50 Kart Challenge a Success at WKA Daytona KartWeek
62 karts lined up for the '50 Kart Challenge' at Daytona International Speedway in the Yamaha Senior laydown division (Photo: Jennifer Henry – ftbphoto.com)
A gathering of old, new and former karters began in the spring of 2020 when a challenged was laid out by karter John Brown. In April, through social media, Brown was able to gather momentum to begin the ‘50 Kart Challenge’. The goal – to fill a field of 50 drivers in the Yamaha Senior category at the World Karting Association Daytona KartWeek. He and a large majority of the road racing karting community responded with that and more come the December 28-30 event inside the Daytona International Speedway.
As the event approached, the momentum continued with drivers sharing their rides on social media and WKA reporting a strong pre-entry total heading into the annual event. Brown helped build support with a prize package for the event, set for December 29 with the Day 1 Final. A number of those in the industry and in the community put in awards and other items to fill up the prize package, that included something for the top-10, and random awards and gifts for the close to the entire field. The top prize was $500 cash to the winner. By the end of October, 65 drivers were registered. When the karts hit the Daytona pit lane for the start, 62 entries was the final total.
Tuesday, December 29 was the day of the 45-minute event around the Daytona International Speedway road course. The same course as the 24 Hour of Daytona, minus the bus stop on the back stretch, the laydown machines hit over 110mph through NASCAR 3-4 and the tri-oval before diving into the infield. Drivers were able to get in practice all day on Monday, December 30 and Tuesday morning before they formed on the grid for Race Group 4. Drivers are positioned based on when they entered, the earlier you enter, the closer to the front you start.
The field of drivers was a great mixture of legends, veteran karters, and even young talent vying to be the champion of the 50 Kart Challenge. When you talk legend and Daytona, you speak of Randy Fulks. The driver from Springfield, Illinois began karting in the late 1960s and has been coming to the WKA Daytona KartWeek since the first in 1974. Over the decades, Fulks has accumulated a number of trophies and victories, many of them in a laydown Yamaha machine. When drivers entered the event, all eyes were on Fulks from the beginning.
Michigan native Jason Lorang (RWC / LAD) was able to get out to an early lead with a great start out of the pit lane to show the way during the opening circuits of the event. Florida’s Chad Dokken (RWC / Woltjer) was the lead challenger and ran second to Lorang. They had a solid lead until a quartet of drivers hooked up to run them down. Adam Trumbley (LAD / LAD) and Randy Fulks (CKI / TS Racing) were the first to catch the lead duo with Ohio’s Brian Ellis (LAD-Coyote / LAD) and Jamey Brown (HE7 / Hatcher), brother of John Brown, among those in the train. Dokken retired early, and Lorang a few laps later. Fulks and Trumbley swapped the top spot a few laps until ‘Mr. Daytona’ secured the top position. After 45 minutes, Fulks was able to complete 18 laps the quickest, beating out Brown by two-tenths of a second at the line. The victory was the 59th at Daytona for Fulks in the 46 times competing in the WKA KartWeek event. Trumbley – who posted the quickest lap of the race (2:22.434) finished third with Ellis fourth while Colin Jedrzejek (CKI / TS Racing) beat former Daytona winner Nate Grindell (RWC / Grindell) for fifth.
Fulks put it to luck that he came away the winner; “Really I was just in the right place at the right time throughout the race. I started 31st and was concerned about the opening lap. I was able to avoid the wreck that did happen, and was into third by the end of the third lap. Chad and Jason really got away and I thought I was racing for third until our group hooked up and made up four seconds in two laps. Both Jamey and Adam were really fast. I was thankfull and lucky to come away with the win. Thank you to John Brown and everyone on social media for making this the race to win at Daytona.”
“Man, what a race,” Brown told EKN a week after the event. “I still haven’t slept as I keep trying to figure out a way, in my head, to pass Randy Fulks at the end of that race. He has that many wins at Daytona for a reason. We started about 20th and by the time I hit the oval I was in 5th and moving up. The four of us at the end were all pretty even. On the final lap, I tucked in behind Randy because he’s always going to be there at the end and tried my luck at the line. Unfortunately, I came up a little short. I’d like to thank Roger Hatcher for the horsepower and chassis. Also, a special thanks to my brother John Brown for pouring so much work and passion into growing our sport and this gathering of laydown drivers. This race was one for the books!”
Day 2 on Wednesday, December 30 was the second race of the weekend. No prizes were up for grabs, but bragging rights with 62 drivers on the grid. Randy Fulks jumped out to the lead until he was pushed back by Dokken and Grindell. On lap three, a red flag came out as rain began to fall. After a short sprinkle and the track cleared as dry, the field was put back on the grid for a restart, and did so with Dokken back out to the lead before Grindell took over the top spot. ‘Nasty Nate’ led five straight laps with a lot of shuffling behind him for position. Lap 11, Dokken, Patrick Olsen (LAD / LAD), Rick Fulks and Randy Fulks (CKI / TS Racing) worked past Grindell for position. On the final circuit, Rick Fulks was able to put himself into second. Dokken slipped going into turn one and the top-four were able to work past. Olsen made a move for the lead in the west horseshoe and held it on to the oval. Coming out of NASCAR 2, Rick Fulks led a trio including Randy and Grindell to draft past Olsen down the backstraight. Rick held to the bottom of the banking with ‘Mr. Daytona’ on his bumper as the two brothers finished 1-2. Grindell completed the podium as Olsen – recording a fast lap of the race with a 2:21.511 – was a close fourth with Dokken finishing fifth. The top-seven, including Margay owner Keith Freber (Margay / TS Racing) and Lorang,
“We missed the setup on the previous day’s race, therefore not running as well as we had hoped,” commented Rick Fulks. “After making wholesale changes, we were ready to give Final 2 our best shot. We started 23rd in F2 and had moved into the top 5 halfway through the opening lap. Everyone up front was fighting hard to gain track position. The racing was intense with lots of contact all around. The lead pack was at least 8 strong, if not more before the red for rain. When we restarted with 25 min’s left to race, the sense of urgency seemed to mellow and the lead pack was starting to measure each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Randy helped me by staying in my draft all the way to the finish line, not allowing Nate or Patrick to make a final run. Any of the five of us could have come away with the win. I was very fortunate to have my brother and teammate directly behind me. What a great race!”
Several drivers shared their thoughts on the event, which overall was a success in the eyes of the racers and provided the other road race competitors in attendance what a large field of laydown karts looks like.
“I’m really grateful for the support of WKA, kart shops, tire manufacturers, and individual racers for donating prizes,” stated John Brown, the organizer for the 50 Kart Challenge. “I think that really helped to keep excitement going and the entries coming in that lead up to KartWeek. I’d also like to give a big shout out to the racers for getting on board and uniting to put on such a good show. Who knows what the entry number could have been in a non-COVID year. The leaders put on a great show, both days.”
Brown hinted that the 50 Kart Challenge may be a traveling show with other special events for the 2021 season. He pointed at the Dart Kart Club event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on June 18-20 and their Pittsburgh International Race Complex weekend on September 24-26. Looking back at those two events, Randy and Rick Fulks have accumulated all six victories. Rick won Saturday with Randy winning on Sunday at Mid-Ohio in 2020. Randy won Saturday with Rick winning on Sunday at the Pittsburgh 2020 event. Add in Daytona, the Fulks duo are six for six in the Yamaha category for the three big road racing events of the 2020 calendar.
Below are videos captured from the weekend, those from the sideline and others onboard.