OnTrack: Comet Eagle – David Cole
EKN staff join historic family-owned karting shop to solid Battle at the Brickyard finishes
EKN Managing Editor David Cole ontrack with the Comet Eagle at the 2019 USAC Karting Battle at the Brickyard (Photo: Stephen Flatt)
In early July, the EKN crew of Rob Howden and David Cole were offered the opportunity to join the Comet Kart Sales team to compete in the USAC Karting Battle at the Brickyard. In this two-part series, Rob and David will detail their experiences with the American-made Comet Eagle chassis at one of the coolest races in US karting. We’ll kick off this OnTrack installment with David Cole’s account of his first time competing at the World’s Greatest Race Course – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
I have been fortunate to be involved in the sport of karting my entire life. Born into a family that began karting in the mid-1970s, I was provided with a direct path to the track. When I was younger, kids typically began racing at the age of eight as there was no such thing as ‘Kid Karts’ back then. The 80s were all about Briggs & Stratton ‘Flathead’ engines with a restrictor plate on the carb. Before I was 10, I began my career behind the wheel in a kart that was older than I was.
After a few years, I stepped away from driving before returning at the age of 15. I took over the reins of the Comet Mach 1 kart that my dad had been racing himself. While I loved my very first kart, it was this Comet Kart Sales chassis that was truly the one that triggered my passion for karting. The chassis was much different from any others, featuring a center brake mount on the rear axle so that it could have dual engine mounts. We could mount an engine on either side, or use the mounts for weight, as I was a bit light at that time. The Comet Mach 1 was the kart that I raced for the first time at the Daytona International Speedway in 1996. I moved on to another chassis in 1997, and the Mach 1 became my brother’s first ride that he used at Daytona, Road America, Mid-Ohio and other facilities during our road racing years. The kart will always have a special place in my memory.
Fast forward 20 years, and I had never driven another Comet Kart Sales chassis until this year. The USAC Karting Battle at the Brickyard was on our radar since the inaugural event in 2017 and driving one of the Comet Kart Sales Eagle chassis has been something we’ve been trying to drive for years. Both targets actually came together before the 2019 season even began. Mark Dismore Jr. of Comet Kart Sales was happy to provide me with the opportunity to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway aboard a Comet Eagle with Comet Racing Engines Briggs & Stratton 206 power. The stars aligned as EKN Publisher Rob Howden was not on assignment with his Road to Indy duties that weekend, which allowed him to join me under the Comet Kart Sales tent as we would both compete in the Briggs 206 Masters class.
For me, it was my second trip to the Battle at the Brickyard, as I attended the 2018 event alongside my father and my son. It was a weekend to remember, and one to forget, as well. Racing inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a dream of my dad’s from a very young age, and as someone who had listened to the Indy 500 on the radio for decades, just being there and competing inside the Brickyard was likely his most treasured bucket list items. The results on-track were not as expected as we had mechanical issues all weekend long, including him missing the ‘Lap’ around the 2.5-mile oval that USAC Karting hosted on the Friday evening. Thankfully, my dad was able to return in 2019 and get that ‘lap’ under his belt. He had the biggest grin ever on his face that night.
I was a bit late on my arrival to Speedway, Indiana for the 2019 edition as the Thursday landed on the Fourth of July. I spent the morning hours with my family and then hit the road for the four-hour drive south. My late arrival meant no time with the team, or to get myself a pit pass to enter the facility. I was in time to join the EKN crew for dinner as we were invited to the Wheeler residence in Speedway. Chris Wheeler of Bell Racing welcomed us for a dinner, along with the Margay Racing squad and other special guests. It was great to enjoy an evening at ‘The Tip’ while his neighbors shot off fireworks. And these fireworks never ended as our AirBnb spot right in Speedway was surrounded by the sounds of booms well past the midnight hour, limiting our sleep prior to our big first day at the Brickyard.
On Friday morning, we were at the track by 7:00 am, and the line to get pit passes, packet pickup and late entry was long. The registration building was inside Turn 2 of the Speedway and after 30 minutes, I was running back down the access road between the Brickyard Crossings course alongside the back straight to get to the Comet Kart Sales compound. From there, I headed immediately to the Driver’s Meeting and, after that, I could finally settle in and get accustomed to my home for the next three days.
Racing with the Comet Kart Sales team includes working with Mark Dismore Jr. and Gary Lawson. Between the two, there are decades of winning and countless championships, and the knowledge is among the best in the business. Dismore is a third generation karter, following in the footsteps of Comet Kart Sales pioneer Emerson Dismore and his son Mark Dismore. ‘Diz’ founded the company in 1959 as a dealer for his ‘Comet’ karts. His son Mark began racing and became one of the most decorated karters in the United States before moving on to cars and IndyCar. Mark Jr. followed in their footsteps and is the key figure for the Comet Kart Sales race team.
At the end of 2015, Comet Kart Sales added Lawson to the family business. Gary is among the country’s top karters in the 2-cycle and 4-cycle categories, and he’s racked up multiple victories and championships. The addition of Lawson allowed the race team to expand, providing another set of eyes in terms of tuning while also adding experienced coaching guidance. Lawson would also serve as a great addition to the Comet Racing Engines staff, which is led by veteran Mark Harrison.
What made running with Comet at the USAC Karting Battle at the Brickyard so attractive was that Lawson was also racing on the weekend. Gary made his return to the driver’s seat in 2018 at Indy, winning both the Briggs 206 Medium and Heavy main events to score his first two Brick trophies. Racing aboard the same chassis and powerplant with one of the best in the business was a true honor.
The opening day on track was filled with three rounds of practice and qualifying. The first session was simple; learn the track and get a feel for the kart. We started the session at the back of the grid with Rob following me out, even though he already had a session in his other kart for the weekend. I knifed through a few drivers over the three laps but mainly focused on the primary corners.
Turn 1 was directly in front of the grid, a right-hander that took us onto the old Formula One section of the Grand Prix course. You entered the corner riding on the curbs to the left of the track, which are used for the Esses section of the Indy GP track, with barriers marking the inside line and the apex. Thankfully, it was all grass on the exit, which in some cases was the faster line. As the weekend went on, going all four wheels in the grass was actually the quicker exit line out of Turn 1. You needed to get out of the corner well to set up for the long run around the flat out, left-hand Turn 2.
The wide course allowed for a prime passing opportunity into Turn 3. It was a bumpy right hander that was a bit more than a 90-degree corner. The exit came quickly and turning in early would mean contact with the barriers that laid out the corner. Watching last year, I saw a number of drivers going off on the exit, and that would always be the main focus throughout the weekend. That led into the tight turn four hairpin, a 180-degree corner that led into the quick left hand turn five. That combination was the slowest part of the lap, and one that you hope to just get out of without any lost time. If you did, there was the high likelihood that you would be drafted past by a number of karts going into the fast right-hand turn six.
The most challenging turn in my opinion was turn seven. It was just over what I called the ‘tunnel turn’. There was an elevation change going from the infield of IMS and onto the section of the road coarse that meets the oval – turn one for the Indy GP course. The section was outlined by plastic barriers and thus had that street race feel. Turn seven was a fast left-hand turn that when done correctly was flat out. That led into a right hand turn eight that you had to carry the speed through in order to get a run to the start/finish line.
We didn’t give it 100% on the opening session, so we were over two seconds off the quickest driver, who had previous experience on the track. This changed in the second session as we dropped the hammer. Once again, we started at the back of the grid to provide ourselves with a fairly clear race track. With no issues, I was P8 on the time sheets for those with transponders on and Rob was P9, now only one second off the quickest lap. The session was done and with no one to draft in front of me, we found out how very crucial that would be in the coming sessions.
One thing that was clear after the initial sessions was how comfortable I felt in the kart. As six-foot tall karter, it sometimes becomes a challenge to feel like one with the seat and chassis. The Beasley Low VCG installed into the Comet Eagle chassis has quickly become my favorite seat. Coming from the road racing side of the sport, I was always accustom to a laydown seat. It was part of sprint racing, especially in Briggs divisions for years. Now with the spec bodywork and sit-up style seats becoming mandatory, those traditional laydown seats are no longer used. The Beasley seat is very similar to the standard seats that come with karts, yet designed to make it feel like a laydown seat. Putting me in the seat and the Eurostar Dynamica Driver Panel, it was like there was no wind hitting my upper body or Bell helmet. I would recommend any road racer to purchase both, NOW!
In the third and final practice session, I ended up 18th on the results sheets, with my lap time nearly one-second slower. We changed from a 69 to 68 on the rear sprocket to help with the overall speed. I was not able to get a drafting partner once again, and a few yellow flags slowed my pace early. Everything felt fine, but we just weren’t able to record a quick lap in the three timed sessions. Not to mention, I ran off track at Turn 3 on the final circuit. The weather was continuing to challenge everyone, as the temperatures and humidity increased by the minute it seemed. Thankfully, I was only doing the one class, while Rob was busy doing three in total. It was about staying out of the sun and staying hydrated before we took the track for Qualifying.
The game plan in qualifying was to hold back and leave the grid late to have a clear track. Typically, this is what we see as the best opportunity when watching the hundreds of qualifying sessions over the years. The Battle at the Brickyard circuit however is not your typical karting layout. The fear was getting ‘caught’ with bump drafting, which we saw in sessions before us, getting drivers disqualified from the session. However, the draft was everything in qualifying. While we thought leaving the grid was timed out well, I left with Howden behind me. I was going to lead the first two laps, and then switch with him as the lead dog. As we negotiated the opening few circuits, he was held up when we passed a slower kart that left just ahead of us. This caused him to fall back and just out of his reach of me. I decided to hammer down and at least get a couple laps at speed before I began drifting back to him. The gap was enough for him to get a draft on me and when he finally got up and past me, it was too late. The checkered flag came out. Rob ended up 8th while I was 19th. The gap between us was half a second, with him still 1.2 seconds out of the pole position. You can believe next year, I’ll be in a pack to get full drafting abilities.
In a field of 55 drivers, starting in the front 1/3 was not bad, and was all in the Comet Eagle we had. The thing drove smooth and went exactly where we wanted it. Thus, we went with no changes heading into the Heat race. I started on the inside lane, and wanted to make sure I did not push wide into the grass on the exit of the opening corner. I should have just pinned it and went for it. It was, however, my first ‘racing’ laps since September of 2018. I was slow on the gas when the green came out, allowing too much of a gap to the driver in front of me. Then was too timid in the first turn, allowing too much room on the outside. This allowed a number of drivers to pass me, even through the grass. As we would learn in the race, going two or even four wheels in the grass was still fast. My hesitant nature cost me a spot in the top-20. The positive was that the kart was fast and had top-10 pace. The negative? I couldn’t put in a perfect lap. Each circuit I made a mistake that either cost me a position or real estate. Still, I fought up to 18th, and had at least 10 karts just ahead of me at the checkered flag, which meant I had room to move up in the Prefinal.
After the session, we decided to make some changes based on race pace. We moved the camber to four negative and moved out the left rear a 1/4” to help take grip out of the kart. Unfortunately, the day ended early with a massive rain storm rolling in and flooding the track in certain spots to delay action to Sunday morning.
Officials were able to revamp the schedule to add a shortened Prefinal for those they were unable to run, getting them in before the main events were held. This time, I started on the outside lane with Howden just ahead of me. I was much more aggressive on the start, gaining spots through the opening corner but lost a few in the scramble that was the hairpin on the first circuit. I was 14th after two of the five laps were completed and had a large group ahead of me, with Howden behind me for the first time since practice. And then I made the mistake of driving off in turn three right-hander. That allowed a few to get around me. I settled back in and Howden was right there, pushing me away from those behind us. He passed me coming to the white flag and I never left my wingman. We crossed the line in 14th and 15th. That last lap was our fastest, but it wasn’t our best. He made a few mistakes as well, and I just stayed locked on him bumper to help push him out of the corners. We were about a half-second pace-wise off the leaders, but one tenth of a second moved us near the fast-five.
No changes were made prior to the main event, as we judged the tire pressure based on the weather at the time. We lowered the pressure nearly every session, starting out near 14 and dropping down to 12 by the time we went out for the main event.
Starting 15th, I was on the inside lane and while I tried to keep on the bumper of the driver in front of me, I failed. It seemed like the entire field went around me as we entering the opening corner, but it was more like five drivers. The Eagle was great in the hairpin, as I yanked the kart to the inside and passed a number of drivers drifting wide on the exit. I came across the start/finish line in 15th.
My second lap was terrible. I came out of turn one with zero momentum and three drivers drafted past me by the time we reached turn three. We came out of the hairpin with Jeff Hill just ahead of me. Jeff then raised his hand and put it back down heading toward the flat-out turn six right-hander, but maintained speed. I thought I would set him up on the exit and hope to clear him going into turn seven. But once we got to the apex in turn six, his kart nearly came to a complete stop. Meanwhile, there is a pack of 10 drivers on my bumper pushing me through the corner. I went left after getting hit from behind and stayed there with Jeff still in front of me. I try to drift right but the pack was scrambling behind me and I had no where to go. I was hit again from behind and slammed into the back of Hill once again, as now he was off the pace and slowing. I nearly got pushed off into the grass while I was slamming on the brakes trying to keep it straight. I finally got clear but by that time, the adrenaline was pumping like crazy, I’m pissed off, and watched about 10 karts get pass me. Not to mention that Howden was pretty much gone from the start.
I began trying to regain positions but on lap six, the engine lost a number of RPMs and I was passed by two drivers. I had just dropped a wheel the previous lap when another driver swerved at me going into the hairpin. Unsure as to the issue or how to resolve it, I kept going even though my speed out of the hairpin each lap was not there. The issue seemed to go away as I began racing, with drivers falling back to me and others coming up from the tail of the grid.
I spent nearly the entire race either pushing or getting pushed by Chuck Maitlen. Ironically, he grabbed my #4 before I did, but I got revenge at the Cup Karts North America Grand Nationals 3! I was 13th and leading the group around me as we took the white flag. A lapped kart was slow as we entered turn three, and I turned in early and dropped a wheel on the exit. That sent the group jostling around me, about five karts, as we reached the hairpin. From there, it was setting up for the final corners. We came up on another lapped kart just as we reached the turn seven. That bunched up the top two on the exit and I dove to the inside at turn eight to steal two spots. From there, it was a drag race to the checkered flag as I came up short at the line for the other two karts. Our group of seven karts finished within a half second at the checkered flag. Those two karts ahead of me were the only spots between me and Howden, who was running eighth but slipped to 13th in the late going when pack of four karts steamrolled by he and his draft partner. I had made my way back up to 15th after the wild second lap. The main point I took away was I had the quicker lap in the race. While I was racing for position nearly every lap, he was cruising, and yet my lap time was three tenths quicker!
Overall, I left unsatisfied. Not with the Comet Eagle or the work done by Comet Kart Sales crew, including Colten Smith. He had the distinct ‘pleasure’ of wrenching for me and Howden on the weekend, along with assistance from Garrett and Logan Adams. On a typical race weekend, Colten is there to get the part you need while jumping around the tent to help where needed. He’s the backbone of the Comet trackside service and with the low maintenance that we are as drivers, he got to sit back and enjoy a race weekend without running around 24/7. It was a pleasure to be back aboard what really started out this path I’m on in life. The Comet chassis is what brought me back into the driver’s seat at 15, and became my passion for life. As I stated, I was unsatisfied with my performance. The kart was for sure a top-10, and probably had the speed to win as we saw with Gary Lawson victorious in both Medium and Heavy. My lack of race craft and experience over the last five years is what cost us a chance to leave fulfilled. This means I have some unfinished business heading into the 4th annual USAC Karting Battle at the Brickyard.
Comet Eagle – Chassis Set-up Notes
Front width: 43”
Rear width: 50”
Caster: 12 degrees
Camber: -4mm each side
Toe: 2mm toe out
Ride Height: Middle Front/Rear
Axle: PKT 2.0 40mm
Hubs: CKS Extra Short
Tires: Bridgestone YLC – 4.0/7.1
Wheels: Douglas Wheel Spun Aluminum
Seat: Beasley Low VCG
Engine: Briggs & Stratton 206
Clutch: Premier Stinger
Chain: DID HTM 219#