EKN Trackside: 2018 Texas ProKart Challenge – Amarillo Report

French sweeps S1, while Musgrave doubles in X30 Senior in extreme heat

(Photo: Ken Johnson - studio52.us)

The Texas ProKart Challenge made its second trek to West Texas last weekend and the racing was exciting from start to finish on the challenging 12-turn Amarillo Kart Circuit. Dallas Karting Complex lead pilot Jake French notched both wins in the S1 Pro Stock Honda class, topping the combined shifter field in the program that included the likes of Billy Musgrave, Hunter Pickett and Christian Bird. As EKN’s #1 ranked shifter driver, Musgrave battled French in the gearbox events, but he also competed in the X30 Senior class and came away with a pair of impressive victories over the top single-speed karters in Texas.  A total of six race groups took to the track over the weekend, and other drivers earning the sweep included Max Hewitt (S2), Nathan Stewart (S4) and Branyon Tiner (X30 Junior).

The event presented the fourth and fifth rounds of the six-race Texas PKC series, and was only the second organized competition event at the Amarillo Kart Circuit, which was built by local surgeon Thane Morgan. The driver feedback on the track was extremely positive. The track is truly the West Texas’ version of the ‘Field of Dreams’, and the arrival of the TPKC certainly plays to the famous line – ‘if you build it, they will come’.

Jake French dominated the shifterkart race group all weekend (Photo: Ken Johnson – studio52.us)

Unfortunately, the TPKC date coinciding with the tail end of a record-setting heat wave in Amarillo, pushing the series staff, the drivers and the teams with 100+ degree temps all weekend.  The first half of the days were run in the 90s, but the temp topped out later in the day at 103 or 104 degrees. Thankfully, the winds of West Texas helped to offset the heat, making it bearable, albeit hot. Copious amounts of water, paired with man-made shade in the form of EZUps and umbrellas, kept everyone in shape for racing and spectating.

In the shifter categories, French emerged to win both S1 Pro Stock Honda main events of the doubleheader, sweeping all six sessions on the weekend.  Jake was on his own in terms of wrenching in Amarillo, and was prepping his own Sodikart, which makes his performances even a little more impressive. While Musgrave (Aluminos) pressed French throughout the weekend, so did Pickett (Sodikart), who was also on his game, grabbing a couple of the holeshots to pace early laps.  In the end, Musgrave and Pickett would swap the other two positions on the podium, each taking a turn in P2 and P3.

California’s Billy Musgrave was able to grab both wins in X30 Senior (Photo: Ken Johnson – studio52.us)

CRG Nordam driver Max Hewitt not only dominated the S2 Semi-Pro Stock Honda class, but he also chased French, Pickett and Musgrave all weekend long, and was part of the lead quartet from the get-go.  Hewitt did not engage in any battles with the three S1 leaders, but instead brought home a pair of wins to all but lock down the TPKC S2 title. Blair Hosie (Alpha) spent the weekend embroiled in exciting battles with S1 driver Christian Bird (CRG), and took second on Saturday over Reilly Cann (Sodikart). Dylan Towne (Sodikart) and Liam Snyder (CRG) completed in the top-five.  On Sunday, Towne was on the move and slipped past Cann for the third position, which stands as his best finish of the year.

Sodikart driver Nathan Stewart swept the S4 Master Stock Honda main events, topping Rod Clinard (CRG) by 4.275 seconds in Round 4 on Saturday.  Amarillo Kart Circuit track owner Thane Morgan (Sodikart) was very impressive in his run to third, pushing Clinard for a majority of the race. Miguel Garcia (Alpha) and Juan David Gomez (CRG) capped the top-five.  On Sunday, Stewart again jumped to the early lead and stretched away, as Morgan chased Clinard for second.  The S4 Super Master #3 plate holder was out early this time, as his CRG spit its chain on lap four, sending Clinard to the sidelines.  Morgan assumed second and maintained the position, while Garcia scored his first podium of the year, finishing third.  A lone S5 driver was in the paddock, as Conner Robles (Aluminos) traveled to Amarillo from SoCal with the Musgrave crew. Robles did extremely well, running with S4 drivers Clinard and Morgan all weekend long.

David Pergande was gifted the X30 Master victory on Sunday in his class debut (Photo: Ken Johnson – studio52.us)

The Woltjer Racing X30 Senior class is stout in Texas, and throwing Musgrave (Aluminos) into the mix made it even more competitive. Alejandro Jaramillo (Tony Kart) showed the way all weekend, qualifying on pole on both Saturday and Sunday, winning both Prefinals as well.  The main events did not go his way though, as contact with a lapped car on the final circuit robbed him on the Saturday win.  Musgrave was in position to take advantage of Jaramillo’s lack of exit speed from turn seven after the contact, stealing away the victory. Jaramillo held on for second over Brenden Baker (CRG). Brett Mitchell (Tony Kart) and Jett Morton (Tony Kart) rounded out the top-five. It was a strong debut weekend for Morton, who moved up from the X30 Junior category after the last series race in Denton. On Sunday, Jaramillo was again quick out of the gate, but Musgrave simply turned up the wick, taking the lead and pulling to a 6.814-second win. Baker battled with Jaramillo for the runner-up position, and then Alejandro held off Morton for the final step on the podium.  Morton did take fourth, his second top-five of the weekend, while John Berry (Tony Kart) was fifth, just a half-second back.

Miguel Mier (Tony Kart) has been the class of the TES Home Solar X30 Master field in Texas this year, and he was again on his game in Amarillo. Mier swept all three sessions on Saturday, using the pole to get through the tight opening section of the track unscathed and out to an early advantage in the 18-lap final. Mier went untouched, taking a 4.826-second win.  JH Motorsports’ David Pergande (Tony Kart) was making his debut in X30 competition and was quickly coming to grips with the engine’s power characteristics as well as the unique aspects of the Evinco tire. A veteran of Rotax racing, Pergande dialled in his driving all weekend and was embroiled in a good battle with Tyson Knight (DR Kart) all day on Saturday. At the checker, Pergande and Knight completed the podium in second and third, while Jaime Labastida (GP) and Rod Lake (Sodikart) filled the remaining positions in the top-five.

Branyon Tiner took both wins in X30 Junior (Photo: Ken Johnson – studio52.us)

Sunday’s race again featured contact in the opening corner, with Pergande and Knight getting the brunt of the results, falling back to sixth and seventh to begin the opening lap. Mier stormed away as the chaos happened behind him, developing a big lead over Labastida and Denton winner Scott Cherry (DR Kart).  Mier’s lead would not last long, however, as he was out on lap 2 when his throttle cable snapped.  This changed the entire complexion of the race and put Labastida and Cherry into a battle for the win, similar to what happened in Round 3 in Denton in June, when Mier went out earlier. As Cherry chased Labastida through the entire run, Pergande was on the move, running much quicker laps as he shaved tenths off the gap each successive circuit.  The Katy, TX veteran began chopping off time as the leader began a defensive approach during the final laps, but Pergande would have needed more time had the front-running duo not made contact in the final corner complex on the last lap.  Labastida defended low and then moved slightly to the right to set up for the corner, contacting Cherry, who had pulled alongside to set up a move.  Connected, they spun off the track, allowing Pergande to drive through the apex to emerge on the other side as the victor.  Knight finished a strong second ahead of Rod Lake (SodiKart). Speedsportz Racing Park driver Keith Harless (BirelART) was fourth, ahead of Cherry in fifth.  Cherry was able to get re-fired to cross the line as the last driver to finish the race.

The Texas Barge X30 Junior category was the biggest of the weekend at 17 entries, and Adrian Cruz (Tony Kart) started things off on the right foot, qualifying on the pole over Luke Lange (Tony Kart) and Emiliano Richards (Tony Kart) on Saturday. Richards emerged to win the Prefinal over a strong lead group of five drivers, and he would take the on-track win in the 18-lap final as well, but a penalty for contact moved him back a position and advanced Branyon Tiner (Kosmic) to the victory.  CRG Nordam’s Tyler Maxson was part of the lead battle all day, and he completed the podium in third. Max Opalski (FA Kart) and John Burke (Tony Kart) were fourth and fifth, respectively. Cruz topped Sunday qualifying once again, holding over three tenths on Tiner.  Maxson advanced to the front to win the Prefinal and secure a front row starting spot for the second main event alongside Cruz.  The Final was exciting from start to finish, but it was Tiner’s speed and ability to pull away from the pack that truly wrote the story. Tiner held a 1.5-second advantage for the second half of the race and while Maxson and Richards worked together to cut into the cap and set up a late-race bid for the win, they simply could not lessen into the advantage that Tiner had developed and was maintaining.  Tiner did not put a wheel wrong and held the point to a 0.348-second win.  Branyon backed it down a little on the final laps, leveraging his cushion to cruise home to the victory. Maxson and Richards filled the remaining spots on the podium, while John Burke and Jose Garfias (Tony Kart) capped the top-five.

Chase Gardner took his first series victory of the year in Mini Swift (Photo: Ken Johnson – studio52.us)

The racing was truly spectacular in the MindShift Financial Mini Swift category. The talent level in Texas continues to develop and emerge, and in Amarillo, the lead group consisted of no less than four karts at a time.  Saturday’s battle began with Aden Rudolph (Birel ART) taking the pole over Chase Gardner (Vemme), but it was Alex Stanfield (Energy) who came to the forefront in the Prefinal, holding off Rudolph’s pressure over the final laps.  When the main event went green, Stanfield did not get a good jump and fell down the order due to contact in the opening corners. Alex pushed to re-join the lead group, but just didn’t have the pace to make up the ground. The frontrunners certainly put on a show, as Rudolph led a majority of the race. However, over the final laps, Joseph Moss (Benik) began putting tons of pressure on Rudolph for the win, as the entire top-five was in line within 1.5 seconds from front to back.  Late in the contest, Moss slipped past Rudolph for the lead, and then Cooper Shipman (Benik) found his way by for second with just two laps to go. With Moss in the lead, Shipman tried in vain to close the gap, as Joseph was the first to the stripe. The final order would change, however, as a post-race penalty for avoidable contact with Rudolph dropped Moss behind Shipman in the official results, giving Cooper his first Texas PKC Mini Swift win.  Chase Gardner (Vemme) completed the podium in third, and he was chased across the line by Enzo Swan and Rudolph.

On Sunday, Rudolph put it on pole once again, out-pacing Stanfield by almost three tenths, and brought it across the line first in the Prefinal to hold onto his starting position for the 16-lap main event.  In the final, Rudolph led early before losing the lead to Stanfield, with Gardner waiting in the wings. In what was likely the best pass of the weekend, Gardner went from third to first on the brakes into the left-hand turn 10 hairpin on lap four, emerging with a lead.  Gardner and Stanfield then teamed up to pull away from the field over the next 10 laps, setting up for a race to the checker.  Stanfield continued his chase of the lead, but with Gardner not making a single mistake, he came up just short with a strong second, which has moved Alex into the championship lead with just one race still remaining in the season.  Swan capped the podium with a solid third place run ahead of Shipman and Rudolph.

Ivanna Richards won in her series debut in the Micro Swift class (Photo: Ken Johnson – studio52.us)

The Alan Rudolph Racing Academy Micro Swift class featured six young drivers, and they were led all weekend by Ivanna Richards (Parolin), who was making her Texas PKC debut.  Ivanna was the quickest of the bunch and was within one corner of winning the Saturday main event when she pulled off early, thinking the race was over.  She would not make that same mistake on Sunday, as she cruised to a 7.649-second win.  In the wake of Richard’s Round 4 error, Ethan Thomason (Parolin) was the first to the checkered flag to take the win on Saturday, followed by Sarah Bradley (Benik) and James Moss (Benik). On Sunday, Thomason was second behind Richards, while Moss was again third in the order.

The series will now look towards their season finale on September 22-23 at Dallas Karting Complex.  With the race being scheduled during the new school year, it will be a single-race weekend with Saturday practice and Sunday competition.  A majority of the titles are still up for grabs, as are the Guaranteed SuperSunday Starting Spots for the SKUSA SuperNationals 22 in November, which go to all of the Texas ProKart Challenge champions.

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