Director’s Notes: USPKS Season Preview
A veteran karter and former USPKS champion, column author Blake Hunt has moved into the role of head race director for the United States Pro Kart Series during the 2022 season. The North Carolina native previews the upcoming season while reflecting on the state of US karting in the present day.
Another season of national karting is almost upon us here in the USA; the winter series are already in full swing, and the regular season is just around the corner. Over the past decade, the season has largely been dominated by Superkarts! USA and United States Pro Kart Series competition on the two-stroke front. The IAME product has been, and remains, the prominent choice among racers. That being said, there is quite a bit of excitement surrounding the reintroduction of CIK/FIA spec single-speed motors to the US market. The Stars Championship Series has made it clear that they’ll be welcoming the new class with open arms, and on the west coast – Challenge of the Americas became the first series in the world to host the first OK-N event. However, it’ll be interesting to see if the entry lists in future events for both programs match the amount of hype we’ve seen over OK-N during the off season.
Stars are not the only ones adding a ‘global’ CIK/FIA class to their program, as the USPKS is taking a first foray into shifter racing with the introduction of KZ in the Pro Shifter category for the upcoming 2023 season. This may be the biggest change coming to the series, but is one of a few vital steps forward the USPKS is making in 2023. The other major changes we’ll be seeing are a switch to KA100 power plants for the Master class, the addition of a 5th round, and two tracks that are new to the series.
Following the dissolution of Stock Honda as a class, which dominated the US shifter karting scene for many years, there have been some tough years for the shifter community in terms of entries and cohesion. The vacuum created by the loss of Stock Honda saw IAME and Vortex compete to snatch up the market with the IAME SSE 175 and ROK Shifter respectively. Ultimately, this has led to a splintered and unhealthy state of shifter karting over the past years, and as of late, the introduction of KZ to both SKUSA and Stars competition has allowed it to gather some momentum as it appears to be the class of choice for national shifter racing moving forward. With KZ entries looking healthy, and growing, last year across the board, the USPKS decided it was the right time to incorporate shifter racing into the series. This represents a step forward for the series and an opportunity to bring the USPKS to a new segment of the karting community. Having raced shifter for the past couple years, I’m personally excited to have them along for the ride as I truly do believe it is the pinnacle of kart racing. Exposing younger drivers to shifter racing is the best way to attract new drivers to the class going forward, and kids can’t be exposed if the class isn’t present.
As a driver myself for the past 12 years, the series visiting new tracks is an exciting prospect. In the United States, we aren’t exactly overrun with top-notch facilities worthy of holding national races, which can lead to schedules becoming quite repetitive. Visits to newly built tracks offer the opportunity to expand the pool of circuits which are potential hosts for national karting for years to come. Speedsportz Racing Park is a relatively new track owned by karting legend Alan Rudolph and has played host to some successful regional level events in the past few years. The track is set to be an exciting addition to the USPKS not only due to the quality of the circuit and facilities, but also due to it being the furthest west the series has gone, exposing the sizable Texas market to the opportunity to run a USPKS round close to home. The other new addition, the Motorsports Country Club of Cincinnati, is one I’ve had the pleasure of racing at myself and can happily say is not only a wonderful circuit in terms of layout, location, and facilities, but also a picturesque place to go racing.
From my end, things will largely remain the same this season. There’s been a lot of chatter in recent years about the decline of driving standards, and I wholeheartedly agree. Last year we introduced ‘swerving’ penalties in an effort to combat this. Drivers have become far too accustomed to the safety of plastic bodywork, and in turn far too comfortable with turning into one another down the straight. The frequency of these incidents ramped up over many years, culminating in some high-profile incidents the past few seasons. To have drivers flipping or winding up in the barriers down the straight is flat out unacceptable. It’s not racing, it’s not racecraft, and it’s not going to happen at the USPKS.
The race directing team is out there to do two jobs, keep things fair and keep drivers safe, and this falls under the latter. With the introduction of this new rule, we ended up having to make very few calls based around the new standard, which I view as a success. Ultimately, if we’re going to call ourselves a ‘pro’ series, and some of these classes have ‘pro’ in front of the name, the driving standards should reflect this. The series and its race directing team cannot create a culture of respect between drivers, but we’re doing all that we can to keep the racing clean.
I look forward to seeing all of you in Orlando, and am excited to see what this season brings not only for the USPKS, but American karting as a whole! My love for the sport runs deep, and I’m cautiously optimistic that things are trending in the right direction.