EKN Trackside: 2018 Texas ProKart Challenge – Dallas Karting Complex
Jaramillo, Hewitt and Jeffers star in exciting season finale
Heading into the final round of the Texas ProKart Challenge at the Dallas Karting Complex, the forecast was ominous with rain tagged from Thursday to Monday. The expected precipitation hit hard on Friday and Saturday, dumping on the facility on Friday night and then hitting hard again on Saturday afternoon. Thankfully, even with flooding around the track and in the surrounding region, Sunday morning dawned dry and clear, which led to a solid day of competition. The SKUSA regional champions would be crowned, and for those in the X30 and Mini Swift categories which will likely be the class open to 80+ entries, the free pass to the main events at the SuperNationals – known as the Guaranteed SuperSunday Starting Spots – would be locked in.
The Mindshift Financial Mini Swift category led the rotation throughout the weekend, and they were the first to hit the track on Sunday morning for qualifying. For the most part, the track was dry from the Saturday rains but there were still areas where water wicked up from under the asphalt. The short shute between turns 14 and 15 was wet all day, making it a spotlight corner during each and every session. With everyone on Evinco slicks, this would be the key point on the track all day, separating the field into those who could handle the wet section and the run through turn 15 and those who could not. Alex Stanfield (Energy) picked up the tricky turn 15 racing line quickly and qualified on the pole, and he went on to win the Prefinal, as well. In the 15-lap main event, a tremendous four-kart battle ensued as Jack Jeffers (Benik), Chase Gardner (VemmeKart) and Aden Rudolph (Birel ART) were embroiled in the scrap. Stanfield led the entire race until final lap as Jeffers closed to make a bid for the win. With new pressure from behind, Stanfield ran a defensive line into the double-apex left-hand turn 10 and Jeffers ran a wide entry to get inside the leader heading into second apex, taking over the point for good in turn 12. Stanfield remained under pressure as Gardner was right there as well, making a quick move to the inside on the entry into T15 after running through the water stream. Stanfield had pushed wide slightly and opened the door, and Gardner filled it quickly with minimal contact. Stanfield kept the forward bite to hold off Rudolph for the final step on the podium. With Jeffers and Gardner finishing 1-2, Stanfield’s third place result was more than enough to cap off the best season of his young career with the Texas PKC Mini Swift championship.
Ethan Thomason (Parolin) dominated the action in the Alan Rudolph Racing Academy Micro Swift class, sweeping all three sessions handily. In the Final, Ethan romped to the top step of the podium over Jack Iliffe (Benik) and James Moss (Benik). Iliffe and Moss both had issues with the absence of grip in turn 15, finding themselves facing the wrong direction at least once. Sarah Bradley ran a flawless race and took full advantage of her competitors’ mistakes to make two overtake attempts on the Moss for third in turn 10 in the late going, but on each occasion, Moss was able to criss-cross and get back by on the exit. At the checker, Moss nipped Bradley by just over a half-second at the line as Iliffe finished second to Thomason.
The Texas Barge X30 Junior battle was a good one all day long. John Burke (Tony Kart) set the pace all day, topping qualifying and winning the Prefinal. The main event turned into a great battle early as Emiliano Richards (Tony Kart) found his way around Burke to take over the lead. A race-long dice was expected, but a heated scrap for second between Burke and Branyon Tiner (Kosmic) allowed Richards to pull away to an eventual 3.650-second victory. Tiner and Burke battled all the way through the 18-lap race with Tiner winning out to finish second. Luke Lange (Tony Kart) and Ryan Shehan (CompKart) rounded out the top-five. Tiner’s second place finish provided him with the points he needed to edge Richards for the X30 Junior title, after Richards was dealt a two-position penalty in the Prefinal for blocking.
Coming into the TPKC finale, Alejandro Jaramillo (Tony Kart) had the Woltjer Racing X30 Senior championship in his sights, and he knew that he only needed a clean weekend to walk away with the title. Jaramillo qualified second to CRG Nordam’s Brendan Baker to begin the day and then took the win in the Prefinal to plump up his day’s point total. Baker was second in the Prefinal to grab the outside of the front row for the 22-lap main. Baker jumped up to the early lead but Jaramillo’s Tony Kart began to come in around lap five, and he started to cut into Baker’s advantage. Jaramillo made his championship pass in turn 1 on lap 10, having notched a better run out of the slippery turn 15. He would then drive to a 1.261-second triumph while Baker held on for a solid second-place finish. Kaden Gray (CRG) and Travis Wiley (Kosmic) raced hard for third for a majority of the run, that is, until Jacob Loomis (VemmeKart) arrived on the scene having raced his way up from 13th on the grid after issues in the Prefinal. Loomis was able to get by Wiley and, in the process, this allowed Gray to build a little cushion to finish third.
The ‘Treacherous Turn 15’ water stream claimed two drivers in the TES Home Solar X30 Master Final. Keith Harless (Birel ART) grabbed the pole at the very end of qualifying as his Evincos finally came up to temperature, dropping two seconds off his fastest lap to top Miguel Mier (Tony Kart). That said, Mier took full control of the Prefinal, and then led from pole for the first half of the 20-lap main event by a huge margin before over-shooting the wet turn 15. Mier got the kart turned just as he made contact with the barriers and they sucked him in, dropping his kart off the edge of the pavement. High-centered, even assistance from the corner worker could not get him rolling. Harless slipped past for the lead, and Rod Lake (Sodikart) got past as well. Mier struggled so badly they he was eventually lapped before he could get back underway. The race looked to be in Harless’ hands, but Lake was storming back having spun himself early on. Over the final six laps, Lake was cutting into Harless’ lead by over one second a lap and just as it appeared that a last lap battle was timing out nicely, Lake fell victim to turn 15 and looped his kart, losing all the ground he had made up. As a result, Harless cruised to the win with Lake and Mier completing the podium. Mier’s strength throughout the season, although interspersed with bad lack, still rewarded him with the TPKC crown.
The day, and the 2018 Texas ProKart Challenge season, was capped by the combined Shifter class. The S2 Semi-Pro and S4 Master Stock Honda categories were dominated by CRG drivers Max Hewitt and Rod Clinard, respectively. Clinard posted the outright fastest lap in the damp morning qualifying to earn the overall pole for the Prefinal, with Hewitt alongside him on the row one. Hewitt grabbed the lead early and ran to the win in the 14-lap Prefinal with Clinard following suit in S4. In the main, the duo jetted away quickly to lead their classes unchallenged. Clinard was impressive as he took second overall in addition to his S4 win, holding off S2 driver Mark Snyder (CRG) early before pulling away to cross the line almost six seconds ahead of his closest challenger. Snyder finished second in the S2 class, while his brother Liam Snyder (Sodikart) completed the podium in third. Hewitt’s victory made it a sweep of all six main events and confirmed his S2 championship. In S4, Nathan Stewart (Sodikart) finished second to secure the TPKC title, finishing behind Clinard on the day but ahead of him on the season. Amarillo’s Thane Morgan (Sodikart) finished third to stand alongside Clinard and Stewart on the podium.
And with the final checkered flag at DKC, the 2018 Texas ProKart Challenge season is in the books. It was a solid season for the Superkarts! USA regional series with events at Speedsportz in Houston, NTK in Denton, the Amarillo Kart Circuit in west Texas and the finale at DKC, and attendance was up overall from 2017. On a highly-positive note, only one red flag was thrown during the entire six-round season, and it was a precautionary call due to a flipped Mini Swift kart in an incident in which the driver was unhurt. From this editor’s viewpoint, the Texas PKC track staff led by Mark French did a tremendous job all season. The series’ banquet will put the cap on the season, and is being held at the Circuit of the Americas on October 27, where the champions will be officially crowned.