Behind The Laptop: The Pandemic Year
Today, March 13, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of our sport and the world coming to a standstill at the beginning of what would become the COVID-19 pandemic. One year ago, many of the same teams, drivers, mechanics and families that are here at the United States Pro Kart Series opener in Ocala, Florida, were at the NOLA Motorsports complex for the start of the 2020 Superkarts! USA Pro Tour WinterNationals.
The entire day, including Thursday when NBA and NCAA Basketball tournaments were cancelling, we in the motorsports world thought outdoor activities would be clear of the panic that was sweeping across the country. Throughout the paddock, as teams and drivers prepared for what was to be the opening two rounds of the SKUSA Pro Tour, the ‘elephant in the room’ was IF or WHEN our race weekend would be cancelled.
The writing on the wall was becoming clearer as the NTT IndyCar Series 2020 opener happening in St. Petersburg was called mid-day on Friday. Prior to the final practice session at NOLA on Friday, track and SKUSA officials were given the call to halt all on-track activities and to send everyone home. Rather then setting up for the opening round of action on Saturday morning, teams and competitors spent Friday evening tearing down their paddock space and packing away the karts, not know what tomorrow would bring aside from making travel plans to get back home.
As everyone left New Orleans and returned home, the pandemic became a reality with a nation-wide and global quarantine, keeping kids from going to school and sending the work force to handle their duties from their living room, office space or anywhere they could set up in the household. For the sport, it was a period of unknown. Not knowing IF or WHEN we could return to the kart track. Kart shops and other industry businesses were unsure of when customers would return to the shop floor or what the future held for keeping the doors open in the coming months.
That is when the karting community stepped up. Karters across the country continued to purchase equipment and buy consumables that, when they returned to the track, would be used up. EKN did its part to help the industry with our #SupportKarting t-shirt program, putting all those proceeds back to the companies that supported the website at that time. Racers from all across North America purchased shirts to help those companies. It brings myself and Rob joy to see now at the track, or in photos on social media, the black shirt featuring Howden on the front and all the companies on the back designed and produced from Styled Aesthetic. Knowing just how many people are here to support us, the sport and each other when things are tough is what makes us at EKN proud to be in the karting family.
That is the one thing, if anything, we have taken as a positive out of this entire ordeal. It has brought our community together. We all just want to race. That time in March and April, and even longer for others across the USA and Canada, was painful, not knowing when we would get to enjoy the sport we all love. Kart tracks were doing their part to find options, working with the local authorities and government to at least open up the gates to put down practice laps or return to racing by following specific protocols and guidelines so everyone is safe. All the promoters working together with rescheduling efforts to try and align with each other so there was no overlapping.
As things returned to somewhat normal during the late summer months, the industry noticed just how passionate and dedicated us karters are, reaching increased sales month after month as we went back to the track. Clubs and series saw entry numbers soar as they reached new levels when karters headed back to their home tracks to support their base, where the passion for the sport began.
The records continue as we have seen large fields at the WKA Daytona KartWeek, SKUSA Winter Series, Florida Winter Tour, Challenge of the Americas, and now the United States Pro Kart Series.
Now the mission is on to make the 2021 season the best yet, and to keep the momentum going for the sport, the tracks, and the industry. The #OperationGrassroots movement continues as the Briggs & Stratton 206 numbers continues to grow, as it has for nearly a decade now, helping to introduce new people to the sport while bringing back many of those who went away. But the emphasis needs to be on NEW racers. Be it the older drivers looking to find a more reliable and cheaper fix to get that need for speed, or as we are seeing on the national level, the youth movement with massive entry numbers in the Cadet divisions.
Keep pushing our passion and love for the sport on social media, and in a positive manner. 2020 may be the first year we had very little complaints or arguments surrounding the sport in my 16-year tenure with EKN. And for those who were regulars on the early days of the EKN Forum, that’s hard to believe. But seeing is believing, and walking into the paddock here at the USPKS 2021 opener at Ocala Gran Prix has helped fuel that fire and passion, seeing so many teams, drivers, industry members and families ready to get the summer season of the sport underway.