EKN Trackside: 2021 Rock Island Grand Prix – Preview

26th edition of world famous street race hits the Quad Cities area once again

(Photo: Joe Brittin)

It has been 733 days since karts were zooming around the city streets of Rock Island, Illinois. The 2021 edition of the Rock Island Grand Prix is one of the most anticipated in recent years following the cancellation of last year’s event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This Labor Day weekend marks the 26th running of the two-day kart race festival with plenty of racing and activities surrounding the 6/10-mile street course, dating back to the inaugural event in 1994.

The city streets of Rock Island transform at 5pm Friday into a race track and festival overnight. Action begins Saturday with two rounds of practice for the different groups before heat races are held for the 15 categories competing over the weekend. Following the morning warm-up, all main events are then held on Sunday for a chance to put their names into the record books, and take home the coveted Rock trophy.

eKartingNews.com will once again partner with the RIGP family to produce a live audio play-by-play broadcast from the start-finish line on Fourth Avenue, all part of our EKN Trackside Live coverage program along with social media and forum updates. Jay Kidwell – sports director at WHBF-TV and Carter Pease – former RIGP driver, will be on the microphone to call the action throughout the weekend, and those not in attendance can listen in both days at www.ekartingnews.com/live courtesy of Briggs & Stratton Racing, Margay Racing, and Franklin Motorsports.

Tony Neilson is running 9 classes on the weekend, looking to add to his 20-win total (Photo: EKN)

The focal point of the event is the Briggs & Stratton categories. There are now nine classes that feature the Briggs 206 engine, which made its debut at the event in 2012 with just one class. Over 80% of the near 200 pre-entries are with a Briggs 206, including the new King of the Rock 206 class. This class, along with the King of the Rock 100cc are the two many classes, outside of King of the Streets, making them the three headline divisions. Each of the King categories are racing for a cash purse, that includes a $1,000 to win and paying down to fifth-place at $200.

For Briggs 206, there will be two Medium classes, two Heavy and a Masters. Add in the three Margay Ignite divisions – two Senior and one Masters – and that is the lineup of classes for just one driver – Tony Neilson. The Iowa native calls the RIGP his home track, and currently sits second in the career win total with 20 victories. Three of those came last year (Briggs 206 Heavy 2, Yamaha Heavy 2, and Ignite Masters). Racing nine classes on the weekend does put him in the hunt to either tie or surpass the Emperor of the Rock Island Grand Prix – Gary Lawson. It was three wins for the Ohio native last year, moving up to 28 total wins at the RIGP. It was Lawson who won the Briggs 206 Heavy, Briggs 206 Medium and Briggs 206 Masters.

Inaugural Margay Ignite Shootout winner Jeremy Remick returns in 2021, looking to be the first to repeat in the class (Photo: Mark Schwigen)

Fighting Neilson for the wins in the Briggs 206 divisions will be handful of former race winners, including Riley Scott, Jeff Scott, Matt Pewe, Ashton Wheeler, Michael Dittmer, Jeff Dolian, Connor Lund, Mike Welsh, Drake Ostrom, and a host of others throughout the weekend.

Three of the classes that Neilson will be among the favorites is the Margay Ignite divisions. There are Senior 1, Senior 2 and Masters for the spec chassis / Briggs 206 combination, which made its debut in the 2015 RIGP. Ignite Senior 1 has never had a repeat winner, with Scott ‘Skitchy’ Barnes (2018) and inaugural winner Jeremy Remick (2015) the only two former winners in the class of 14. Ignite Senior 2 was introduced last year, with ‘Pistol’ Pete Vetter the inaugural winner in that class. Neilson won the Ignite Masters class last year, ending the two-year run of Vetter, who is not slated to compete this year. Barnes will be a challenger, along with Ignite regulars Brandon Moore and Ken Williams.

Race Liberante is back to defend his King of the Streets crown, and compete in both King of the Rock divisions (Photo: EKN)

Two new divisions will make their debut this year at the Rock Island Grand Prix as the 100cc Senior class and the new King of the Rock 100cc will tackle the streets. It is a combo class, welcoming the IAME KA100, Vortex VLR, and Yamaha KT100 engines into one multi-engine division. The question will be what engines are selected by the drivers set to be part of the inaugural event, and who will win the cash in King of the Rock. Among them is Tim Goettsch from near-by Bettendorf who has 12 victories, sitting third in the all-time win total, and former RIGP winner Chase Jones.

Shifterkarts are the highlight of the event, with King of the Streets the quickest category of the weekend. This year features a number of stars in shifterkarts, including 2019 King of the Streets winner Race Liberante, set to defend his crown. Liberante will be racing all three King categories in 2021. Andrew Bujdoso, Devon Smith-Harden, and 2017 winner Austin Wilkins are among those that will contend, along with the Open Shifter division as well. Open Shifter Masters will see Scott Barnes try to defend his title against friendly rival Joe Ruch, a 2017 winner in 80cc Shifter.

The Vintage category rounds out the 15 classes set to make up the schedule for the 2021 Rock Island Grand Prix. Be sure to follow EKN social media for updates, photos, videos and more along with the EKN Live broadcast on Saturday and Sunday once racing begins.

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