EKN One-on-One: Mark Coats – United States Pro Kart Series
The United States Pro Kart Series is about to kick off its 11th season when the action begins at the Orlando Kart Center this weekend for the USPKS Southern Grand Prix. The series began with support from the industry and the racers asking for something different. That’s exactly what USPKS brought to the table when it rolled out in 2013 at the then Mooresville Motorplex in North Carolina. A slimmed down class structure, focus on high lap counts, and make the weekend fair and fun.
Ten years of history are now in the books, with the USPKS looking into its second decade. The 2023 season is highlighted by changes in event format, an extension to five race weekends, and the adjustment of the class structure to also include shifters. We talked with series owner Mark Coats to get his viewpoint of the past and the present heading into the 11th season for the United States Pro Kart Series.
EKN: Thank you Mark for joining us for this interview. As we look back to the start of it all in 2013, what do you remember about the first steps in creating the United States Pro Kart Series and that first event at the then Mooresville Motorplex?
Mark Coats: Rain (laughing). We put in all this hard work to start up something brand new. I remember the move-in and parking went well. In fact, everything was going good until the rains came! I don’t remember the entry numbers, the only thing that I remember was being a soaked.
I was fortunate enough to be able to be part of a group of about 10 respected karting veterans with a passion for the sport. We came together and formulated a plan for something new for the 2013 season and beyond. We already had a great team in place from the Route 66 Sprint Series program. Now, it was the challenge of expanding that outside of the Midwest region. Logistics was the major hurdle in getting everyone on the staff to Mooresville. It was something new for me and the team. From there, we were able to set the foundation for what we’ve created with the United States Pro Kart Series – which is now the largest karting series in North America.
EKN: There have been changes over the first 10 years of the USPKS, but nothing as impactful as moving to a five-weekend series in 2023. First off, why add that extra event for the 11th season?
MC: The teams and racers have been asking us to do it for the past few years. We dropped from four to just three race weekends in 2018 and continued that the following year. COVID put the hammer down on our expansion back to four weekends in 2020, but we were very pleased with our growth when providing four events in 2021 and 2022. Most of our staff was on board with the move to five race weekends, and the sale of the Route 66 Sprint Series has allowed them to put their focus on these five weekends. Many forget that our staff take vacation days from their full-time jobs to be able to help support the USKPS. Thankfully, we have an amazing crew that perform the tasks we need and we’ve been able to find five great facilities to work with, including our expansion into Texas.
EKN: That was my next question, regarding the first ever USPKS event west of the Mississippi River, visiting the Speedsportz Racing Park in New Caney, Texas on the April 28-30 weekend. I know this has been a goal for you to expand west to add to the full east coast and Midwest reach. How excited are you to be heading to the Alan Rudolph facility and to add another state to the USPKS travel book?
MC: Over the first 10 years of the series, we have been able to visit several great tracks. We have heard nothing but good things about Speedsportz and Alan’s team there at the facility. The biggest lobbying group of racers asking for that fifth race was from Texas, and always spoke highly of Speedsportz. Alan knows what it takes to put together a good event and I know he is going to do everything in his power to make sure our event is one that people will remember.
EKN: In terms of class structure, the move to the KA100 engine package for the Master single-speed category was anticipated coming into 2023 with the wave of that category at the local and regional levels. Are you concerned that there may be a drop in numbers with the move after providing the largest Master fields in the country with the X30 package in 2022?
MC: Not at all, David. We had talked with the drivers and teams over the past several years, as we have done since the beginning of the series. When discussing with the Master drivers about the possible change in engine platform, nearly 75% of the current drivers already owned a KA engine. We have seen that in the pre-entry numbers with 25 entered for Orlando. A handful who have run with the series from the beginning told us they were going to take time off to be with their family and kids for 2023, which we understand. The plus side is the amount of new names we have going into the opener, coming from the regional and club programs that have been running the KA100 engine for Master age group. Our best route to continue growth in this category was to make the change. We expect to see numbers stay the same or grow as the season moves on.
EKN: That’s exciting to hear. And it is thrilling to see shifter racing hit the USPKS in 2023. Why now with the addition of the Pro Shifter category to the series and what are your expectations for this year and in the future with the category?
MC: The addition of Pro Shifter has been in the planning stages for several years. We have the shifter market growing here in the USA, however, with our original two-final format for each weekend there was not enough time in the day to warrant the addition of another category. With our move to the one-round per weekend, we had room for another class and the logical choice was Pro Shifter. I’m really excited to see the caliber of drivers that have entered for Orlando and I expect it to grow from there. I’d love to see the fence filled with everyone watching some bad ass shifter racing!
EKN: Pro Shifter, along with X30 Pro and X30 Pro Junior, are included in this year’s cash prize program for 2023. USPKS will hand out over $18,000 PER WEEKEND, in addition to the amazing year-end prize package that will be handed out at the special ceremony the day after the series finale at GoPro Motorplex. Do you feel the large prize purse at USPKS is a determining factor in why karters and teams race the series?
MC: I think the event purses look good on paper and are short-term motivation, but in the long run, I think it’s a lesser factor in people’s decision to race with us. In my experience, good competition and large fields are fun and the primary motivation for racers. When you factor in all the prizes and purse money, the cookouts, the broadcasts with our media partners, as well as the positive way we like to treat people, we feel like we give racers lots of value. It has to be fun for them to come back, and I think that is the real motivator for growth.
EKN: Thank you, Mark, for your time and for allowing EKN be part of the USPKS since the beginning. We’ll see you in Orlando.
MC: Thank you for your support and the great coverage each weekend.