One-on-One: Kris McCrone – Ohio Sprint Series
New owner of ‘Buckeye Karting Challenge’ program looking to take karting to next level
The pride for karting in every state in the US can be traced back to the introduction of the sport in the late 50s and into the early 60s as this new form of motorsport branched out. The state of Ohio is filled with the sport’s history, including one of the oldest facilities in the country, its location as the birthplace of the World Karting Association, and the production of dozens of the sport’s best drivers.
Looking to help take Ohio to a new era within the sport of karting is Kris McCrone. The Ohio resident was a former karter in his younger years before he stepped away from the sport for personal reasons. The rekindling of his love for karting has sparked a number of business ventures within the industry, and has culminated in the building of a new karting facility and his taking over the ownership of the popular Buckeye Karting Challenge.
Rebranded now as the Ohio Sprint Series, McCrone is looking to evolve the state championship series and expand upon it to help further elevate the program, and the racers competing, to the world stage.
EKN was able to discuss the new series ownership and the development of the Lorain Ohio Kartplex (LOK) at the River Park Motorplex facility with Kris in this new edition of One-on-One.
eKartingNews.com: Kris, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. We know how busy you are right now with the series and the track. Let’s focus on the Ohio Sprint Series right now, but we’ll definitely touch on the current status of the Lorain Ohio Kartplex at the end of our interview. It’s truly an exciting time for karting in Ohio right now. Can you start by telling us what motivated you to buy the Buckeye Karting Challenge?
Kris McCrone: Thank you guys, that’s a great question! During the summer of 2022, I was chatting with Scott Smith and giving him the update on the track when he mentioned that he and Scott Benton were discussing what the future looked like. Benton took a big step into the insurance industry and came out of the gate doing very well, but it came at a cost of time. As you know, to put on a great series, you need TIME and PEOPLE. Fortunately, the BKC had a good core group of people working the series, but the leadership was being starved on the ‘time’ side. So, I made the comment to Smith, “If you guys are seriously considering your options for 2023, let me know.”
Smith called me that week. He said he believed Benton was ready to move on. That’s when I made the decision. I have invested everything our family had into the facility to prove the track could be built prior to bringing in our investor partner and I thought to myself, ‘It would be awful to see the Ohio State Series go away the year a multi-million dollar facility is being completed.’ We came to an agreement later that fall and the rest is history. For 2023, we are going ‘Back to the Roots’ of state/regional racing and are going to have a blast!!
EKN: While I was going to wait until the end, your response begs for the question about the track. Can you provide us with an update on the track?
KM: Yes. We began clearing trees in 2022 and just recently they were out picking things up and cleaning the property up. Planning and Zoning approved the project on May 3, so now we are working through some things to schedule excavation and track laying.
The tracks are scheduled to be complete in July 2023, but all the buildings and complete operation will not be done until late 2023, early 2024. This will put a ‘Grand Opening’ in Spring 2024, and we hope to have some special announcements this fall for specific races that will be held at our facility in 2024!
EKN: The track will obviously be a core component of the Ohio Sprint Series, so let’s dive back into the series itself. You’ve taken over what was the Buckeye Karting Challenge, but there are some significant evolutions with the new ownership. Can you start with the schedule, which is shorter than the traditional BKC approach.
KM: The LOK will be its own standing entity. We are fortunate to have a great series in Ohio that was birthed five years ago from Scott Benton and Scott Smith and I hope to continue its growth. With growth comes change. And change is uncomfortable at times.
For the schedule – we had some challenges when we acquired the series since there were no dates confirmed for 2023. As we began working through the calendar, I was reminded from a few trusted colleagues about what the parents/drivers were saying last year. “Five regional events is tough since about 40% of our attendees race in other regional and national series.” This opened the door to respond in a way that is only three race weekends, but still provides more total track time.
It was more of a response based on the opportunity presented, not a change that was initiated by our team.
EKN: What about the class structure?
KM: We did make some changes in this area. Our goal is to continue the growth of the series while helping families reduce some cost. With that, we had the opportunity to continue our relationship with Tillotson and add in the Rotax series. These are significant because you can compete for a chance to win a ticket to an international world championship. As far as I know, we are the only series that offers the opportunity to win a ticket to ROTAX or Tillotson World Final.
We will continue with Briggs 206 for Sportsman, Junior, Senior and Masters, along with the T225 Senior, Junior and Masters for the 4-cycle side of the series. We’ll include a Rotax / TaG 125 class for Senior, as well as Junior MAX in addition to an Open category. KA100 Junior, Senior and Masters, along with Mini Swift, round out the 2-cycle offerings.
EKN: You’re definitely putting your stamp on the series with significant changes. Away from those evolutions, can you provide us with more insight in regards to improvements and upgrades you plan to bring to the program.
KM: When we acquired the series, the main goal is to grow a regional-focused program. We have focused on keeping the “Total Cost” of the series down by running a spec tire for 4-stroke and 2-stroke classes and reducing the weekends from five to three.
Operationally, we have been laser focused on the development of the Team. Talking with Joe Janowski and Christian Marsh from the NKA, we learned quickly how important consistency is for competitors. Over the last three months, we have been building out a team with a goal of having 90% of the same faces at each of the three weekends to build trust and rapport with our customers.
We have engaged Track Systems NA and all the events will be controlled by lights, not corner flaggers.
We have also added the Tillotson T4 International ticket for Junior and Senior, along with Rotax Junior and Senior. We are the only series to provide competitors the chance to win tickets for world events.
Lastly, we at the Ohio Sprint Series will be working with all local clubs to sponsor Kid Kart races at each location at least once a year. Our goal is to help local clubs draw the Kid Kart racer from across Ohio to their facilities with an event sponsored by the OSS. There will be more information on this in the very near future.
EKN: Certainly, the first year will be one to see what works, what doesn’t, and grow from there. Where do you see the series in 2024, and what are your goals for say five years from now with the Ohio Sprint Series?
KM: Yes, 2023 will give us an opportunity to develop systems and processes to create efficiencies to grow the series. In 2024, we plan on bringing two unique things to the series.
1. A State Final race. Our plan is to run three event weekends and then have a State Championship / Final race. The State championship / Final race will be a qualifying event and will crown the State Champion! We want to make it more like the World Finals or a State Championship title, similar to other sports like football, hockey, etc. There will be a Series Champion and a State Champion crowned beginning in 2024.
2. Ohio KartWeek – In 2024, we are working on launching a full week of racing from Friday through the following Sunday. The structure will be similar to sprint car racing. Limited classes, with a Warm-up / Qualifying, Prefinal, and Final. The goal is to start at 5:30pm and be done by 9:30pm each night. We will have a South Series during the first half of the week (Friday – Tuesday) and the North Series will be the back half of the week (Tuesday – Saturday) with a Final on Sunday. We would like to run all sprint tracks in Ohio. More information will be produced by the banquet for the Ohio Sprint Series this year. We are working on having the whole week livestreamed.
EKN: That is amazing to hear. It is certainly something new and exciting not just for the state of Ohio, but for the Midwest region and karting as a whole. We know you’ve been in the sport for a long time, but you also have McCrone Motorsports, Ohio Kart Parts and Three Tenths Race Products that puts you nearly in every aspect of the sport. Where does this passion come from?
KM: Great question. After losing my father in 2000 and walking away from motorsports for nearly 20 years, I had the opportunity to see different industries operate. Therefore, when I got back involved in kart racing, I saw many areas of opportunity to help grow the industry in our region.
Over the last four years, I have conducted a lot of research, including visiting over 20+ racing facilities, nationally and internationally, some member based or semi-private and many public. This, along with hiring a market research company to conduct a full-blown Motorsports Market Research White Paper, has validated the growth in the US from 2015 and what the existing and potential new customer expect as they look to spend their resources in an exhilarating industry.
That is why we have put a flag in many pieces of the pie. We aim to exceed the customers expectations that have been derived from market research and help increase market reach for the new racer who has never sat in a race car or kart.
EKN: The 2023 Ohio Sprint Series is set to kick off in one month on the June 16-18 weekend at the historic Thompson Kart Raceway – located Northeast of Cleveland. What can racers expect for the opening weekend in a new era of the program?
KM: Participants can expect a great time! We are running some great 2-stroke and 4-stroke classes with the debut of Rotax at a regional series in the US. We are also continuing our relationship with Tillotson and the T4 Nations Cup. Where else can you race a series with a chance at winning entry to two international World Finals?
Outside of the racing, we will be having live entertainment on Friday Night, a cookout, and Kart Chaser will be present to announce the races via livestream. All class details and the new Ohio Sprint Series website will be launched by Sunday, May 21. Stay tuned and check out ohiosprintseries.com
EKN: Thank you Kris for taking the time out of your busy schedule and we are excited to see the focus of karting on the state of Ohio throughout the 2023 season and beyond!
Find the Ohio Sprint Series on Facebook and Instagram.