From the Tower: 2015 United States Pro Kart Series – Shawano
Program hosts ‘last ever’ race at US Air Motorsports Raceway in Wisconsin
This past weekend, the United States Pro Kart Series visited the US Air Motorsports Raceway in Shawano, Wisconsin for the first time. Over 170 entries were logged in seven TaG and Yamaha categories, plus the addition of the new Rok Senior and Junior categories that filled out the eight race groups that took part in the third and fourth rounds of racing. This event brought the championship chases to the halfway point. For complete coverage of the weekend, visit the EKN Event Page.
If You Buy It, Will They Come?
This was the first visit by the USPKS program, along with the Route 66 Sprint Series last weekend, to the rolling hills of northern Wisconsin and the US Air Motorsports Raceway. The 39-acre facility is going up for auction July 1, and really nothing much has changed since its early years after being built in 2004. The multiple-configuration layout, the elevation changes, and all the uniqueness of what is the USA International Raceway still makes it among the best facilities in North America.
So what are the downsides? Location, location, and location. Shawano is about 30 minutes northwest of Green Bay, which has a population of less than 10,000. Most tracks tend to be near larger population areas, while still in a remote location to avoid noise restrictions and other issues that may arise located near a city or large town. Lake Shawano is a great vacation spot, and many racers who stayed over from the Route 66 weekend to the USPKS race rented lakehouses, enjoying some relaxing days by the water. With the track’s location in the northern section of Wisconsin, however, this means longer travel time for those ‘out of state’ racers coming to compete at regional or national events. The circuit is worth the extra two hours past Milwaukee, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, the track is not located in an area that boasts the best racing climate. Typical Wisconsin weather means that the circuit is open from April to October, leaving you with five to six months without any on-track activities. Despite the changing weather conditions, the original asphalt laid down back in 2004 remains intact. It was rumored that the pavement is several feet deep into the ground, which could be the reason for little to no cracks, bumps or break-up of the surface. After July 1, we will know the new ownership of the facility and hopefully find out the long term future of the race track.
Safety First: Red Flags Cause the End of Yamaha Cadet
After going all weekend without the any red flags at the opening event in Mooresville, the drivers made up for it at Shawano this weekend. Sunday was among the worst in terms of red flag incidents for the series, with six coming out on the weekend. Four of them came from the Yamaha Cadet division, alone. The class is a good mixture of drivers who race nearly every weekend, those that are making the transition from regional to national, and a handful making their first ‘big’ event, so there is ample opportunity for driver miscues.
Two red flags were brought out as precautions, as the driver appeared to be in pain, but were uninjured. The other two were for hard incidents, but thankfully, everyone avoided any serious injuries. Two of the red flags were displayed in the category’s Final race. The first came at the start, and the second red flag came five laps into a 13-lap event. Typically, the race would have to have passed the halfway point to be called, however, series promoter Mark Coats had warned the drivers to be safe and smart. With the second red flag before the halfway point, Coats pulled the trigger and sent the class to the scale line.
Randy Kugler, the USPKS announcer, said it best when he stated that it’s a safety issue more than a disciplinary reaction. At any event you attend, drivers need to respect the track, respect the staff, and respect one another. If you ignore one or any, you are liable to either get yourself in trouble, or better yet, get hurt.
‘Pro’ or Just a Name: Does Series Need Licensing System
The same type of respect needs to be instituted once again in the Leopard Pro division. While there were nearly 40 karts in the field, the starts in the main event were a bit rough for a number of competitors. Saturday’s event saw Phillippe Denes get thrown from his kart after drivers tried to go four-wide down the hill by the paddock. Sunday’s race ended early for a handful of drivers thanks to some using the kart in front of them as a brake instead of the foot pedal on the left.
Last year, there was a lot of talk about rough driving and how drivers needed to respect one another during the second event of the year. Nearly the same thing is happening again, with some hard hits and damaged karts. The next event is in South Bend, where the large number of passing zones may lead to unforced errors by drivers, and the intensity will be picking up as the championship enters the second half of the season.
Looking forward, there are talks of separating the Pro division into its own class, maybe with a completely different engine package, and keeping a Senior level category for those moving up from the Junior ranks and drivers with not as much experience. The USPKS may develop its own form of licensing to distinguish what drivers can compete in each category.
Fullerton: Legendary Name Visits USPKS
There is no one as professional as the legendary Terry Fullerton. The 1973 World Karting Champion made a visit to the USPKS program this weekend, supporting his new Fullerton chassis in the Leopard Pro division with the Adkins family. Kyle and Terry became friends back when competing against one another in their days behind the wheel. Now, Adkins guides the racing program for Darin Marcus, and is helping to bring in the Fullerton chassis into the United States. Marcus and Adkins have been working directly with Fullerton to get the chassis to work with the conditions and tires here in the United States. It was a mixed debut at the USPKS opener, and after Marcus was injured last weekend in a wreck at the Route 66 Sprint Series, young driver Mike McAndrews was called to drive the kart.
Making his Leopard Pro debut in Shawano, McAndrews was among the top-10 in the Happy Hour session on Friday. Qualifying fourth, McAndrews won the opening heat race in slick conditions on dry tires. After a 10th place result in a wet Heat #2, he earned an inside row two starting spot for the main event. His attempt to land on the podium came to an end when his radiator cap failed, creating a vacuum and seizing the engine. The young driver remained inside the top-10 throughout Sunday until contact at the start of the final took him out of contention. The combination of McAndrews, Adkins, Marcus and Fullerton could see the brand growing quickly in the future.
New Money: McAndrews Ends Jarsocrak’s Streak
When he was not aboard the Fullerton, McAndrews was back into his regular ride, a Birel machine in the Yamaha Pro category. Making his Senior debut in 2015, McAndrews nearly pulled off his first win at Mooresville. On Saturday, McAndrews qualified second to Round Two winner Dakota Pesek, and they each won a heat race. The rookie was able to work past Pesek in the opening lap of the Final, and proceeded to stretch out a 10-second advantage over 14 circuits to claim his first-ever Yamaha Pro victory. Finishing third in Sunday’s feature after a dismal 12th qualifying effort, McAndrews was still able to escape the weekend as the top points driver, earning the $1,000 payday to end the Brandon Jarsocrak streak dating back to the 2014 season opener.
Jarsocrak cashed in five times during his run of Yamaha wins, earning $5,000 in total and the 2014 championship title. He has continued to run double duty, something other drivers have gotten away from at the Senior level, and entered Shawano as the championship leader in both divisions. His game was on in the Leopard Pro category, finishing Friday as the fast driver, and in contention on Saturday until a brake issue ended his race early. Jarsocrak came back to finish in the top-five in Sunday’s Leopard final. There is no need to count out ‘Money’ in the final two events, as the series returns to South Bend and New Castle, places he has cashed in before and could do so in either Yamaha or Leopard.
They Work Hard for the Money
Six categories were awarded cash prizes on the weekend. The first came for the new Rok Senior and Rok Junior divisions. Derek Dignan won the feature race to open up the new three-event championship format, earning $1,000 and starting the chase for the Rok Cup International Final trip that will be awarded to the champion. Dustin Stross mastered the rain to finish second and win $500, while Colton Ramsey showed well in third, taking home $250. Maks Kowalski drove uncontested in the Junior division, winning the $1,000 check for first place.
Bressan swept the money prizes in Leopard Pro with his weekend performance. The Italian native, driving for CompKart, won $1,000 each day for his victories, and the $1,000 bonus for winning both feature races in the same weekend. That bonus returns to $500 at South Bend and will increase to $1,000 for New Castle if no driver does the ‘double’. Colton Ramsey and Dustin Stross earned $500 each for their runner-up results, while Andrew Bujdoso and Elliot Finlayson earned a set of MG Tires for third.
Near Perfect for Lemke
Winning both of the Junior $500 checks was Brandon Lemke, who left Shawano with four feature victories. The Franklin Motorsports / Merlin driver was the EKN April Driver of the Month following his performances at the USPKS opener at GoPro Motorplex, winning three of the four Junior features. He bettered that this past weekend in Shawano.
Lemke was perfect in the Leopard division back in Mooresville, but had his streak ended when Zach Holden posted a fast lap in qualifying. Lemke would not be demoted the remainder of the event, winning the heat races and feature on Saturday, while sweeping Sunday’s action. Yamaha has always been a competitive category, but Lemke made it look easy in his home state. After missing out on fast time in qualifying to Junior rookie Lance Fenderson, Lemke was quick in both the wet and the dry racing, holding off the field for the heat wins and feature victory on Saturday. Sunday saw Lemke qualify on pole and win the opening heat, but he was relegated to third in the second heat behind Holden and Fenderson in what was a great eight-lap battle. The feature was all Lemke, driving away to a near five-second advantage.
Brandon’s success is not due to just him, but an entire team working together. His parents Bill and Sharon put all their effort into their kid’s passion, including Brandon’s sister Emily. They have worked closely with Franklin Motorsports and the Sieracki family for years now, and Brandon is making the Merlin chassis perform at its best each and every time it hits the track. Powered by Woltjer Racing Engines and helped by veteran karter Jason Birdsell, Team Lemke is getting stronger with every event in 2015.
For the Love of the Game: Dinger Returns During Off Weekend
Karting is grassroots, and also serves as the stepping stone for future motorsports drivers. Looking at the grid of NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One and other forms of racing, karting is in the majority of the driver’s backgrounds. One driver who we have seen grow from the karting ranks and into the spotlight of major motorsports is AJ Allmendinger. The NorCal native has a passion for the sport of karting, and can often be seen behind the wheel of a kart when not behind the wheel of his NASCAR machine. The schedule for NASCAR gave the drivers an off weekend, so where did AJ want to spend it…at the kart track.
He joined the KartSport North America operation aboard the Deadly Kart to compete in the Leopard Pro division. It was only his second time to the facility, as he also took part in the 2010 SKUSA SummerNationals. Dinger’s last karting event was the 2014 SKUSA SuperNationals, and he was among the quickest drivers in Happy Hour on Friday. He climbed his way back into contention Saturday after qualifying outside the top-20. Overall, he finished eighth on Saturday and 16th after contact dropped him down the order on Sunday. During Sunday’s lunch hour, AJ took the time to talk with some of the younger drivers about motorsports and his always colorful personality is welcomed in the paddock. Be sure when you turn on the NASCAR race every Sunday, cheer for the #47 and AJ Allmendinger!