Fast Five: Mark Coats – United States Pro Kart Series
Premier karting series set to begin sixth season
The 2013 season marked a new era for the sport. Mark Coats, a long-time promoter and industry member, created the United States Pro Kart Series as a way to provide the best value for the racers and teams in the eastern half of the USA. The series opened at the GoPro Motorplex in torrential rain, however, the wet weather did not diminish the beginning of something new and fresh. Over the years, the program has worked through its initial hurdles and grew to be one of the largest karting series in the country. Working with industry partners, the series has continued to adapt to changes within the sport. USPKS was the first major series in North America to implement the pushback bumper, implementing the system in 2017, and it also introduced the IAME KA100 engine package last year.
The 2018 season opens with a new look for the USPKS, as it becomes an IAME-only series thanks to the removal of the Yamaha categories that have been with the program since day one. The schedule is also a change, as Coats has reduced the number of event to three from four, hitting three major areas of the eastern half of the United States.
EKN connected with Mark as he and his United States Pro Kart Series staff prepare for the 2018 season opener, which is scheduled for the Ocala Gran Prix facility in Florida this coming weekend (April 6-8).
EKN: In 2013, along with members of the industry, you launched a new series that was not designed to re-invent karting, but to ‘take it to the next level’. Now coming up on the start of its sixth season, do you feel the USPKS has done that?
Mark Coats: When we all got together and formed the USPKS, our goal was to either “fix” the things that we thought were wrong with karting in a new series, or force the old existing series to fix them. I think we accomplished both goals. We pioneered a number of things with USPKS and that forced others to take notice, and adopt them to remain competitive. Are we perfect? Not even close. But we listen to our racers and try to make the best decisions that we can for everyone, something that was sorely lacking in the old days.
EKN: One of the most recent implementations that the USPKS employed was the pushback bumpers, which were introduced for the 2017 season. Through the four events on the schedule, it seemed that both the staff and the racers became acquainted with how the system works. The system has been the major topic around the karting community for the last few weeks. Do you feel
this is something that will be utilized in the sport for a long time?
MC: We all know how the racecraft has deteriorated and aggressiveness has been rewarded over last 10 years. The pushback bumper is a means to control that better. It’s not perfect, but so far, it’s the only tool that seems to be working. Racers using the system last year in our series were very positive about it. Other series waited to see how our implementation panned out, and I think it has proven itself. I expect we will see it in many more places within the next year and beyond.
EKN: The first five seasons of the USPKS featured a mix of IAME and Yamaha categories. For 2018, it is all IAME with the X30, Swift and the new KA100 engine – of which you were the first major series to introduce in North America. First, what do you think the future holds for the Yamaha engine in North America? And second, how pleased are you with the growing interest in the KA100, not only at the USPKS, but around the country?
MC: The KA100 is such a solid package, and it really impressed everyone who ran it last season, which partially explains its popularity explosion. Badger Kart Club, GoPro Motorplex, and other clubs are already embracing the KA100, so I think the future is very bright for it. A side effect of the KA’s new popularity is that the price point for good Yamaha engines has come down significantly. There was a time when you needed $2k or more to get a decent Yamaha, and now they can be found for a thousand dollars or less. There is a time and a place for the Yamaha, and I think that will continue for some time, given the many thousands of engines in garages in the US. Its popularity at the top levels of traveling kart series will probably be more limited in the future though.
EKN: A four-event schedule was the standard for the USPKS from the beginning. This season, the program has been cut to three events, all positioned in different parts of the eastern half of the country. The opener for 2018 featured is a trip down to Florida, marking the first time the series has ventured south of North Carolina in its six seasons. I know this has been a goal of yours to expand the series’ reach. What made 2018 the year to do it?
MC: Evidently, USPKS is the only series that sees that there are limits to people’s racing budgets, since everyone else keeps trying to expand in an already saturated market! Honestly, there are just too many ‘National’ races right now. We didn’t feel it was right to keep trying to wring every dollar out of our customers, so we cut it back to three events. We also spread them around more to provide a better experience and more variety. We have many Midwest-based racers that would love a chance to take a trip to Florida in the early spring, and we wanted to expose our product to the many racers already in Florida. We also wanted to stick with what we call ‘Top Level’ facilities. Places that have modern amenities, good layouts, and provide a good experience for the racers are among the criteria we used when evaluating the schedule. GoPro Motorplex and New Castle Motorsports Park certainly fit that criteria.
EKN: Let’s not forget the flagship regional series you also promote, the Route 66 Sprint Series. The program is among the longest-running traveling karting series in North America. That program expanded back to six events from five last year, including a return to the repaved CTECH Manufacturing Motorplex circuit at Road America. What type of changes are coming for the Route 66 program for 2018?
MC: We are very excited about what 2018 holds for the Route 66 Sprint Series in 2018. We have some new classes, with the KA100 introduced there as well, and based on pre-entries, it will have a strong field. We’re also pumped to get to the freshly repaved CTECH course at Road America as well. Any time a major Midwest venue gets an update like that, we want to be a part of it. Also, we’re headed back to a fan favorite, Concept Haulers Motor Speedway in Norway, Illinois. The track is full of character and has traditionally been one of our largest drawing venues. Every year, we remind ourselves that the number one thing Route 66 racers want is FUN. No drama, no overburdensome rules, but good clean racing, and smiles and handshakes at the scales. 2018 will be no exception, and it’ll be what we aim for once again.
The United States Pro Kart Series begins the 2018 on April 6-8 at the Ocala Gran Prix facility in Florida. Entry remains open for the Southern Grand Prix at www.uspks.com. The Route 66 Sprint Series is set to open up the new season at New Castle Motorsports Park in New Castle, Indiana on April 27-29. Registration is open at www.route66kartracing.com