Behind the Laptop: Reflection on SuperNationals 25
A historic week in Las Vegas
SKUSA SuperNationals 25 was the second largest in event history (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)
It’s now been over three weeks since SuperSunday concluded the historic Superkarts! USA SuperNationals 25, and I have finally been able to take a breath, catch up on work, enjoy a Thanksgiving break, and begin looking ahead to the 2023 season. Before moving forward to a new year, I wanted to reflect on things that stood out for me at the silver anniversary event.
As I discussed in my previous column – Behind the Laptop: Celebrating 25 SuperNationals and More – there was a lot to take in at SKUSA SuperNationals 25. After six days at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, hundreds of different stories were written over that time. Many were making their first start at the SuperNationals, several others were returning to get that first victory and there were those trying to add to their win total. I truly wish we could break down the stories of each of the 586 entries over the 10 categories that were competing. Instead, I’d like to hit on a few points that stood out.
To begin looking back on the event, the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino has become the official home of the SuperNationals. Each time we are not there, it feels different and a bit uncomfortable, with the exception of the amazing hotel in 2021 at Resorts World. Each other location at which we’ve competed just does not have that ‘home’ feel to it. It was 2019 when SKUSA was last at the Rio, as COVID canceled the 2020 event before SKUSA needed to move the race to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2021. The facility has changed ownership, but as we have all seen, nothing has really changed. Overall, it was a negative experience, in part to long check-in lines, limited times on places to eat, and no after party at the VooDoo Lounge on the roof. With time, things change and unfortunately, the Rio has not changed for the better. Still, there is no better feeling than waking up in your hotel room and making that walk out to the parking lot to the paddock and track. Hopefully, the talk of renovation at the Rio is for real, and we’ll see room updates and better food options in the future. However, it is Las Vegas and there plenty of great places to eat up and down the Strip, and we’ve found a few hidden gems away from the craziness that is Las Vegas Boulevard that we’ll keep secret for us at EKN.
After everyone settled in at the Rio and had built their pit area to prepare for the SuperNationals battle, focused turn on Tuesday toward the track walk. It would be the first time competitors would have the opportunity to see the layout first-hand. Many of those on social media thought the layout, utilized in the past but in the clockwise direction for 2022, would fail. The walk under the track lights, also illuminated by the Las Vegas Strip in the background, turned attitudes into a positive direction (check out our LIVE track walk on Facebook). As the week went on, the track provided some great racing as we saw many of the corners open to provide passing opportunities as drivers became more comfortable with the layout. It helps to have many of the best drivers in North America and from around the world, however, I think the layout was a great circuit for a SuperNationals.
Anytime you have a temporary circuit, the barriers and safety are the main concern. And when in a parking lot, light poles are an added obstacle. Add to that the condition of the surface, there are a lot of factors to take in when laying out the track. With each passing year, Neal Strickland of SKUSA has learned what works and what does not. When changing the direction of the course, he was presented with new obstacles. Overall, there were not many, at least not seen by those outside of the staff. The biggest issue I noticed was the sections where the barriers were hit over and over throughout the course of the event. There were really three spots that became busy with barrier repair and dead karts needing to be moved away from the circuit. If SuperNationals returns with the similar layout and direction, the notes are in hand on what changes will need to be made to help the safety aspect, and to limit the time needed for track repairs. The absolute positive over the event? No water barriers were broken this year. I think that makes it at least two straight years we have not had that issue!
One of the things that has changed with each SuperNationals is the format and structure of the podium celebrations. Previously at the Rio, the ceremonies were held at the end of the day inside, right next to where the paddock is, away from any weather conditions and following all the on-track and off-track penalties were decided. When we moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center and Westgate Las Vegas Resort, it was difficult to hold the podium ceremonies inside, as the first year was poorly attended and the location was hard to find. After that, SKUSA began hosting the ceremonies right after each main event. The addition of pushback bumpers threw them a curve in 2019, reviewing the bumpers first before sending the top-five around to take part in the ceremony. This year, SKUSA sent the provisional top-five to the podium celebrations without inserting the penalties for PBB or on-track situations.
This year’s SuperSunday saw several on-track issues decide the order of the podium, and those who were on the steps and who were not. Two on-track winners were not classified as the winners following on-track penalties in KA100 Junior and Mini Swift, and in other divisions, technical disqualifications played a role in the final top-five podium order. This made for a large percentage of the podiums celebrated after each race being incorrect or not allow for the technical winner to enjoy a true winning moment.
My hope is that SKUSA reviews this process, and if we are indeed back at the Rio for SuperNationals 26, we revert back to the full podium ceremony at the end of the day. This allows EVERYONE involved to take part in the celebration, provide the opportunity for photos with a proper podium backdrop, and gives you the final top-five podium finishers together on the stage at the same time. I still feel we need to have that post-race celebration, and it should be reserved for just the provisional on-track winner. Provide the victory lap with the checkered flag, bring them around to the stadium section of the track. Conduct the driver interview to get that raw emotion of winning at the SuperNationals, and then send them off to scales and begin the transition to the next race.
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As we saw with the post-race adjustments of the results, and action on track, the SuperNationals was full of heartbreak. It began with the first race with Jaxon Porter in his Factory Karts debut, zooming up to the front of the field in the main event to lead for the first time all week, only to suffer an engine issue and eventually drop out of the race. Ironically, the first two main events saw the top-five unchanged, including the KA100 Senior field. This was the class we saw fireworks and changes to the finishing order nearly every main event from the SKUSA Winter Series through the SKUSA Pro Tour, and the top-five were not changed by penalties.
Helio Meza and Turner Brown had their provisional victories taken away for on-track issues. A contact penalty for Meza and a tramline issue for Brown took away the moment of winning at the SuperNationals away at the scale line. Renato Jader David and Caleb Gafrarar each had two options at victory, with both drivers starting on the pole position for the main events in their respective categories. Renato, a former winner, finished runner-up in both KA100 Master and X30 Master. Gafrarar was similar, starting the KA100 Junior and X30 Junior categories from the pole position. In fact, he won five of the six heat races. Gafrarar was unable to fight for the victory in KA and ended up runner-up in X30. So close after having a dominant week.
Challenges came early for potential winners, including four-time world champion Davide Fore and five-time SKUSA Pro Tour champion Jordon Musser in Master Shifter, as well as five-time SKUSA Pro Tour champion Ryan Norberg, the defending winner in X30 Senior. Fore had an engine expire in the opening heat race after setting fast time in qualifying. He was stuck in the middle of the pack at the start of the Final and unable to escape contact fighting forward to end his first Master Shifter SuperNationals on the sidelines. Musser – coming into the SuperNationals looking for that elusive SuperNationals victory to add to his already padded CV – had to fight back all week from a punctured tire in qualifying, starting all three heat races from 29th. He managed to move up to 18th on the grid for the Final, where he had pace similar to the leaders and grabbed the hard charger honor in his drive up to sixth. Norberg was able to overcome a P16 finish in his third heat after winning the first two, starting the main event from sixth. However, the blender that is the opening lap of the SuperNationals in X30 Senior dropped him out of the top-10 early. Despite the drive back up to third, it was a technical DQ that took him off the official podium.
It was the same ending for NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power, who was making a return to the SuperNationals. Back in 2014, Power led for the majority of the main event until losing the lead to Kip Foster, who went on to win his first of four. In similar fashion this year, the Aussie had a solid performance, leading the most laps until losing the lead to eventual winner Thomas Grice coming to the white flag. A technical DQ put even more salt on the wound, taking him off the runner-up position on the podium in the final results. Coming into SuperNationals 25, 2019 FIA World KZ Champion Marijn Kremers had a string of three-straight runner-up finishes. This year, Kremers would not finish second, however, it was only a fourth-place result on track before a penalty for contact took him off the official podium. It will have to be another year until we can see if Kremers can grab that elusive victory.
Before the action began on SuperSunday, Superkarts! USA rolled out the red carpet for the over 500 drivers and the staff to celebrate the 25th edition of the SuperNationals with the opening ceremonies. It is a way for the racers to gather all together for one final time, the staff to be recognized by the racers, teams and families, along with special moments. The SKUSA Hall of Fame was established in 2016 during the 20th edition of the SuperNationals. The inaugural class included SKUSA founder Don Janowski, former SKUSA president Jim Murley, veteran driver Alan Rudolph and team owner Greg Bell. The following year featured veteran driver Bonnier Moulton and long-time official and regional director Terry Riggins. And in 2018, Trackmagic founder Fausto Vitello and longtime SKUSA ‘A-Team’ member Stan Bryniarski were inducted.
SKUSA did not induct any new members at the 2019 or 2021 SuperNationals, however, brought it back to help celebrate the 25th edition and bring the total of individuals inducted to 10. The SuperNationals is something special, and this year’s inductees have certainly made it that over their tenures. Chris Ortenburger has been the ‘vision’ of SKUSA for many years. Everything you see graphically, on social media, photography, videos, promotion, magazine production, and many other aspects behind the scenes for Superkarts! USA, can be attributed to Chris. Since the Kutscher family has controlled SKUSA, Ortenburger has been there to provide his assistance and guidance, including a major part of the SuperNationals from 2006 to today.
The second member needs no introduction. Rob Howden has been the voice of SKUSA and the SuperNationals since day 1. Rob was the voice of the SKUSA ProMoto Tour in the late 90s, early 2000s and then the SKUSA Pro Tour since 2010. Howden has missed only one Pro Tour event during that time, while calling the SuperSunday action of every SuperNationals. All the history of the organization has been covered by Howden, either with his voice, or his pen in the pages of Shifter Kart Illustrated, Super Kart Illustrated and of course here on EKN.
It was a special moment to see both these pioneers of our sport recognized for their skills and their love for the sport. What made it funny for myself was the fact I knew each of them were going in, and they each knew about the other, but had no idea they each would be inducted as well into the Hall of Fame. When the ceremony was over, it was like looking at the spiderman meme with everyone pointing at each other.
To wrap it up, SKUSA SuperNationals 25 was another historic event. Many different stories, 10 different winners and of course, a boost to what was a busy, fun and record setting 2022 season.
It was also the first SuperNationals with Nate Dean working alongside us on the weekend. Nate joined EKN in June and has been working non-stop on many projects, articles, and other tasks since then. He joined me at the USPKS finale, and then we were all together for the Cup Karts North America Grand Nationals in October. Vegas is another story, as he toughed it out all week long with over 12-hour days, listening to me snore, and never complained once about anything. It’s great to have him with us, and I look forward to the things he will be bringing to the site in 2023 and for many more SuperNationals with him.
And while we wait for more details on SuperNationals 26, here are some numbers to close out the silver anniversary event.
- Second largest SuperNationals; 586 compared to 602 in 2013 with 12 classes
- First event since 2008 to have all first-time winners across all classes
- Largest Margin of Victory: Pedro Hiltbrand – Pro Shifter +1.717 seconds
- Closest Margin of Victory: Antonio Pizzonia Jr. – Master Shifter +0.217
- Lowest Starting Position by a Winner: 13th Thomas Grice (X30 Master) and Ernesto Rivera (X30 Junior) – new records in both categories