in Las Vegas. Was it about the one-hand black flag, the track design, or how amazing the X30 Senior race was?
Nope…it was about someone legally claiming a Mini Swift engine.
Below is the post that came from an anonymous poster to the forums:
If you can’t beat ’em, buy em! Racing mom has learned that Diego Laroque’s dad has just CLAIMED Reece Gold’s motor at the Supernats. Everyone knows although SKUSA is a claiming race, it’s an unwritten rule that this JUST ISN’T DONE. If your child can’t win with his equipment, buying someone else’s isn’t going to help! No problem with Diego here, I’m sure he doesn’t even know his daddy is trying to buy him a podium. By the way, I’m not Reece’s mom, just a racing mom trying to keep it real. SHAME ON YOU MR. LAROQUE!
First off, racing is not baseball. There are no ‘unwritten rules’ in this sport. If anything, people push the limits and assume if the rulebook has no mention of it, it’s legal. To set the record straight, Superkarts! USA does have a claiming rule in place for Micro/Mini Swift engines and all X30 classes (220.127.116.11).
Fellow Cadet parents backed up the efforts of the LaRoque family in a separate forum post. Looking ahead, maybe Superkarts! USA or IAME need to be proactive about the claiming rule. I can say that it was not something that was publically announced following any of the Pro Tour events. Some people are still not aware of the rule, until now, maybe. Anyone in X30 Senior had the ability to claim Norberg’s in Phoenix, or Craig’s in Las Vegas or Gonzalez’ in the X30 Junior. I’m sure no one wanted Kip Foster’s in X30 Master (wink, wink). Kidding aside, the claiming rule is a great measure to keep engine costs from sky rocketing, and to guard against the ‘magic motor’ that started getting passed from driver to driver through the years for exorbitant prices.
We Came for the Race
The sole purpose of the SuperNationals event is the racing itself. This year was another great year of performances. The LCQ’s were not as exciting as we have seen in the past, however, drivers still need to remember – it’s better to start 37th or 38th on SuperSunday then to watch from the grandstands. It amazes me how drivers are not aware of what position they are in during the LCQs, especially in the X30 Senior division. The X30 Senior main event was another one for the history books, and it continued to keep us on our toes the entire main event. It was an amazing performance by former SKUSA Pro Tour champion Jake Craig. The RPM / Tony Kart driver qualified 17th, and advanced himself in the heat races to position himself as a contender for the victory, starting SuperSunday from P4. A thrilling last lap pass gave the SoCal driver his first SuperNationals victory and a $10k payday for winning as a SKUSA Pro Tour competitor.
Aside from Formal and de Conto, Gian Cavaciuti was the only driver to earn a second SuperNationals victory. The Italian claimed his first in 2014, helping to lock up the Pro Tour championship. This time around, the GP driver gave the ‘Sergio Perez’ chassis model its maiden victory, outlasting a strong S4 field, including VCI Mexico / GP teammate Antonio Perez – brother of Formula One driver Sergio Perez.
The rest of the drivers who stood on the P1 podium were all first-time SuperNationals winners. Mathias Ramirez (Andersen Racing / Birel ART) was impressive in his S2 debut, driving away to the victory. The same can be said for fellow Florida driver Tyler Gonzalez (Ocala Gran Prix / Tony Kart), as the 12-year-old held on for the final two laps after a sprinkle of rain dampened the surface. Inaugural winners Robert Marks (S4 Super Master Stock Honda), Thomas Nepveu (Mini Swift) and Brazilian Vinicius Tessaro (Micro Swift) have now entered the record books as well.
X30 Master was the only race to end in controversy. Eduardo Dieter crossed the line in the first position, however, a penalty from contact on lap 19 took away the win and demoted him off the podium to give Renato David his first SuperNationals victory.
Since 2010, the SuperNationals has been the finale for the Superkarts! USA Pro Tour. Now with the addition of the WinterNationals this coming March, the SuperNationals becomes a stand-alone event – similar to what it was from 1997 to 2009. This means the SKUSA Pro Tour champions will be decided at the 2017 SummerNationals in New Castle, Indiana. No more will there be ‘outsiders’ or non-Pro Tour regulars who could impact the outcome of the championship standings. This is a good step.
The SuperNationals becomes that one-off, all-in event where no one is thinking about points…the sole focus is winning. With that comes some more intense racing, and less thought of the consequences with poor decision making in overtaking. As we saw this year, the track layout has a lot to do with how good or how bad drivers can act. Starts were much better than in 2015 thanks to the design of the starting corner (turn 12), while there was still bumping and banging through turns 1, 2, 3, and 4 as the slowest sections of the course.
While no location has been made public, there are some rumblings as to where the 21st edition may end up. Is it going back to the LVCC for a third straight year, a new location, or returning to a previous spot? EKN will be the place to find out once details become confirmed, and the place to get all the coverage for the November 15-19, 2017 event.