2018 IKF Grand Nationals – Event Preview

2-Cycle and 4-Cycle Duffy trophies up for grabs at CCKRA facility this weekend

It has been over 40 years since the first ‘Duffy’ was given out, and this weekend the Fresno Fairgrounds will come alive with sounds of both 2-cycle and 4-cycle engines in the quest for the 2018 edition of the International Kart Federation (IKF) Grand Nationals. Hosted by the KPX Karting Championship and the Central California Kart Racing Association, both the IAME KA100 and Mini Swift packages will be in use on the 2-stroke side, while the popular Briggs & Stratton 206 powerplant for all 4-stroke classes. In all, nine categories will compete not only for the prized bronze Duffy trophy for each class victory, but also the coveted Screaming Eagle pole award for the fastest time in the three-lap qualifying session.

The track at the Fresno Fairgrounds is a temporary parking-lot styled circuit, with cones and barriers used to delineate the 12 turn, 0.5-mile course. The CCKRA is no stranger to putting on big events, having hosted the 2012 IKF Grand Nationals. With ample run-off, a 600ft back straight and several passing zones, it is a great place to host the event, and will provide an excellent stage for the on track action. In all, the nine classes on offer will see a 4-stroke and 2-stroke category for each level of driver, including Junior 1 206 and Mini Swift, Junior 2 206 and Junior KA100, Senior 206 and Senior KA100, Masters 206 and Masters KA100, as well as a Heavy 206 class.

Jack Arluck (Photo: KPX Karting Championship)

Not only is this event a prestigious one for the drivers, but it is also a very big event for the numerous teams that will be in attendance, many with bragging rights and championships coming into the weekend via the regular KPX season. Cole Nelson Racing, Cambrian Go-Karts, VLR – Variable Line Racing, Nevada Kart Sport, PKS – Professional Kart Support, and Karting Concepts are just a few of the teams continuing their battle into this weekend, with each one hosting a healthy and talented stable of drivers. In the following preview, we’ll take a look at each of the nine classes on offer, and a couple drivers per category that could be ones to watch when the checkers fall on the weekend.

The 206 Masters class sees a bit of a transition for many of the drivers looking to compete from the host organization KPX, as the eligible age differs depending on where each competitor comes from. Originally at 35 years of age, 2018 saw the age bumped up to 40 for the regular KPX season, but has been adjusted back to 35 for the Grand Nationals. This change in requirements has seen some former eligible drivers return to the category, looking to take the fight to the KPX season regulars in the class. Entering the weekend as the newly crowned KPX Masters champion is Jack Arluck, bringing home the championship on the back of a win, and a pair of second place finishes, including the most recent round in Reno. Arluck has been a regular front runner in the package for the last couple of years, and certainly enters the weekend with a lot of momentum. And with the age lowered back to 35, he’ll see the 2017 KPX Masters champion Mike Smith in attendance once again, meaning the Grand Nationals will have the most recent KPX 206 Masters champions on hand. While Smith enters from the SoCal region, there are plenty of other KPX regulars, as well as newly eligible entrants looking to bring home the Duffy this weekend. A couple of those drivers are KPX Masters 2nd place driver Pat Beckley, and KPX finale winner Brandon Walsh. Each proved they could be IKF Grand National contenders via their KPX victories, and carry some solid momentum after their hardware earning performances.

Cain Fredricks (Photo: KPX Karting Championship)

The Mini Swift package sees drivers all the way from the Club level to the National level take to the track, and this weekend we’ll see some of the best in the business compete for the Grand National championship. Perhaps leading the charge here is not only the most recent winner at the SKUSA California ProKart Challenge, but also the point leader in the Mini Swift class, Logan Toke. He is not just the point leader at CPKC, but is fresh off a win at the Marina circuit for Round Five. Toke is on a two race win streak, also winning at CalSpeed for the Los Angeles Karting Championship. And while he goes for three weekends in a row, he’ll have plenty of competition – Jesus Vasquez Jr and Kasey Gillis. The two drivers sitting first and second in the LAKC points respectively. Both drivers also race with Toke at the Fontana, CA venue and it will be interesting to see who may come out on top this weekend. The Mini category has a lot of up and coming talent in it, and whether it is the aforementioned trio or someone else the brings home the Duffy, it is sure to be an exciting show. Adding to an already prestigious victory, the winner will also receive a free entry into the SKUSA SuperNationals 22 at the Rio in Las Vegas, while also being guaranteed a spot on the grid for SuperSunday

Speaking of up and coming talent, the entry list for the 206 Junior 2 category reads like a who’s who of 206 racing here on the west coast, with winners on the entry list from every series imaginable. Interestingly enough, the champion of the category from the KPX championship has not entered – instead concentrating on the KA100 package – making this title fight all the more unpredictable. On the top of the list of contenders might have to be KPX series Junior 2 runner up Cain Fredericks; while he didn’t come home with the title, he did pick up a pair of victories and a third in route to the second place finish. Joining Fredericks as obvious drivers to watch are Logan Calderwood and Toby Longnecker, each winners at the COTA events this past winter, as well as KPX regular Issac Bourqe. While the former two did not run full KPX seasons, they did back up their 206 success at the club level, while Bourqe finished 4th overall in KPX Junior 2, winning the season finale in Reno along the way. Add to the list drivers like SoCal hot shoe Dakota Tate and 2017 KPX Junior 2 champion Oliver Calvo to the mix, and this category could be one of the best fights we’ll see for the championship all weekend.

Zach Rivera (Photo: KPX Karting Championship)

The KA100 package was a mostly new addition to the west coast in 2018, with several clubs and Regional programs either adding the category, or moving to do so before years end. At the KPX regional championship, the KA100 Senior class saw not only KPX regulars take to the track, but several one-off entries that would attempt to steal away the wins. Coming in with a lot of experience and the KA100 Senior championship at KPX was Zach Rivera, backing up his 3rd overall in the Senior 206 class a year ago. Several other standouts join Rivera in the quest to win the $10,000 dollars via the Triple Crown Challenge – winning the IKF Grand Nationals, Streets of Lancaster GP, and SuperNationals 22), including several drivers that also run other classes full time. Drivers like Colby Dubato, Nick Persing, Grant Leclaire, Micah Hendricks, and Chance Skaufel have all shown to have great speed in the package, and could certainly be in the hunt right away. Local driver Aaron Heathman has been a proven contender outside of his home track, and now back on his home turf will certainly be a challenger for the 2018 Duffy. But perhaps more in this category than any other is the chance that a last minute entry could step in to challenge this weekend; especially a regular from the California ProKart Challenge looking to snag the cool 10k for the Triple Crown Challenge.

Added back onto the KPX championship class structure in 2018 after the age adjustment to Masters, Senior Heavy was from the beginning to the end dominated by one individual: Tyler Agan. Not only did Agan sweep all five rounds of the Heavy Class at KPX in 2018, he also finished 2nd in the Senior category after finishing on the podium every round as well. Certainly the guy to beat coming into the weekend, the battle for the Duffy will be a very good one when we look at the lineup already registered to challenge him. First one to look at is Brian Hill; Hill ran the opening two rounds in the Heavy Class at KPX and was one of the fastest on track every session. Throwing in back to 2017, and Hill’s first venture into the 206 game saw him duke it out with eventual champ Mike Smith for the win in Masters at the Fresno event. Already a proven challenger in the class, expect Hill -and Smith who is also entered- to each be challengers once again. The list doesn’t stop there; add on Andrew Kemp and Geoff Shaw to the list of immediate standouts for the Duffy in this category, as both have proven to be extremely good on the 206 package. Kemp has been at the sharp end nearly every time he has been behind the wheel the past two years, and the same can be said about Shaw. Shaw not only won the Super Regional last year, but also picked up the victory at Fresno as well, and in his sole outing in the Senior category in 2018 he was on the podium. While the talent doesn’t stop with these five drivers, don’t be surprised if they are primary protagonists.

Andrew Kemp (Photo: KPX Karting Championship)

At the time of this writing, the Masters class for the 2-stroke category was the lightest entered of the nine on offer, but still looked to serve up a great fight for the overall win. Potentially leading the charge looks to be Andrew Kemp; a regular KPX competitor in 2017, he contested for the podium nearly every time in the 206 senior category. This year he showed he could still fight at the sharp end with the KA100 package, competing in a pair of rounds in the Senior category, finishing as high as 5th. Representing the Masters KA100 ranks from the SoCal region is Robert Perez, a driver that has put in a lot of time with the KA100 package, having run the entire season at the Los Angeles Karting Championship at CalSpeed Karting. As the Masters KA100 class grows approaching the event, it will be interesting to see if it is the established and experienced drivers in the package that come out on top, or the newcomers looking to try something new. And lets not forget, this class is part of the Triple Crown Challenge; win at the IKF Grand Nationals, and then again at the Streets of Lancaster GP and the SuperNats 22, and it is good for $5000.

The cadet class for the 4-strokes – Briggs 206 Junior 1 – sees the top two from the KPX ranks absent from the entry list as of this writing, so one has to look at the 3rd place finisher as the primary contender; Jack Schrady. He not only finished third in the 2018 KPX Junior 1 championship, he won the season finale at Reno, and is certainly carrying some momentum coming into the Grands. We could also see a brand new driver show there stuff this weekend in Junior 1 206; someone like Parker Delong perhaps. Delong is an established hot shoe in the cadet ranks on the 2-stroke side in SoCal, running in nearly every series possible with his Mini Swift, but has a lot less seat time in a 206. That doesn’t mean we won’t see him – or others new to the package – quick out of the gate; the transition from 2-stroke to 4-stroke has been proven in the past, and is certainly a doable task. All that said, the surprise could come from under the radar; take Ethan Nascimento for example. He only ran two events in the class for 2018, but finish on the podium in one of them; however, look back to 2017 and Ethan has three 2nd place finishes in a row. Just because a driver hasn’t grabbed the spotlight in a class in the current year, doesn’t mean that can’t steal it at the Grand Nationals.

Aiden Kempf (Photo: KPX Karting Championship)

One of the three Triple Crown Challenge classes put up by IAME West, the KA100 Junior class already sees one driver with the momentum coming in; Aiden Kempf. Not only did Kempf win the KA100 Junior category at KPX in 2018, but he did the double, also bringing home the title in 206 Junior 2 as well. Add to that the fact he was 2nd overall in 206 Junior in 2017, and we have a driver that has this particular setup dialed in. It isn’t a free ride however, as he and the rest of the entrants will have the 2017 206 Junior Champ Oliver Calvo also in attendance. Calvo and Kempf will assuredly continue their battle from 2017 once the first session hits the track on Saturday, but they will be joined by even more talent from the calendar year. Both 2nd and 3rd in the KPX KA100 Junior category will be gunning for the top spot, as Garrett Randolph and Dakota Tate – respectively – look to add to the wins they each earned earlier this year. For these four and everyone on the Junior KA entry list, it isn’t just about the Duffy, its about the potential payday.

For the Briggs & Stratton 206 package, the Senior division is the certainly the headliner, and this weekend we will once again see some of the best drivers in the category do battle for the Grand National Championship; the Duffy. Many of these drivers have experience in other forms of karting, yet still come back to compete in arguably the biggest chess match of them all at the grassroots level. And one driver that routinely finds himself at the top, is David Vasquez. Vasquez not only enters the weekend as the reigning 2018 KPX Senior 206 Champion, but he also won it in 2016, and finish 2nd last year. Routinely one of the guys to beat in the class, no matter what happens this weekend, the win will certainly go through him. Rightfully so, he’ll have plenty of drivers around him looking to take home the Duffy for themselves, not the least of which the two directly astern of him in the KPX standings; Tyler Agan and Grant Leclaire. For his part, Agan missed the title by just 5 points even after finishing on the podium for every event, while Leclaire put up stout numbers of his own including a pair of wins on the season.

David Vasquez (Photo: KPX Karting Championship)

Those three will certainly pick up where they left off, but they will be joined buy a host of challenges for the bronze trophy, and they include both KPX regulars as well as drivers new to the game. For starters, 4th-9th from the KPX are already registered: Alieja White (4th), Logan Mitchell (5th), Nick Short (6th), Bryce Dickman (7th), Aaron Heathman (8th), and Ruben Ramos (9th). And how about standout one-off runners like Andrew Kemp, or Tyler Coffman? No matter how Senior 206 finishes up when the dust settles, expect it to be the best show of the weekend, and a well earned title.

Pre registration for the 2018 IKF Grand Nationals is still available through Wednesday, September 5, with registration opening on site once again when the gates open to the Fresno Fairgrounds at 3pm on Friday, September 7. Saturday will see practice and then the shootout for the Screaming Eagle in the 3-lap qualifying sessions at the end of the day. Sunday brings a pair of 10-lap heat races, with 18-lap mains capping things off to see who will bring home the coveted Duffy trophy, and the title of IKF Grand National champion. For more information, head over to ikfgrandnationals.com.

– Mike Smith

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