Behind The Laptop: Travelin’ Man

Eastern half of United States flooded with traveling series in 2019

A lot has changed in the sport over the last decade. Previously, the racing calendar was filled through the summer months and there were limited racing opportunities during the fall and winter seasons. Regional programs typically fed the national series with not only racers, but they also provided the opportunity for competitors to get in a ‘warm-up’ weekend for the upcoming national event with time to spare for a return home to freshen engines and do the necessary maintenance on your kart. Today, as we all know, there is a race somewhere 52 weekends out of the year. The winter programs are keeping teams and racers busy from January to March before regional programs really kick up the schedule and then once again the summer season is loaded with races across the board. Racers are going from track-to-track, trying to keep up with the schedule, as are industry members trying to provide trackside support.

The recent announcement of the SKUSA Great Lakes ProKart Challenge has sparked some conversation on social media about how the addition of yet another series adds to an already-loaded schedule in the eastern half of the United States. To illustrate, here is a look at the calendar for 2019 for major two-cycle events on this side of the Mississippi River – not including 4-Cycle Sprint or Road Racing events:

January 4-6
January 11-13 SKUSA Winter Series
January 18-20 Florida Winter Tour
January 25-27
February 1-3
February 8-10 SKUSA Winter Series
February 15-17 Florida Winter Tour
February 22-24
March 1-3
March 8-10
March 15-17 Sunshine State Karting Championship
March 22-24 Florida Winter Tour
March 29-31 WKA Man. Cup Series
April 5-7 USPKS
April 12-14 SKUSA Great Lakes
April 19-21
April 26-28 Route 66 / Buckeye / F-Series
May 3-5
May 10-12
May 17-19 WKA Man. Cup Series / Sunshine State
May 24-26 F-Series Gearup
May 31-June 2 SKUSA Great Lakes / Rok Cup Festival / Route 66
June 7-9 Quincy
June 14-16 USPKS
June 21-23 WKA Man. Cup Series
June 28-30 Sunshine State / SKUSA Great Lakes / Buckeye
July 5-7 Battle at the Brickyard
July 12-14 Route 66 Sprint Series
July 19-21 F-Series Gearup
July 26-28 USPKS
August 2-4 SKUSA Great Lakes
August 9-11 SKUSA Pro Tour / Elkhart
August 16-18 Rok Cup Festival / Route 66 / Buckeye / F-Series
August 23-25 WKA Man. Cup Series
August 30-Sept. 1 RIGP / Sunshine State
September 6-8 Buckeye Karting Challenge
September 13-15
September 20-22 Route 66 / F-Series
September 27-29
October 4-6
October 11-13 WKA Man. Cup Series
October 18-20
October 25-27
November 1-3
November 8-10
November 15-17
November 22-24
November 29-Dec. 1
December 6-8
December 13-15
December 20-22
December 27-29 WKA Man. Cup Series

To recap, there is an East Coast event on 58% of the weekends in 2019. From March 1 to November 1, you have 35 weekends total with only eight empty (five of which are in September/October, with other three landing in April and May). Of those 27 weekends during Spring / Summer / Fall, there are eight weekends featuring multiple events. These numbers are crazy, and compare very similarly to what is going on in California with the NorCal and SoCal schedules, along with Texas and the Northwest.

When you look at this schedule, some may be on the positive side, believing this displays the great opportunity to go racing. That may be, however, what it does do is dilute the programs competing for your entry at their events and it makes racers / industry members pick and choose where they haul their trailers. I can say for a fact that no one will be able to compete or travel to all 27 of those events from March 1 to November 1. The already thin percentage of racers who are able to travel more than 5-10 times a season will have to make hard decisions on what series to follow, or what tracks they want to compete at.

My feeling when I look at this schedule is ego. None of the promoters seem to want to work together anymore, and yet, they continue to make decisions that hurt themselves at the same time.

The WKA Manufacturers Cup Series expanded to six races in 2018 and despite a lower entry count, they remained at six races. While the return of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway is a great perk, they travel to Wisconsin twice (Road America and Badger Kart Club), and keep Daytona, GoPro and New Castle on their schedule. With six races on their schedule, the WKA may be the one hurting the most with other major programs set at four or less races in the eastern half of the country.

One program that seems to understand what racers want is the United States Pro Kart Series. They matched their total number of entries from 2017 in 2018 even though they ran one less race, successfully proving in the mantra of ‘less is more’. Moving to all IAME platform and adding the Masters class helped spark big fields in 2018 and it’s expected to be even better in 2019 with zero changes to the program, traveling to three distinct regions of the East (South, East Coast, Midwest). USPKS promoter Mark Coats even looked at his Route 66 Sprint Series and reduced it to five events for 2019 knowing that the calendar was already full in 2018.

When I heard of the re-establishment of the Great Lakes ProKart Challenge, I thought – ‘why not just add a shifter race group to the USPKS?’. The program used to run eight classes a day when it was at its peak in year three. Why couldn’t SKUSA and USPKS work together to form an alliance? Only they know the answer. Maybe I should have voiced my opinion earlier in hopes of someone hearing me before we had another racing series land on our laps here in the Midwest.

Moving forward, I understand SKUSA’s need to make it their program, to be unified with that of the California ProKart Challenge and the Texas ProKart Challenge. Shifterkart racing is all but extinct here in the region with no traveling series to act as the cornerstone. However, in reality, this will be the lone difference that the Great Lakes ProKart Challenge will offer. The rest will match those categories already offered up in USPKS, WKA, and Route 66 competition.

The creation of the SKUSA Great Lakes PKC program may not only hurt or affect other programs here in the region and up and down the east coast, but could also sway potential SKUSA Pro Tour competitors from participating in the full season. 2019 marks the first time since the WinterNationals were established that both the WinterNationals and SpringNationals are on the other side of the Mississippi River (Yes, NOLA is on the western side, but it’s basically a ‘East’ event’). The 2019 schedule makes for three ‘long hauls’ out west when you count in the SuperNationals in Las Vegas. Midwest racers, and even those along the east coast, may skip out on the those two Pro Tour events and stay home at either the Great Lakes program or another series closer to home.

Programs like the Route 66, Buckeye Challenge, F-Series and Sunshine State Karting Championship serve a purpose. They, for the most part, are the place for club drivers to move up and travel without feeling the pressure of competing against the top-tier drivers that you find at the SKUSA Pro Tour or at the USPKS events. And it also allows for those top-level competitors the chance to tune-up or get ready for an upcoming event.

With more and more traveling series being created, this also takes away from the club side of the sport. This is where the focus should be for a majority of our industry members, including teams, kart shops and engine service providers. The club level is where the education and the loyal customer base begins. Talking with one engine service company, they have 44 events on the calendar for 2019. That doesn’t include the hours spent Monday through Wednesday at the shop, working on the engines from the last race to get ready for the next one, along with all the regular customer service needed for the local and regional stuff they may not be in attendance for.

Maybe I’m not thinking ‘new school’, and maybe as I near the 40-year-old mark the old man is coming out of me – thinking how good it ‘used to be’. In a perfect world, we’d have one traveling series per region, which works with tracks in the region to not schedule on top of each other. And if you have more than one – great! But work together to not schedule on top of each other, go to different tracks while providing something unique and different. Then again, as I always say, less is more. Regardless of my thoughts, the war now begins to see which programs succeed and which fail in 2019.

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