|EKN One-on-One: Andy Seesemann - Gatorz Challenge of the Americas/Karting Cup
| Andy Seesemann|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
Certainly one of the most respected yet outspoken persons in the sport of karting has to be Andy Seesemann. The owner of Full Throttle Karting, director of the Gatorz Challenge of the Americas and Gatorz Karting Cup programs, and a successful driver, Seesemann is a jack of all traits in the sport and flourishes in all categories. The 39-year old has garnered a reputation of being charismatic and straight-forward, which has helped him earn the respect of many.
A lot has been going on in the past year for Seesemann. Mid-2009, he moved his FTK shop to a new location, contested for the Rotax Grand Nationals Masters title in Oklahoma, put together the third season of the Challenge of the Americas, and is now gearing up for the remainder of the season in the Gatorz Karting Cup.
Certainly, a chance to chat with Andy is always a great time and he was gracious enough to take our call while on his way to the track to catch of few laps during the mid-week.
eKartingNews.com: Thank you Andy for taking the time to speak with us.
Andy Seesemann: My pleasure.
EKN: For those not familiar with you, tell us a little about your start in karting and the many different hats you wear in the industry.
AS: I first attended at kart race in the mid-to-late 70s at a little track in Gilberts, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Oddly enough, it is the first place Rob Niles (CalSpeed Karting) did his first laps in a kart along with Dave Larson (TAG USA). It was the River Valley Kart Club home track back then. My step-dad took me there many times and I just didnít have interest in it. Over the years I moved around to different places. In 1983, we were living in Houston and he took me to Katy (Gulf Coast Kartways). I was asked once again if I wanted to pursue racing, and this time I was looking forward to it.
My first kart was a Yamaha chassis with a Yamaha KT100 engine and we went racing. They also had a dirt track down there so there were times we raced Saturday nights under the lights on the dirt and Sundayís on the kart track. In 1985, I moved back up to Illinois and did about a half season in Gilberts again. After that, I moved out to California with my dad, who had zero interest in the sport. You could hand him everything to put together a kart and he still wouldnít understand it, he just wasnít a mechanical guy. I continued to follow the sport, going to races out at Adamís (Motorsports Park), but being 17 and no parental support, I had no chance at racing.
So, I went college, got married and a month later I came home to surprise my wife with a kart. Oddly enough, Iím still married to her, coming up on 14 years so somehow I made that work. Throughout the mid-to-late 90s, I raced all through Southern California. In the meantime, I started helping people at the track just to help pay the bills. I got hooked up with the Carmody family and it came to a point where DJ Silva and I were traveling with them 25 weekends a year. During that time, the Carmodyís uncle bought Pitts Performance, so I went to work for them. Doug Fleming and DJ worked on the technical side and I handled the books. After a while, it got to the point where I realized I could do this on my own. Around Labor Day of 2002, we parted ways and I started Full Throttle Karting out of my house and three months later opened up my first shop location.
As far as the series side of things, back when Rotax was introduced in 2001, they handed the franchise to only a few shops in certain areas and Pitts was the shop that handled the SoCal area with me in charge. The first year, we only had about eight or nine people racing Rotax in Southern California, and oddly enough two of the guys were Brian Stiver and Glenn Holland (two of the co-founders of eKartingNews.com). We basically jumped around to different club races to make up our season. The following year, those guys got involved in the business side and started a series - the MyChron 3 Cup. They did that for a couple years and in the middle of 2004, I took the series back over and evolved it into the Gatorz Karting Cup program.
Running the Gatorz Cup as a local program, I sat down with Joe Ramos Sr. (SSC East) in 2007 and decided to build the Gatorz Challenge of the Americas series, which is our international portion of our program and mirrors the Florida Winter Tour. 2008 was the debut of the series and we just wrapped up our third season in March. Between Full Throttle Karting, the Gatorz Karting Cup and the Gatorz Challenge of the Americas, I still find some time to race myself.
EKN: You mentioned Florida Winter Tour, you and Bill Wright have a special hat bond that many do not know about. Tell us your side of the story?
AS: (laughing) The hat bond is simply whenever I see him, I steal his hat from him. I wear it until it gets so sweaty I canít wear it anymore. I think Iíve done this three or four times over the past few years. I donít know, every time I see him he has another new one and he hasnít smartened up enough to not wear his hat around me.
| The Challenge of the Americas has sent three drivers directly to the Rotax Grand Finals each of the last three years|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: Do you blame him for not wearing your returned hat that you wore?
AS: (laughing) I donít expect him to want it back but I figured that he would just not wear one when he knew he would see me, but somehow I keep getting hats off the guy so thatís fine.
EKN: Looking at the Gatorz Karting program you direct, what has been the toughest part in producing the Gatorz Karting Cup and Challenge of the Americas series?
AS: The toughest part about the Gatorz Karting Cup is that when something in this sport is successful, there is a lot of imitation. There is always a battle for the customer base that you build up; itís just the nature of the sport. The sport will never really grow until we get away from that culture. Much like many other series out there, we built the program from nothing to a pretty strong series, similar to what Tom Kutscher has done with the ProKart Challenge. Then other people come and pull bits and pieces away. The hard part with any business in the sport is to try and get new people in because you know some will get taken away just through natural attrition or through others that find you are doing something good and try to copy it. Thatís been the biggest challenge, especially with the economy doing what itís been doing. The series has always been a traveling series, although it remains in just Southern California which is still a pretty big geographical area. Sometimes people donít travel and just stay closer to home.
With Challenge of the Americas, its been about the same. They are similar programs but different. We give away spots to the Rotax Grand Finals and direct sponsored spots to the US Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals, so we pull from a broader area simply because there are a lot of areas on the West Coast that do not race in January or February. Itís been a very pleasant surprise that we pull so many Canadians down. The most difficult part again is the local racers because it has the top-level appeal. Rotax began as such a grassroots program and now a few of us have built it into these travelling series that, quite frankly, cost more money with the time and travel, so we have to pull from a larger pool of karters. We have always found that there are plenty of tracks and series partners that like to work with us because we do offer a different product, a higher-profile event and great value to our sponsors. Finding sponsors, albeit is always a challenge it hasnít been the greatest challenge. Itís just finding those local people to come and support our program lately.
EKN: What were some of the highlights from this yearís Challenge of the Americas program? I know rain has been a factor for a number of events.
AS: Actually, rain has only affected us in even years. We had rain at every event in í08 and every event í10, but nothing in 2009 so Iím really looking forward to 2011 as it should be dry if history repeats itself. Some of our greatest triumphs go hand-in-hand with the difficulties that we have had to deal with.
Starting out this year in Phoenix, we encountered what they call the Ď100 Year Stormí. When we were there, it was in the midst of this storm so it scared away a number of people but our entries were about the same as the previous year. But because the track was built in a flood plain, we were forced to move out every single night; every trailer, every motor home, every EZ-up, everything that we built each day had to be moved out that night. To the credit of all the teams and racers, they did it without much complaint and just did it. When we got there Friday, there were areas of the track that had 2-3 feet of standing water. There were PKRA club personnel there at 5am with pumps and brooms to clear away the water. We started practice exactly one hour late Friday morning and get in every minute we promised them all on a dry track. The credit goes to PKRA, my staff and the racers who helped to get it done. It was a huge, huge triumph for us.
When we got to CalSpeed the next month, we were hit again. It was an unusual winter for the SoCal area and CalSpeed was hit with a huge storm on Saturday. We had to shorten the track as areas had a foot of standing water. We did have to postpone Saturday after one main event ran as lightning and hail hit the area. So we came back the next day and I built our schedule with the additional five feature races from Saturday and all of the day two events and done by 5:30pm. To me, that was another huge highlight and triumph based on what we were faced with.
From there, we headed up north to Infineon where it rained on Thursday and then beautiful the rest of the weekend. Itís been quite a year but in the end, overall entries were up 10% from last year. Faced with all the weather and economical issues, Iím pretty pleased that we survived and built the series some. Iím certainly looking forward to next year.
| Rain was a factor in 2010 for the Challenge of the Americas, with Seesemann showing how its done|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: What things do you see that may change in the CotA program for 2011 and the future?
AS: I canít put my hand on what changes but right now we are going to move forward with business as usual. I can say that there are things we can improve on. Iíve always been good at the Ďnuts and boltsí part of the organization, making sure everything is in place and there is a rare occurrence that we run late or off schedule. I think what we need to improve on are some of the promotional aspects of the series. I need to take lessons from a couple of the other promoters in our sport, like Tom and Bill, that do a fantastic job on the promotional side that Iím not very good at. So I wouldnít say there are going to be any changes but certainly things we can improvements over the way things have operated.
EKN:What about the Gatorz Karting Cup itself? It seems the series continues to boast a strong driver roster year after year. What is on the horizon for that program as the season continues?
AS: This year has been a year of working together based on the amount of weekends and track availability around Southern California with all the programs we have racing in the area. This year, we are doing a race with ProKart Challenge at the Streets of Willow (May 14-15). Itís a very costly track to rent and being 1.8-miles long, we can combine classes and put several karts out at the same time. Later in the summer, we are doing the same with Los Angles Kart Club (August 28-29 - CalSpeed) which runs the other Rotax Max Challenge program in Southern California. They do a very good job and in fact, thatís another program we support month in and month out. And just recently we announced a change in our season finale to the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix with Tri-C Karters (October 9-10). So three of the four events remaining on the schedule will run in conjunction with other groups to try and make for a better value for our customers while working with the other groups in Southern California.
EKN: We visited your Full Throttle Karting shop in Orange, California in August of last year. Certainly a great location and spacious outfit for your program, has the move been a positive one thus far?
AS: It has certainly been positive in the amount of walk-in, brand new to karting type of traffic. At this point, it hasnít panned out into millions of dollars in sales but Iím sure it will (laughing). What people donít realize about Southern California is that itís not in good shape economically. There are areas in Riverside where unemployment is almost 20% and 25% of the homes are in foreclosure. There are some ugly pockets in the area. But the move has been a benefit that we roll a kart out to the front lawn on clear days and hand out tons of Go Racing Magazines to people who have no idea what karting is. If we have 1000 new faces walk in and just one of those turns into a sell, then itís a positive.
The benefit of the economy is that rents prices have come down so for what I was paying before, tucked away in an industrial area with no visibility, to move to a retail footage on to Katella Avenue while sharing the same street name as Disney Land (3 miles west of FTK shop) gives us huge potential and upside to where we are. It certainly hasnít hurt as we have a little bit more space for about the same amount of money. To see some new faces instead of the same 50 people every month has been a benefit.
| Full Throttle Karting's new home is easily viewable along the busy Katella Avenue in Orange, California|
EKN: Is it tough to manage a series and be a kart shop owner as well? Do you think other racers view that as a conflict of interest?
AS: I suppose they can view it that way, and all I can say is that I work very, very hard to make sure there is no conflict of interest the best I can. To add in a greater conflict, I put the helmet on and jump in to race. If there is anyone that can live within that conflict, itís been me. Iím the only guy I think who can do all three and be at least better than average at them all (laughing).
I put together a very good series staff so that I have no responsibilities on race day, except for managing the occasional issue that may need my attention. I make sure I hire people strong enough to do their jobs and not need my help. Therefore, they donít need me to come in and overrule them. I found that a promoter tends to emasculate people and take away their decision making so I just stay away.
On the shop side of things, Iím blessed to have a really good employee, Erik Tomsons, who handles all the stuff inside the trailer and can handle some tuning questions as well as 'The Captain' Greg Gabriel. Some of the bigger events, Iíll bring in someone from MRP Motorsport to handle my Birel customers and SSC Racing is always there for support with Rotax.
People certainly can make accusations or think there is a conflict of interest, but if you ask anybody I try my best to eliminate those conflicts of interest for sure. The best example I can give you is from Infineon. I jumped in to race on Saturday and in the main event I got a great start, moving from fourth to first, but behind me there was a wreck that took out several of the field. Race director Chris Egger called for a complete restart. On the very next restart, there was a wreck and this time I was collected in it but he let that one go (laughing). So thatís the best example I can give you.
EKN: You are one of the ĎGodfathersí of Masters racing, especially the Rotax Masters category. What makes the Masters class so much fun and such great racing?
AS: The Godfather? I guess I can take that as a compliment. I think I may be the only one that has competed in all eight Rotax Grand Nationals. Some of the names have changed over the years but itís been a fun ride. What makes it so fun is that the racing is tough and guys respect each other. Guys like Paul Bonilla, John Crow, Mike Daniel, Brad Smith; these are guys that weíve raced with for several years. There is a lot of give and take, we race each other hard. There were times at the Nationals last year where we went wheel to wheel with smoke coming off the tires, but in the end we give each other a hug and high-five and moved on. Rarely you see a fight in Masters, you see people get heated but compared to other categories we donít see it.
The funny part is, I was talking with Paul Bonilla at the shop the other day and we were talking about a guy we had known about 10 years ago that was a Masters racer in Southern California when Masters class was Super Stock. We happened to bump into him at the track because he was there with his son and I said ďHey, you remember so-and-so and how we used to look up to him while we were in our mid-20s. There was a 40-year old guy scrappin out there with the kids, giving it all heís got. That was awesome, but where is that guy now? Paul said ĎOh my god, WE are over 40-years old. Thatís crazy.í Itís just fun, the racing is hard but fair and at the end of the day we all respect each other.
| Seesemann has competed at all eight US Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: What are your driving plans for 2010? Do we see you running for the Rotax Grand Nationals title at New Castle?
AS: I never miss it. Thatís the one race I really find the energy to put it all together for. I do just enough to get my punches. I donít want people to accuse me because of who I am that I got a Ďbyeí to get into the Nationals. One year it was five, then four, sometimes three. Whatever system has been in place, I always find a way to make sure I qualifying properly. I only have one punch at this point so Iíll probably do an LAKC race or two and jump in at Streets of Willow in May. Weíre working to get enough people together to travel to the Rotax Pan American Challenge event at New Castle. If we can fill the trailer, Iíll be there and of course the Grand Nationals. After that, Iíll return to defend my title at the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix and then depending on what happens for the Rotax Grand Finals, I could be at the SKUSA SuperNationals XIV.
EKN: Outside of karting, youíre a family man. Whatís a great day away from the race track or the race shop?
AS: Iím blessed to have six-year old daughter and a nine-year old son. Thatís why sometimes I just shut the doors and I donít go to the track. They only get me for about one weekend a month, its unfortunate but itís the nature of our business. That one weekend Iím totally devoted to them. Just a week ago, we rented a motor home and went camping up in Santa Barbara for a few days. That was awesome to wake up on the beach and go for bike rides with the kids. My son has very little interest in karting. Heís raced a couple Micro Max races. He enjoys it but it certainly is not his passion. Heís a ball sport kid. So when Iím around, itís usually baseball or basketball. He loves basketball. This past winter, in his first year of organized ball, he made his 3rd grade all-star team and made the state championships. Unfortunately, when he was competing in the tournament, I was up in Infineon with my race. A great weekend is a weekend I donít have to do yard work and just spend it with the kids.
EKN: Thanks for your time Andy; weíll see you at the track.
AS: No problem.