EKN Trackside: 2018 Texas ProKart Challenge – North Texas Kartway Report
Baker and Hewitt star for CRG Nordam under the lights in Denton
When it comes to the high heat of a Texas summer, running in the cooler evening temperatures under the lights is always a wise approach. The Texas ProKart Challenge targeted their June 7-9 weekend for just such an night outing, and North Texas Kartway in Denton provided the ideal venue. The half-mile, nine-turn track is an iconic facility that simply comes alive when its lights are fired up, and the racing was stellar thanks to the multiple overtaking opportunities offered by the layout. The event featured Thursday night practice that led into Friday and Saturday night races, and while the temps at the start of each afternoon’s schedule were around 95°F, once the sun set, a more comfortable 85°F was the norm. The Texas PKC program has developed a strong foundation of racers and teams, and the paddock was filled with national level stars and young emerging talent. Of all those in the paddock, the CRG Nordam team had a superb outing, winning six races at the hands of Brenden Baker, Max Hewitt, Rod Clinard and new recruit Tyler Gonzalez.
Baker, the veteran national and regional competitor, took the Friday win in the Woltjer Racing Engines X30 Senior class, battling with fellow CRG driver Kaden Gray and Tony Kart pilot Alejandro Jaramillo. Gray was on top of his game all weekend, qualifying on pole before taking the Prefinal win. Despite Gray’s initial pace, Baker was too much in the main and he rolled to a 3.202-second win over his teammate. Jaramillo pressured Gray for a majority of the 30-lap shootout, but he had to settle for a solid third. John Berry (Tony Kart) finished fourth ahead of Pablo Perez De Lara (Tony Kart).
Baker was again the star of the X30 Senior main event on Saturday, although Jaramillo had dropped the hammer in qualifying to earn the pole for the Prefinal. Jaramillo handled the Prefinal as well, keeping Gray at bay to take the win. Despite finishing third in the Prefinal, Baker moved quickly to the front in the final and took a 2.171-second on-track win. In a disappointing turn of events, for the CRG driver at least, Baker would forfeit the victory when his kart failed the post-race rear width inspection; the error a result of a quick pre-race axle change. This penalty moved the victory honors to Jaramillo, who has been extremely impressive to begin the season. Gray finished second in the amended results, while Berry moved to the podium in third. Brian Van Cleve (Tony Kart) finished fourth ahead of Pablo Perez De Lara (Tony Kart).
CRG Nordam also scored big in the gearbox categories, winning three of the four main events. Round 1 S2 Semi-Pro Stock Honda winner Max Hewitt returned to the series in different livery, having joined the Texas-based CRG squad and he delivered with a pair of wins. Hewitt was hounded all weekend by former teammate Blair Hosie (Alpha), who turned the fastest laps in both main events. Hewitt’s advantage was apparent, as he gapped Hosie on the exit of turn nine coming onto NTK’s backstraight, pulling 3-4 kart lengths early in the run down to turn one. A difference in gearing approach was the culprit, but Hosie did his best to claw back into the gap each lap, although he was never close enough to make a big run at the turn seven hairpin as Hewitt handled the turn 4-5-6 chicane with precision. Behind the lead duo, Dylan Towne (Sodikart) earned the final spot on the podium on Friday, ahead of Reilly Cann (Sodikart) and Mark Snyder (CRG). On Saturday, Cann scored the podium spot ahead of Garrett Kramer (CRG) and Towne.
Nathan Stewart (Sodikart) and Rod Clinard (CRG) shared the S4 Master Stock Honda wins. Stewart used a holeshot to get out front on Friday, while Clinard went unchallenged to the victory in race 2 after Stewart was forced to start at the tail of the grid following a Prefinal incident. Venkat Reddy (CRG) capped the podium both days.
After receiving a request from local Texas shifterkart drivers with KZ and Rok powerplants, the TPKC promoted a Shifter Unlimited option class for the Denton weekend with a focus on laying the groundwork for future growth. As is often the case in karting, the request for a new class doesn’t always mean that guys will actually show, but the new category did open the door for 3G Kart Racing to send both Jordon Musser and Michael Ilavia to NTK to shakedown the new IAME 175cc SSE shifter engine. The feedback from both drivers was positive, touting the massive torque of the motor, which will become the foundation of SKUSA’s gearbox competition in the future. The TPKC staff is excited with the possibility of attracting more IAME SSE owners to the next series race in Amarillo, in addition to a potential cast of KZ drivers, as there is an aggressive campaign in motion to put together a caravan of racers from the East Coast.
Miguel Mier looked to have the TES Home Solar X30 Master field handled, as he controlled Friday’s action with a sweep of the sessions. Mier (Tony Kart) scored a 2.998-second win in the 22-lap final over Doug Foxsworth (CompKart) and Rod Lake (Sodikart). On Saturday, he again topped the qualifying and Prefinal result sheets, but a thrown chain on the warm-up lap of the main event put him on the sidelines. This opened the door for Scott Cherry (DR Kart) to take a 5.423-second win over his brother Brian Cherry (DR Kart). Keith Harless (Birel ART) tried to make it close for second in the late-going, as he was running solid lap times while he was recovering from issues early in the race. Harless closed to within a second at the checkered flag, but had to settle for third. Lake finished fourth ahead of Diego Iorio (Italkart).
The level of competition at the Texas ProKart Challenge in Texas Barge X30 Junior is stout, and this weekend saw Tyler Gonzalez make his debut with CRG Nordam. The young Florida driver did not disappoint, sweeping the main event wins in style. The racing was incredibly good on both Friday and Saturday, although Day 2 was much better than the opening day of action after Race Director Mark French tightened down on the contact. On Friday, he wanted to give the drivers a little more freedom, but the racecraft diminished, so he took control again in the Saturday Prefinal, which set the stage for one of the best Junior races in recent memory. Gonzalez took a 1.081-second win on Race 1, and the battle for the remaining steps on the podium was thrilling. John Burke (Tony Kart) took the spot ahead of Tyler Maxson (CRG), but not without a tremendous race-long scrap that including Travis Wiley (Kosmic) and Emiliano Richards (Tony Kart). Saturday’s race was more of the same, and the podium was duplicated, although several drivers, including Richards, took their turn up front. Richards would eventually finish fourth, while the final position in the top-five belonged to Branyon Tiner (Tony Kart). Tiner figured in the lead battle all day, as did Adrian Cruz (Tony Kart).
The racing in the Mindshift Financial Mini Swift category provided edge-of-your-seat excitement through both rounds of competition, and the outing was certainly a breakout weekend for Alex Stanfield (Energy). The Energy driver was on-form, sweeping Friday’s action from qualifying onwards. A pole in the initial timed session led to a Prefinal win, and Stanfield fully leveraged his front row starting position to storm to a 2.579-second victory on Friday night in the 25-lap final. Jack Jeffers (Benik) and Chase Gardner (Vemme) fought it out for the final steps on the podium, and finished in that order. Enzo Swan (Kart Republic) and Aden Rudolph (Birel ART) completed the top-five, as Rudolph completed a run back up through the field after being shuffled back to 13th at the start of the Prefinal. On Saturday night, Jeffers started things off with a pole run in qualifying, but Stanfield came right back to the top in both the Prefinal and the Final. With the rest of the field battling behind him, Stanfield stretched away to another win of over two seconds to complete his sweep of the main events. The podium order was a carbon copy of Friday, with Jeffers and Gardner in second and third. The final spots in the top-five looked to belong to Rudolph, who paired with Swan to get past Artie Flores on the penultimate lap, only to lose the spot back to Flores after getting caught out by a lapped kart. Rudolph was slowed slightly coming out of the hairpin turn seven, and this allowed Flores to make a last-ditch effort to take back the spot in turn eight, and the resultant contact opened the door for Swan to re-take fifth as well.
The Alan Rudolph Racing Academy Micro Swift class was not large, but the racing was still entertaining as the young drivers swapped positions throughout the main events. The only spot that was locked was the lead, as Ethan Thomason scored both wins during the night time doubleheader. Thomason (Parolin) was able to get away on Friday night to take a 4.166-second win over Jack Iliffe (Benik). Sarah Bradley and Nicholas George (FA Kart) were embroiled in their own fight all race long, and while George drew alongside on the run to the stripe, Bradley took the final step on the podium by just 0.008 seconds at the line. Charlie Bradbury (Energy) completed the top-five. In Saturday night’s 25-lap final, Bradley turned things up and never let up on pressuring Thomason for the win. Sarah would lose ground in certain areas, and while she would then make it back up, she came up just short at the checker with Ethan winning by 0.236 seconds. Iliffe and George struck up their own battle, with Iliffe taking control of third.
The series’ drivers will now look forward to the second and final doubleheader of the year, as the schedule now heads west to the Amarillo Kart Circuit, a facility that is opened only for the Texas ProKart Challenge. The privately-owned jewel was patterned on the F1 track in Istanbul, Turkey and received rave review when the TPKC teams christened its competition history last summer. Rounds Four and Five are set for July 20-22 and word on the street points to visiting teams and drivers coming in from California, Arizona and Colorado. eKartingNews.com will be there as well and will again provide EKN Trackside Live streaming audio coverage all weekend long.