From the Tower: 2016 Superkarts! USA Pro Tour SummerNationals
Impressive performance by drivers and high entry numbers highlight event at New Castle Motorsports Park
We spend our entire raceday up in the tower, watching every on-track session as we produce our EKN Trackside Live program, so not much time is spent roaming the paddock for the stories. The ‘From the Tower’ column is our chance to delve deeper into some of the stories that develop over a race weekend, those that may or may not have been included in the daily race reports. For complete coverage of the Superkarts! USA Pro Tour SummerNationals at the New Castle Motorsports Park, visit the EKN Event Page – DC
Beat the Best from the Back of a Pick-Up Truck
It was another great weekend at the SKUSA Pro Tour SummerNationals, with just over 250 drivers in attendance for the seventh annual event. The racing was fast and intense, but overall was clean racing with a select few drivers earning double wins on the weekend. The paddock was filled with a diverse roster of drivers from different countries with a wide range of experience. Many of the major race teams and shops were their supporting their drivers, along with the many privateer operations that make up the vast majority of the sport.
People claim that in order to go fast in motorsports, you have to spend the money. Karting is the great equalizer as the purest form of motorsports. You can invest all your fortune into the largest hauler with all the amenities needed to make you feel relaxed and comfortable all weekend long at the race track. You can hire the best mechanic in the world to turn the wrenches and make sure the newest and latest design of a kart is ready to hit the track for every session. All of that doesn’t matter when the engines fire and the driver drops down into the seat.
The perfect example came from this weekend in New Castle with the performance of AJ Myers in the S1 category. The Florida driver took control of the category with a victory in Saturday’s Heat #2 and finished the remaining sessions on the weekend in the number one position. The victory Saturday was the first for Myers and TB Kart at the SKUSA Pro Tour. Sunday faired even better with a complete sweep on the day, with very little challenge.
Myers did this all, not from the biggest hauler in the paddock, but from out the back of a Ford SUV. Mike Myers, AJ’s father and mechanic, loaded up everything in his truck to make the 1,000-mile trek from Tampa to New Castle with Comet Kart Sales providing a pit space in between all the major haulers and custom tents. AJ is a talented driver, as his record shows with a USPKS championship, multiple victories in numerous programs, and finishing as the lone American on the podium in KZ2 at the SuperNationals in 2014 – all with dad turning the wrenches.
The father/son and driver/mechanic relationship is something we still see working at the top level of the sport. Take for example Lemke, Holden, Jarsocrak, Donald, Eves, Brooks, Finlayson, French and Kalish – all have been successful over the years with the father growing as the mechanic while the son develops behind the wheel as a driver. It is what the basis of the sport is – a chance for the family to enjoy time together while getting that fix for speed. It shows that you don’t need the biggest hauler, the top-rated mechanic, or the newest chassis. Hard work and dedication is what translates into the best finishes and the more rewarding results at the end of the day.
Bad Batch of Tires Hit SummerNationals
Nothing is ever perfect. The SpringNationals was a solid debut for the Evinco tire at the SKUSA Pro Tour with rave reviews on the performance in some of the hardest conditions. The track and temperature in New Castle amped up the challenge for the competitors and the equipment with layers of rubber getting laid down on the 1-mile course while the conditions jumped into triple digit temperatures. Both were expected going into the weekend, but what was not were a few bad tires. X30 Master driver John Crow and S4 Super Master contender Rod Clinard were among the few to experience a major tire delamination. Crow was able to limp his way for the second half of a heat race to finish with a bad right front. Talking with Superkarts! USA CEO Tom Kutscher, they became aware of the tires and worked directly with MG Tires to determine what the cause was. Similar instances were occurring at other events in other countries recently and during the weekend. SKUSA quickly took these batches of tires on site and removed them and providing a brand new set for future use to Clinard and others on site.
Each and every event we go to, we hear there are not enough penalties for driving infractions. The majority of the complaints come from the parents of the younger divisions. With each event, we sit next to the scoring personal, or have an ear on the radio to hear what goes on with the communication between officials. A few situations have our attention and need to be rectified sooner rather than later.
Qualifying is a quick and intense session, with drivers focus on just one thing – speed. With the different programs we go to, all have different procedures, rules and length for the session. If no hot pit is utilized, the intensity is amped up as the laps you can record are limited. In the past, there has been a number of incidents with karts inching along or coming to a complete stop to find a drafting partner. Thankfully, we did not see much of that in New Castle.
Sunday’s Mini Swift was cut by 1.5 minutes as the drivers ‘failed to follow directions on track for qualifying’. What is the direction they failed to follow? These kids are told over and over by their parents and by the mechanic to go fast, follow this person, don’t slow down. We have already seen serious incidents this year in practice and qualifying. Let me repeat that…PRACTICE and QUALIFYING! If you want to have them not bunch up in groups, bump draft, we are going to have to extend qualifying time to allow 10 drivers on track at a time separated by at least 10 seconds. It can be done, it just extends the day longer due to the longer qualifying time period. Otherwise, officials are going to have to penalize the entire field as again there is only one direction these kids follow in qualifying – go fast.
My solution, let it go. It’s qualifying. If drivers want to work together great. Should there be avoidable contact, penalize them. Not just 2-3 positions, but drop them down to the end of the field. Qualifying should be about going fast, not trying to pass drivers and make late braking maneuvers for position. Like race craft, qualifying is an art of its own. Not everyone knows the best way to get the best out of a new set of tires, or to time the draft just right to not hinder your lap time. As my daughter sings, “Let it go…Let it go!” we need to do the same with qualifying unless we revamp the entire system.
One issue we left confused on was the meatball flag. During the opening heat race Saturday in X30 Junior, Zoey Edenholm was shown the meatball flag for a dragging bumper. While battling for the lead, it was multiple laps that she was shown the flag and her number displayed on the board. Edenholm ignored the flag and went on to finish the race first. In previous races, ignoring the flag was deemed a removal from the results, or dropped to the tail of the field as the driver should have pulled off. For Edenholm, it was only a five-position penalty. Later that day, Ryan Schartau was disqualified for ignoring the black flag in the main event for aggressive driving, and continued racing the remainder of the weekend. Looking back at the California ProKart Challenge in Sonoma, a driver ignored a black flag and was disqualified for the weekend, including a 60-day suspension. A meatball or a black flag each signify you must exit the racing surface, yet the penalties are a vast difference. Why?
The issue comes down to no standardized penalty structure is set for meatball and black flags. Nothing is stated in the SKUSA rulebook, leaving it up to the race director to issue a penalty. From the outside, it basically depends on what he feels should be the penalty, leaving the racers’ destiny in the mercy of one person. A structure, more detailed penalty format not only helps the racers, but the officials. For the most part, other on-track and off-track infractions have the standardized penalties, however this section of the rulebook needs to be updated.
Starts have been a major issue in the past with drivers not taking the respect of others into turn one, and just blasting their way through the field to gain positions. More and more, the respect factor has increased to allow for a cleaner start in the opening corners. Another factor is the continued watch by officials at the start, and issuing penalties for pushing prior to the green flag. This situation effected the finish of the X30 Senior main event, with Brandon Jarsocrak pushed off the podium in third position for a penalty. A number of X30 Junior drivers were penalized as well on the weekend for a similar infraction. Like qualifying, however, this type of penalty is another ‘judgment’ call. It is hard to ensure who’s pushing, who’s not pushing, or who is a victim and who is the instigator. The precedence has been set, and racers need to remember to keep some space between their bumper and the driver’s bumper in front of them.
Meeting of the Minds
During the weekend, selected team managers and owners were invited to a private meeting held Saturday evening established by one team owner. About a dozen or so individuals engaged in discussions about the current state of the sport and what everyone’s thoughts were moving into 2017. Among the topics were what programs each operation will be supporting in the future. Talking with a few individuals who were in attendance, there were no major terms or decisions made, just discussion.
Looking at the current state of the sport, we have major teams that provide the weekend experience, a mix of retail stores that offer trackside service and still a number of privateers just enjoying the sport. The number of ‘high-profile’ events has increased over the last few years. Two major national championships, two top series in the east, two top programs in the west along with strong regional programs in the south, northeast, midwest, and southwest. Add in the winter programs from January to March, and there is a lot of karting throughout the 12-months of the calendar year. Talking with industry members each weekend, there is no shortage of work between race weekends, especially this month with some on the road four straight weekends. That will continue going into August with more events on the calendar. Business overall at the kart shops seem to be increasing as we see the influx of grassroots racers coming back and the top level competitors racing non-stop. It is hard to forecast where the sport will be in the next couple of years, as the pattern of the industry and the sport itself is very unpredictable.
Double Dipping at SummerNationals
The SpringNationals saw zero double winners on the weekend, making it the first time in Pro Tour history. The SummerNationals ended that streak quickly as five drivers left New Castle with a double-win weekend, two with a stronger hold on the championship and three with a reason to hit ‘Sin City’ for a long shot at the SKUSA Pro Tour title.
Florida driver Ryan Norberg nearly dominated the Phoenix weekend until contact in Sunday’s main event took away the chance for the SpringNats double. The SummerNationals saw the Tony Kart driver earn the victory Saturday and handed the win on Sunday, following a blocking penalty to provisional winner and former OGP teammate Kyle Kirkwood. Norberg has come a long way since we met him at the 2013 Rotax Grand Finals as a late addition to Team USA in the Junior Max field in New Orleans. With the Sunday Phoenix round used as his drop, Norberg enters the SuperNationals as the championship leader with three wins. Anything is possible in Las Vegas, and the Orlando Kart Center driver will still have to earn the title by gaining points throughout the weekend in order to not let the championship slip away.
Joining the Master ranks as a constant contender is Champion Racing’s Ryan Kinnear. A veteran of shifterkart racing for over a decade, Kinnear has found his home in the S4 category after moving over from S1 last year. The Scottish driver’s last Pro Tour win came in S2 back at the 2013 SummerNationals in Grand Junction, bringing the total now to three with his double win weekend aboard the Intrepid at New Castle in S4. In the four main events, Kinnear has been the most consistent with two runner-ups and two victories. Another star-studded S4 field is expected once again this November so you can be sure who ever comes out as the champion will have earned it.
For the last few years, the star of Cadet racing was Dylan Tavella. The multi-time champion from New York moved up to the Junior ranks last year with mix results. For some drivers, it can be an easy transition, for others it may take some time. After hard work throughout the first half of the season and returning with IRR’s Charlie Swayne and veteran Mike Doty, Tavella has found his stride in the Junior kart. Dylan won at New Castle back in May, and came back to steal both victories in his 2016 SKUSA Pro Tour debut. The Tony Kart driver is now among the favorites heading to the SuperNationals.
The hottest driver throughout all the categories is Reece Gold. Since getting shut out at the Florida Winter Tour, the Benik driver has won at nearly every series he’s competed at in 2016. Gold did not travel to Phoenix for the SpringNationals, making the SummerNats his debut on the SKUSA Pro Tour this season. Reece finished fourth in both main events a year ago, improving it with two victories this past weekend. Saturday, Gold was toward the front and was shuffled back to 11th in the second heat race. By the end of the main, he was in contention and made quick work of his Benik teammates to claim his first Pro Tour victory. Sunday proved to be even more of a challenge, as contact at the opening corner of Heat #2 dropped him to the tail of the field and P28 for the main event grid. Lap after lap, Gold picked off his opponents not with force, but calculated maneuvers. Once he reached the lead pack, everyone could predict what would happen. Gold reached the lead as they took the white flag, and drove away to the victory. Not many drivers have been able to put in a 28th to 1st performance, but Reece’s was among the best karting has seen.
Myers was the fifth driver with two wins on the year, making him a potential favorite in just over 100 days at the 20th running of the Superkarts! USA SuperNationals. Nine SKUSA Pro Tour champions, along with 10 race winners will be crowned at a SuperSunday like never before.