EKN Trackside: Cup Karts North America Grand Nationals 4 – Race Report
The six different winners from the Sunday main events at the Cup Karts North America Grand Nationals 4 (Photo: EKN)
The Cup Karts North America hosted the fourth edition of their Grand Nationals on October 2-4 at the New Castle Motorsports Park. It was a gathering of Briggs & Stratton 206 racers from around the United States, the largest in the country and around the world with 319 entries in seven categories. Weather was near perfect the opening two days with a slight breeze to keep the temperatures a bit cooler as the month of October began in central Indiana. The final day saw 100% chance of rain for the main event starting time, and while it was a few minutes off, the rain did come. It fell for roughly 30 minutes to disrupt the start of the Finals, with four of the six contested on wet Vega tires. The final two were then contested on dry Vega tires, completing the Grand Nationals.
Numbers grew by nearly 15% percent, despite the Canadian border still closed and a large percentage of last year’s racers from north of the border. CIK Medium was the lone class last year broken up into flight heats (A, B, C and D) along with an LCQ to limit the amount of karts on the track for the main events. CIK Medium, Junior and Sportsman were thus broken up following qualifying, providing some extra excitement for those divisions. When the checkered flag waved, three different chassis brands came away with two wins each, with five of the seven winners claiming their first Grand Nationals victory.
A total of 78 drivers attempted to be the champion in the CIK Medium category, the largest of the event. Qualifying set the stage with the top-seven within a tenth of a second Friday afternoon with 15-year-old Hayden Jones putting the Nitro Kart ‘Lefty’ chassis at the top of the session with a 1:13.635. Jones went on to win the opening heat race but was penalized to the end of the results for a questionable call on the start that involved outside polesitter Mick Gabriel in the AvsB moto. That gave KartSport North America owner Eric Jones the win aboard the new Kart Republic 4-cycle chassis prototype. The veteran karter won the BvsD heat race but was wrecked in the BvsC run on the opening circuit at the end of Saturday’s action. David Kalb Jr. (CompKart) went on to win that final heat. The Comet Kart Sales Eagle kart won three of the six heat races with Gary Lawson earning the checkered flag in CvsD while KSNA driver Jacob Donald won twice (AvsC, AvsD). Donald’s results gave him the pole position for the main event with Lawson on the outside of the front row.
Donald led the field to the green flag for the first time. The field had two wrecks, in turn three and on the exit of turn four. One driver on the sidelines ‘asking’ for a red flag brought out a stoppage to the race. The field was lined back up for another attempt, this time getting through the opening corners with no issues. Donald held the point with the spot directly behind him the hot seat. Eric Jones had put himself into the position on lap five, but the KSNA duo was broken up quickly. Jones was shuffled back and eventually a gaggle of karts came together coming onto the I-70 straight. That took Jones out of the running and shuffled up the lead group.
Lawson assumed the second spot and sat on Donald’s bumper. Garrett Adams (Comet / Eagle), who started ninth, lead another group of drivers up to the top two. Once there, Adams went to the front working past mentor Lawson and then Donald in consecutive laps. Adams led at the white flag and Donald waited to make his move at the ‘cell tower’ hairpin. Adams tried for a drag race at the line but came up short with Donald claiming the victory. Ashley Rogero (Nitro Kart) won the battle for third ahead of Ian Quinn (Charles Leclerc) and Kalb. Lawson fell to sixth on the final circuit with Gabriel coming from 28th to seventh in the 14 laps, posting the fast lap of the race. Colin Warren (VLR) followed him through, coming from 23rd to eighth with Clay Settles (Eagle) in ninth and Dylan Amundsen (MGM) to 10th from 32nd.
The second victory for Eagle kart was in CIK Heavy with Gary Lawson earning his second event victory, first in the class. It was a two-driver fight all weekend in the class with Lawson joined by Eric Fagan (MGM). Lawson cleared the field by three tenths of a second in qualifying and edged out Fagan in the opening two heat races. Fagan was able to edge out Lawson for the win in Heat #3, and the two filled out the front row for the main event. The Heavy race was the final main event in wet conditions with a drying track, similar to last year’s Senior Open Heavy race. Lawson was magical on rain Vega tires on a drying track, over one-second quicker than Fagan every lap, pulling away to a near 16-second advantage in the 14-lap main event. Fagan ran uncontested in second with Drake Ostrom (Eagle) placing third. Elmer Edmonson (MGM) fell to fourth, holding off Eli Fox (MGM) and Adam Maxwell (Intrepid) for fourth.
The CIK Light class is new for 2020, welcoming 50 drivers in the field for the new category. Through qualifying and the three heat races, it was two drivers that stood out. Mick Gabriel (Tony Kart) set fast time in qualifying and won the opening heat before Eric Jones (KSNA / Kart Republic) won the final two heats. Jones and Gabriel led the field to the green flag on a wet track as the third feature of the day. Jones fell back from the pole position and spun in the double right hander, putting him to the tail of the field. Gabriel jumped out to the lead early but was run down by lap three. Four drivers established themselves as the lead group, led by Colin Warren (VLR) with Bryce Mersberger (Merlin), Race Liberante (Race Factory), and eventually Ian Quinn (Tony Kart). Quinn started in 23rd and was up to sixth by the end of lap two. Quinn continued charging forward, taking over the lead on lap eight. From there, Quinn led the remainder of the 14-lap race to reach the checkered flag first. Officials however penalized Quinn for a questionable call of avoidable contact on lap four with Gabriel and Emily DeMaster (MGM). The penalty promoted Warren to the victory, his fourth at the CKNA Grand Nationals after going winless in 2019. Liberante ended up second with Mersberger in third. Eric Jones and Jacob Donald (Eagle), each had opening lap issues and eventually found each other on the track. They were 30th and 33rd on lap one, and ended up fourth and fifth with quick laps of the race.
Masters was the opening class in the rotation throughout the weekend and welcomed the fourth different winner at the event. Brandon Adkins (VLR), making his first 4-cycle start in roughly 20 years, set the pace in qualifying. He held off the pressure of four drivers in the opening heat race for the win. Two-time class winner Michael Welsh (MGM) edged out Adkins for Heat #2 while Grant Zimmermann (VLR) took the win in Heat #3. Adkins and Zimmermann earned the front row for the main event, scheduled at 11:40 Sunday morning. As the field left the grid, the skies opened up and rain began to fall. After two pace laps, officials threw the red flag and brought the field to a stop. From there, they were given 20 minutes to change over to a rain setup. Adkins kept the lead through the opening laps, challenged first by Jamie Bradford (MGM) and then Jason Rowe (FA Kart). Florida driver James Perkins (Margay) knifed his way to second and put the pressure on Adkins. That was the furthest Perkins went, as Adkins led all 14 laps to secure the victory. Joe DeBoever (CRG) came from 26th on the grid to a stellar result of third in the rain, edging out Rowe and Zimmermann at the line.
The Junior category welcomed 51 drivers this year, with the category broken up into the flight heat format for the first time. Top qualifier Violet Townsend (Eagle) made for a dramatic weekend as she was absent from Saturday’s heat racing to be a special guest at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the IndyCar event. Townsend attempted to race her way into the main event, set at 40 drivers, through the LCQ but came just short, one position away after eight laps. Also in the LCQ was Carter Pryor who won the opening heat race. Pryor was removed from the results after a provisional win in the final heat race of Saturday. Pryor won the LCQ to start the main event from 36th. Leading the field to the green flag in wet conditions was defending champion Logan Adams (Eagle), who won all three of his heat races, alongside heat race winner Brent Crews (Nitro Kart) to fill the front row. Crews jumped out to the lead with Adams in second and Camden Gruber (MGM) joining them up front after starting eighth. The trio all took a turn at the lead on lap seven and eight before Crews secured the spot with Gruber on his bumper. The duo worked through lap traffic on the final circuits with Crews able to reach the checkered flag first to add to his international list of victories. Gruber was a solid second with Adams coming up short in third, vying for a third-straight win at the event. Danny Dyszelski (Nitro Kart) maintained his fourth starting position with James Overbeck (Nitro Kart) falling to fifth. A gret drive from Boden Barnwell (Birel ART), earning the final transfer spot in the LCQ. Starting 40th, Barnwell drove up to the eighth position.
The Sportsman division welcomed an increase in drivers for 2020 and implemented the flight heat format for the weekend. Ben Maier (Nitro Kart) set the fast time in qualifying but it was Parker DeLong (Nitro Kart) leading the way in the heat races. The Arizona driver won all three of heat races, while Maier only won two. Two-time Grand Nationals winner Ayrton Grim gave Nitro Kart a sweep in the heat races, earning one win and gained enough points to join DeLong on the front row with Maier slotted in third. The trio jumped out in front at the start of the 14-lap main event until they shuffled up the order on lap three. Maier went from third to first, with Grim moving to second one circuit later. They ran nose-to-tail until DeLong lost the draft, allowing the top two to duel for the victory. Maier was able to run a defensive line on the final circuit, with Grim pulling out for a run to the checkered flag. He came up just short, 34 thousandths at the line, as Maier secured the victory. DeLong was challenged late for third, holding on at the line but was removed in tech for improper tires. That promoted Spencer Conrad to third with Christopher McKeithan and Cade Jaeger completing the top-five, giving Nitro Kart a sweep of the podium.
The Kid Kart division wrapped up their event Saturday evening with rain in the forecast for Sunday. CKNA Champions Cup title winner Summit Rossiter was able to secure the Grand Nationals victory, holding off a charging Slaton Baldock at the line. Arizona driver Kevin Ruth recorded fast lap of the race, earning the third spot ahead of Jaxson Stone with Riley Jacks completing the podium.
Over $30,000 in raffle gifts and prizes for the top-five on the podium to close out the Cup Karts North America Grand Nationals 4. Short and long-term goals have been set moving forward, as the world and the sport attempt to return close to normal. Overall, the event went smooth minus the few red flags that occurred with no major injuries. The competition level increased as did the overall numbers, with more anticipated in the future. The growth since the inaugural event in 2017 continues, and now a new bar is set for Grand Nationals 5 in 2021.