OnTrack: TB Kart S55
Seventh straight Rock Island Grand Prix behind the wheel, joining TB Kart Indy for Labor Day weekend
EKN's David Cole OnTrack with TB Kart Indy at the 2018 Rock Island Grand Prix (Photo: Christian Marsh)
There is no other event like it in North America, or around the world. It’s the Rock Island Grand Prix. The Labor Day weekend street race brings karters to the Quad Cities area and Rock Island, which is located on the banks of the Mississippi River, to compete for two days around the city’s Arts and Entertainment District. This year was the 24th edition of the event, and the organizers welcomed nearly 300 entries in the 16 categories on the line-up.
For myself, this year represented my 15th straight trip to RIGP to cover the event for eKartingNews.com. With the uniqueness of the race, with its multiple class structure and the ability to jump in and go, I was able to compete myself for a ninth time. 2018 marked the seventh straight year that I raced with Briggs & Stratton power, featuring the same 206 model that made its debut in 2012. My first three years were with the same engine, that we pulled straight out of the box, before selling that package at the end of 2014. Over the next three years, I was fortunate to be part of the new Margay Ignite category at the RIGP, and being among those in contention each year.
For 2018, we elected that I should try my hand at the Briggs 206 Masters division for the first time. We already had the engine, the one used by EKN Publisher Rob Howden in his run to a fourth-place finish in the Briggs Masters class in the 2014 edition. I have only raced the engine a few times at my local track, so the powerplant is still very close to brand new. The question was what kart would we run.
One manufacturer that has been focused on the Briggs 206 growth recently is TB Kart. The TB Kart USA operation, based in southern Florida, has worked diligently to grow club racing based on the Briggs 206 engine platform with the South Florida Karting Club. The brand is expanding around the country, thanks in part to the success of the shifter and TaG models at the SKUSA Pro Tour, United States Pro Kart Series and WKA Manufacturer Cup Series. We wanted to take a chance at sampling the TB Kart, and Rock Island was a great option.
For a number of years, one team that has supported the RIGP event and street racing throughout the Midwest is TB Kart Indy. Based in southern Indiana, the Harden family is trackside nearly every weekend in the summer months, supporting the SIRA program in their home state, along with the USAC Triple Crown that featured the Quincy Grand Prix and Elkhart Grand Prix. A quick call over to Doug and Darren, and they were onboard with me joining their team at the RIGP.
Friday began with the six-hour trip from Grand Rapids to the Quad Cities. Thankfully, the traffic around Chicago did not slow our pace, and we arrived in Rock Island around 3:00 pm. This gave us time to get checked in, relax, and prepare for the move-in to the make-shift paddock. TB Kart Indy settled in and once the trailer was parked, it was ‘unload’ time. After throwing up about eight EZ-ups along their black trailer, we began to settle in and get our TB Kart S55 ready for the weekend. The chassis was sent in directly from TB Kart in Florida, and was in need a seat and, of course, the Briggs & Stratton 206 powerplant. At around roughly 9:00 pm, we had the kart ready to go with just a few minor items to wrap-up in the morning.
The team then made the short walk over to the Holiday Inn and the Bennigan’s restaurant. Those who have been to the RIGP know that it’s not the best destination for food, however, due to the late time it was the only place within walking distance that was open. Typically, I hit up the local pizza place Huckleberry’s, but they were closing by the time we were leaving the paddock. It was great to sit down and get to know everyone who I’d be working with under the TB Kart Indy tent.
On Saturday morning, we all woke up to loud thunder and lighting as a solid storm system was rolling through the Quad Cities. Due to the weather, things were delayed in the morning and practice was shuffled around to four combined groups hitting the track. After the driver’s meeting, I was about two minutes short of making the first session for Briggs karts on the track. I hit the track for the second session, hoping just to get a feel for the track surface and kart itself. Two laps in, I was setting up to start a full pace lap. Unfortunately, my one mistake as my own mechanic for the weekend was leaving the rear sprocket loose, spitting the chain.
The positive side of it all was watching a full round of practice in turn two. The corner is positioned as the furthest away from the paddock and start/finish line. I have not sat in that turn for a number of years, back before we started broadcasting the event online, which takes constant management. Watching the entry into the corner, even in the wet conditions, you can see who was fast and who was not. I especially like to just watch the entry, and then listen to the exit to see if they have to get off the gas or not for a poor exit of the corner.
Making sure everything was tight, I got back out for what was the third session for all of the Briggs karts, and it was really my first full run. It took some time to get adjusted to the layout, which while remaining the same basic layout, is different every year with the changing of the surface and how the walls and corner barriers are placed. Lap time was not my concern, as with rain racing, the track conditions change minute to minute. My concern was how the chassis felt. There seemed to be a lack of front grip in the wet conditions, as I needed to feed in a lot of steering input. To help with this, we elected to leave the front-end geometry alone and move as much weight forward as possible off the seat.
By the time my session finished, the track had continued drying and with the lunch break, the asphalt was dry for the opening heat races. This would mean my heat race, eighth in the order for the day, would be the first time I’d take to the track in dry conditions. This was definitely not optimal, so we fueled up, lubed the chain and approached the heat race as another practice session. I pulled the seventh starting position for the heat race out of 17 drivers. I got off the line solidly, losing a few spots heading into turn one in a cautious first corner. I checked up a couple times on the opening lap to avoid contact, and lost a few more spots to cross the line in 13th. It was a difficult second lap as I was not comfortable with the amount of grip the front of the kart had compared to where it was in the rain. Working the final corner, a kart dove under me on entry and at the apex, another kart followed. I held the outside line until he slid out on me, putting me into the wall. While it was not my first time into the wall at RIGP, it was probably the easiest hit I had. The RIGP crew did their job, pulling the kart up and over the wall in time for the lead group to come around the next lap. My Bell Racing USA RS7 did its job keeping my head in place after bouncing it off the barriers during the hit. Getting the kart back to the tent, there was minimal damage to the kart. Once repaired, the TB Kart Indy crew measured everything up to make sure the front was ready for Sunday warm-up.
That evening, I got another chance to sit down with the TB Kart Indy family, and really get to know everyone. After all, that’s what karting is really all about – enjoying the track during the day, and expanding the people you know at night.
The Sunday warm-up was not my best performance, but the kart felt much better with the adjustment of weight back to the seat and tire pressure adjustment. I knew I had to perform better in order to move up in the main event. I got off the line well, grabbing a few spots before entering turn one, and grabbed a few more through the opening laps. By lap six, I was into the ninth spot and then I cruised to the checkered flag with no one in front and no one behind me. Pace wise, it was not the best. When I got clean laps, I struggled with too much grip. For the past three years, I drove on the hard YDS tires with the Ignite program. With the Briggs categories utilizing the Hoosier R60A, it was my first time with this amount of grip in four years. When I race at Rock Island, I learned from my crash in 2015 not to go 100% until you need to. For much of the race, I was running about 90% and focused on primarily keeping the kart off the wall.
Overall, the kart fit me great. The longer porch of the chassis helped to lower my legs without needing to extend the pedals or push back the seat. I’m sure if I had a day with the kart, I could find the extra speed needed to contend at the Rock Island Grand Prix. A special thank you to Adam Batton at Hoosier Tires for providing a great tire to compete with. I look forward to utilizing this brand in future events.
For the event, it was a great weekend for TB Kart Indy. Devon Smith-Harden added a Rock trophy to his mantle for the first time. The Quincy Grand Prix 80cc Shifter victor and Battle at the Brickyard 125cc Shifter winner grabbed a third trophy on the season, winning the 80cc Shifter victory with Kyle Kennedy making it a TB Kart Indy 1-2. Harden was the top finisher for the team in the King of the Streets category and Open Shifter, placing sixth and fifth, while Jason Ewers was P2 in Masters Shifter.
While the chassis was the focal point of the weekend, what I really took away was the atmosphere under the TB Kart Indy tent. While Friday was a bit chaotic with setting up the tent and getting the karts out before the sun set, Saturday and Sunday were nothing but fun. The Hardens, and all the drivers and wrenches under the tent, see the big picture. Yes, we are there to win but, in the end, we are here to have fun. No matter the chassis or the class, the crew is willing to help out those who need it. That’s how former Stars of Karting champion Zach Schiff became part of the family. He was racing at SIRA and wrecked his kart to the point that it was unable to race. TB Kart Indy loaned him a chassis, and from there, he became part of the family.
It’s teams and shops like these that make the sport what it is today. Karting is a passion, and you can tell that from the desire and joy that TB Kart Indy shows as they attack the weekend for their drivers. Making you feel at home is exactly what they do, and they make sure you have the tools to be ready once you hit the grid. I’m thrilled to be a new member of the TB Kart Indy family and look forward to the next adventure with the crew.
Chassis Set-up: TB Kart S55
Front width: 15mm spacers per side
Rear width: 54.75”
Toe: 1.5mm per side
Ride Height: Front – 1 spacer high from middle / Rear – Middle
Tires: Hoosier R60A – 4.5/7.1
Wheels: KK – 130mm/210mm
Seat: Greyhound Standard – Size 33
Engine: Briggs & Stratton 206