CES Grattan, a relaxing race weekend.

grattan_mapThe plan was simple.  Have Fun.  We have been working very hard over the last few months driving and wrenching.  Last weekend took us to Grattan Raceway park for the second race with the Championship Enduro Series.  Grattan is a great track for racing (trackpeida).  It has a nearly mile long front straight, followed by another mile plus of very technical track that challenges even the most experienced driver.  We had a plan for the kart and the race, so could “relax” a little and just enjoy the weekend.  Aside from racing there was going to be lots of sitting by the pond fishing, another of Jason’s favorite activities.  If he was not racing he was going to be fishing.

IMG_0446The weekend’s racing was sponsored by the folks at StarDust Memorials.  Our friends Marcy and Jordan Lindberg started this company a few years ago after Jordan left academia.  When we were looking for sponsorship last year they were one of the first to step and support the team.  Should you have storage needs for cremains, they can help you find what you need.  A short list of their products includes basic urns, necklaces, green products, resting places for beloved pets and even custom items.

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Big Bass

The weather on Saturday looked a bit sketchy with showers predicted.  Since we were running the Briggs Animal, we expected to see some improvement in speed and lap times.  Jason’s practice lap times were slower then last year’s.  Between practice and racing I had the kart aligned at 4 Cycle Central.  The kart needed to be readjusted after the beating on the oval track.  His race times were better by about 2 seconds, but it began to rain and the race was red flagged.  The best part of this race was that he got to compete with two Senior super heavy drivers much older then him.  Their motors were more powerful than his but because of weight differences (405 vs 260) their lap times were almost exactly the same.  Jason could out-brake them into the corners and they would eventually pass him in the straights.

Saturday night brought torrents of rain and wind.  The level of the fishing pond was up by about 8 inches and there were several new streams coming out of the hills, including some that entered the track.  Some of these streams even dropped below the track and bubbled up again from a crack in the middle.  A single practice round was held after much delay, even though there was water crossing the track in turn 1 and between 6 and 7.  A number of folks lost it in 6 and 7 including Jason.  IMG_1681The powers that be decided that the race was rained out and everyone got rain points (first place).  Those that wished to could still race but only for trophies and bragging rights.  The guys that Jason was racing with were on the fence and Jason asked them to race with him.  He was able to convince our friend Ken Parker to race, partly because his son was going to be racing too.  When race time came Jason and Ken went out and Ken, with nothing to lose, showed him a good time and gave him some pointers for the next time.

The next race is Round 4 of the Mid-American Sprint Series at USAIR Motorsports Park.  This is supposed to be a excellent driver’s track.  Also on the schedule for the next two weeks is the Lake County Fair in Grayslake IL, where Katie will be showing her lamb Sage.  I will be sure to get some pictures and video of the auction in the next post.

Thanks to Marcy and Jordan Lindberg at Stardust Memorials for supporting the team this weekend.  Thanks to Johnsons, Losches, Parkers, Vehrings, Murrays and all the “grown up” racers for playing with Jason on the track at CES, Jason really looks up to you guys.  Happy Birthday Mom, sorry we missed your party, but the track calls.  Karen, just thanks for being in my life for the last two decades and 13 years of marriage. Happy Anniversary.

Belvidere Oval Race

This summer has been focused on building skills both on the track and off.  Jason is working on driving and being a kid, and I am working on the kart and being a Dad.  Part of this skill building means that sometimes we are pushing the limits personally and technically.  So far we have had an great time at the races with some bad days, at some point we where bound to have a day that was just not good and not fun.

IMG_1575This week we joined the ranks of oval street racers at the Belvidere Heritage Days kart race (News video with Jason).  For the most part it’s the same as sprint racing, except there are only left turns, the tracks are shorter, and the karts are really close together.  Since we don’t have an oval kart we removed the pretty green body for some R&R and put on a tougher body.  We also moved the front right wheel out and put a 6″ wheel on the rear and eventually moved it out as well.  This gave us a kart that sort of looked like an oval kart and should be able to come close to being OK for oval racing.  Oval karts are much lower and have very wide wheels in the front and the back right side and the seats are laid back.  Jason and his kart would be no match but he was not the only one in a sprint kart.  Even so he was  hitting 30+ MPH on the very tiny straight and doing 8-9 second laps.

GOPR1433_MP4_2Practice went very well.  He started off slowly as he sorted out the the odd kart and new track but quickly picked up speed as he got into a rhythm.  Lleft, left, brap, left, left, braaaap and again.  After making a few line adjustments he was keeping up with the oval karts and even occasionally making a pass.  He was definitely having a good time judging by the grin on his face.  The track itself was a little rough.  There were two fairly big bumps from expansion lines in the pavement, and putting up with these was going to be one of the many factors of the day.

Heat 1 started off great after a false start.  Jason took off and dropped to third but then made a good pass for 2nd in the second lap.  He held that position for a few laps until an oval kart reeled him in, eventually staging for a pass.  Except, instead of passing Jason the oval kart stuck just a bit of his nose in Jason’s line and bumped Jason around.  Jason pulled off and I sent him back out because he and the kart were not damaged.  He was given the 4th spot and the other guy 5th.   At the green they were off again – Jason gaining on 3rd with the guy behind doing the same, and once again tapped Jason in the back sending him in to a spin.  Jason headed to the back of the pack.  It was going to be a green, white, checker to the finish, just like NASCAR.  The green dropped and Jason pushed hard but came up just short of 4th place.

This set the stage for Heat 2, Jason in 4th and his nemisis in 5th.  At the start it was obvious that Jason was holding back - letting the oval kart by and not chasing him.  It seemed his plan was to stay out of the way.  A few laps in, the yellow flag flies (we’re still not sure why) just as Jason and #11 pass #25.  There was some confusion of the line up for the restart but eventually they get it sorted out and Jason was in 3rd, #11 in 4th and, #25 in 5th.  At the start Jason took off.  #11 was slow to start but caught Jason, gave him yet another tap, pushed him out of the way and passed him in the last lap.  Jason was clearly frustrated.

Jason started the feature just the way he finished the second heat – in 4th place.  He gave everyone a wide berth and went straight to the back.  In the 6th lap he clipped the inside curb of the track and it stripped the wheel from his hands and he drove straight into the barrier.  At that point regardless, of the condition of anything he was not going to get back on that track, his day was done.  Thankfully, he was uninjured except for a strained thumb from the steering wheel.

This was one of those days where we reached a bit far.  Luckily for Jason the only thing damaged was his pride (and a thumb for a few days) but that was cured by a chocolate shake.  I like to think we learn some new skills.  The kart seemed to work pretty well and when Jason was going all out, he was pretty solid.  I don’t have any reason for regret but I do with this race could have gone better and been more fun.

grattan_mapWe were going to head to Durand for another oval street race but based on our experience in Belvidere we decided to skip it.  Instead, we rested and are preparing the kart for Jason’s favorite track, Grattan Raceway in Michigan, for the 2nd race in the Championship Enduro Series.  This next race is going to be about fun racing and fishing.

Thanks this week thanks to Lance Anderson from Leetzow Raceway Park for putting this race on.  We should make the effort to race dirty time.  To Bruce at Atomic Decals, thanks for coming out and supporting us.  And Karen my wife and mother of our children, thanks for not freaking out and putting up with our post race buzz.  We usually have more time to calm down after a race, but I guess 45 minutes is not far enough away.

MASS 3, the good, the bad, and …

IMG_1504The week started off badly on Monday, with the truck losing its brakes on the way home from work.  Mid-American Sprint Series races seem to bring the worst out in our truck.  Thankfully, I noticed fairly quickly that they were soft and getting softer.  I was able to slowly and carefully drive the truck to C&M Auto Service for repair.  The prognosis was good in that it was fixable but all of the brake lines and hoses needed to be replaced.  It was going to take a long time, but thanks to some hard work and long hours from the guys at C&M, the truck was ready for us about 8am on Friday morning.  Wen loaded up about 14 hours later than originally planned and were off to Concept Haulers Motor Speedway (CHMS) for some test and tune.

CHMS_Pro_TrackCHMS is our home track.  It was the first track Jason raced his own kart.  Last year he took second place in the local “pro” series.  Despite all of that time on the track we actually needed to work very hard to get him and the kart to place where he could be competitive with more experienced teams.  It was a simple plan: make a change and see if he goes faster.  Right off the bat, he was faster then he had ever been last year, running low 49s, compared to last years fastest time of 61 seconds.  Some of the speed comes from the slightly shorter green slide, but most of it is him just racing more.  He has already had 12 race days plus 5 solid days of “sight reading” new tracks.  We have not really had any time for just plain old practice and making those fine adjustments.  This is when we did it.  But the day was well spent.  We found a setup that should keep us near the front starting, in the low 48′s high 47′s.  I expected the fast kids to hit 46 at some point.


What happens when you crash during the 2nd lap of practice

Saturday was the true test, did we get it right?  Has he found the “go fast”.  CHMS is a speed track with a couple of long straights with just a few tight corners.  Nowhere near as difficult as Badger or even Mid-State.  There were going to be 5 drivers for the day:  Ashton (7), Seth (88), Dylan (4), Nick (23) and Jason (59).  Jason has seen all these drivers and I expected it to be pretty close.  He qualified 4 of 5, which was about right.  The pre-feature (10 laps) brought a second place finish due to spins in turns 2 and the hairpin, and some smart clean driving.  The feature (16 laps) was pretty good.  He started second and stayed there.  Ashton tried to make a pass on the inside of the monza but was late to the corner and got pinched off the track when Jason held his line and kept going to the end.  While he was off the pace there was some great driving and he raced clean.  Unfortunately, I made a huge mistake in the carburetor setup and he was disqualified – too much movement in the slide.  It would have been a great finish to the day but it only ended in disappointment. The second worst part of the day was finding out.  The worst part was telling him.

Time for a reset: check the carb and then check it again,  check the gearing, nuts bolts, tire pressure, fill the tank, check the tank bolt (again).  Jason is at the point in his driving where little things make a difference in his lap time.  Just a pound of tire pressure can make a half second difference in his times, just like the pros.  Sunday’s class only had 4 drivers, since Dylan did not return.  Jason qualified 3rd and was only 2 hundredths of a second behind Seth.  The pre-feature was a tough, close race.  He started third and really kept up with Seth and Ashton.  Ashton lost his grip in turn 3 and went over the edge in to the grass, ending his race.  Jason persisted and kept up with Seth finishing only few tenths of a second behind.  This put him in the second spot for the feature.  On the green he pressed hard on the peddle and charged the outside of turn one and took the lead and stayed there lap after lap as Seth tried to find the space to get by.  As the race ran down Seth pushed harder and eventually made the pass in the front straight on the 13th lap.  Jason held second for another lap until Ashton caught and passed him.  Jason was super excited to finish this race in 3rd.


Sunday Pre-Feature, no camera for the feature, grumble
Over the next few weeks we are going to tear the kart apart and do some much needed repairs on the body.  While we work on that Jason is interested in trying some oval racing so we are going to head to Belvidere, IL and Durand, IL for some street oval racing.  He has been bugging me all summer to do this.

IMG_1320This week we are extremely grateful to the guys at C&M Auto Service for putting the extra effort in to get us back on the road in time for this weekend’s race.  To the guys we race with for letting us have so much fun.  Karen and Katie, thanks for taking time out this weekend and cheering him on.

Racing On Father’s Day Weekend!!

Jason, my dad, and I got to spend Father’s Day weekend at Road America watching the SCCA June Sprints and Jason got to race with the Road America Kart Club.

IMG_1330We traveled to Wisconsin Friday morning and hit the pits to check out the race cars.  Jason, being a youngster and a racer, has a way of getting invited to sit in race cars, just like we let young children sit in his kart at the kart show.  One big highlight of the weekend is that we knew one of the drivers in the Ford Motor Spec class.  Unfortunately, he had a really bad weekend crashing in Saturday’s race, but finished.  In Sunday’s race, he was collected by a errant car.  We had a good time rooting for him but he was not able to share the passion because he had to spend so much time wrenching on his car.

At about 2 pm on Saturday we began to get ready for our race.  Jason’s practice sessions were good; lap times were on par with the rest of the group.  This is the first year of the club running with the green slide and everyone is still trying to find the sweet spot for gearing.  Do you target top speed in the straights or exit speed on the corners? Tracks like Badger, you target the exit speed.  Tracks like Concept Haulers, you go for top end speed.  Aside from racing for fun here we could get a feel for the kart on part of the track for the MASS race that is here in a few months.   Night races use the half track and the MASS races will use the full track.  We will be back soon to practice and tune on the full track before the series race.


A little debris on the track

Heat one was very short, he started it the second spot, but the fuel tank came loose just as he went out, so he pulled right off for the DNS (did not start).  Heat two he started 3rd and managed to get a great start and kept third.  While he was slower in the inner corners than Randy in 4th place he was able to exit the last corner with more momentum and speed, preventing Randy from passing him.  Because of the missed first heat Jason started the feature in 4th.  Again, he got a great start and immediately pulled into second, but was quickly passed by Seth and a few laps later by Randy.  About the 4th lap Seth’s kart dropped its chain and he was no longer an issue.  Jason drove on, occasionally making up ground, but not enough, and finished 3rd. This definitely was not a bad race for having last been on this track 2 years ago and only for one race.  He was still about a second back but its nothing that some more seat time and a bit of kart tuning can’t fix.

Next weekend is the 3rd Mid-American Sprint Series race at Concept Haulers, Jason’s home track.  In the last few weeks he has become much more comfortable pushing himself and his kart .  He is a different driver now – more in tune with the kart and the track.  It will be interesting to see how he stacks up against his fast time from last year, and some of the old drivers in the series.

IMG_1372Thanks to my father to getting me into cars and taking me to the Chicago Historic Races 25 years ago. They are now called the “The Hawk with Brian Redman“. Without him I would not be the man I am today and be able to share the special relationship I have with Jason now.  Also to my wife Karen for having an interest in Wagner Farm where she met the wife of Adam, who helped make the races all the more exciting.

Sugar River Fun and the other racer.

Sugar_River_Raceway_Brodhead,WI_tHave you heard of Danica Patrick?  She started racing in karts when she was 7 at is Sugar River Raceway, a half mile knot of a track.   After talking about going here for awhile now, things just lined up and we went.  Baseball playoffs were on the schedule for Saturday, and a Sunday race just felt right.

This was going to be a “fun race”, not points for us.  Just an opportunity to have a race day cold and see how fast Jason could learn a new track.  The rules were a little different too.  He drove an unrestricted LO206 with 6 in (as our normal opposed to 5″) rear tires.  His first practice session was pretty bad the kart was very loose and we were both a little discouraged.  But we knew the kart just needed some tuning and he needed a pep talk.  The second practice was much better – only 2 seconds a lap behind the regulars.  Just before heat 1, I was informed he was hitting the limiter.  That was good news since it meant he was fast, but bad news because I couldn’t fix it - the heat was starting too soon.  Heat 1 was less than 2 seconds a lap slower.  Fixed the gears for heat 2 and now he was just about a second behind.   In the feature he started 7th and drove hard to keep up.  Two of the regulars spun and Jason slipped by for 5th place.  One driver retired but the other tried in vain to get by Jason who, although slower in the corners, did not give ground and was able to pull away in the straights.  He took the checkered flag for 5th.  He was very pleased to have started to made real headway on the track in such a short time.  He definitely rose to a very difficult challenge.  An interesting note, during his very last kid kart race at Road America, Jason met a 4 year old boy named Blake.  This weekend, Blake appeared again, a little older and a little bigger, racing his own kart with the JR1 class at Sugar River.  It is great to reconnect with old friend no matter where ever we go.

IMG_1189So, why is there a horse on this page?  Well, my daughter Katie rides horses and occasionally competes in rodeo events.  She has been riding since she was 6 and they had to find a special small saddle for her back then.  Now she is bigger and loves to find horses she has never ridden and figure them out and get them to figure out who to reach them.  It’s one thing to put a car/motorcycle/kart though is paces on the track you are in total control.  When you are riding a horse, it has it’s own brain and some how you and the horse must find some common ground and work together.

IMG_1203This is western style riding.  It originated with the folks that used to work horses for herding so the style is a little less formal then the very strict English style.  Western competition in this are of the country does not include the cattle because, frankly, they are hard to come by.  Katie is in the Open division of showing which means she has earned either a “high point” or “reserve high point” – first or second place overall in a show.  She won reserve high point a couple of years ago, and moved up into tougher competition, with riders up to age 18 or so.

There is a showmanship class, in which a rider demonstrates how well they can  move a horse in and out of different gaits (walk, jog, lope) and sit nicely in the saddle.  The rider’s back should be straight and they need to be “tight” in the saddle, which means minimal bouncing at the faster gaits.  Competition in this class is fierce with many of the other riders have are older and have more experience.  While, Katie is a good solid rider she is still working on the many niggling details.  Ribbons are given for 6th place on up, but Katie did not happen to place in this particular class.

After showmanship comes the barrel racing.  The rider follows a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels arranged in a large triangle.  Fastest to complete the course is the winner.  Barrel racing is Katie’s favorite, and she placed 3rd – highest ever in this class.

In true rodeos, riders really do pole bending, here it is just poles.  There are six poles set up in a straight line, and you ride your horse as fast as you can, weaving through the poles.  The very fast riders bend the poles back and forth as they charge through.  If a pole is knocked down, you don’t score.  Katie took third in poles, which was her first ribbon in this class.

Katie’s last riding class is flags, the barrels are set up in the same pattern as for barrel racing, but the rider follow a simple triangle.  As the rider races by the first barrel she grabs a flag out of a bucket of sand.  the around the far barrel, finally as they race by third barrel and the rider has to stick the flag in another bucket of sand.  If the flag doesn’t stick, the score doesn’t count.  Katie won second place in flags, which was thrilling because she had never won a ribbon in this class before.

IMG_1222Other classes in the show include a fun costume and an egg and spoon competition.  Egg and spoon is just what you think it is, the ride must carry an egg on a spoon while riding including stopping, starting, and changing direction and pace.  The costume contest is just fun.  Riders dress themselves and their horses in some particular theme.  It is often related to the color of the horse, the horse’s name, or just some costume that the rider thinks would be fun.  Katie rode a beautiful chestnut horse with a white face, who reminded her of California Chrome.  Since the show was the day of the Belmont Stakes, Katie decided to dress up as the jockey, and make her horse the potential Triple Crown winner.  Although California Chrome did not manage to win the Belmont that day, Katie and her horse Fiona took first place in costume.

Our next planned race is the first night race at Road America during the June sprints.  This will be another site reading event for Jason to help him get ready for the last two races with MASS.  In the next few weeks he will race at Concept Haulers with MASS then some street ovals.

IMG_1236Thanks to Peschang Racing  Sugar River Raceway, Timmerman’s Ranch, my beautiful and talented daughter Katie,  and my better half Karen.

First 2014 Endurance Race, Blackhawk Farms

The last weekend in May, we attended the first race in the Championship Enduro Series at Blackhawk Farms Raceway in Rockton, IL.  Unlike the sprint races, these races take place on larger tracks that can support cars and motorcycles and are about 2 miles long.  In addition to the larger tracks the races are time-based, and the driver with the most laps when they take the checkered flag is the winner.  This is Jason’s favorite type of racing as it is very close to racing cars, except that the karts are actually faster.

IMG_1118We arrived at the track on Friday night and set up camp for the weekend.  The next morning got the kart out and began prepping for the race day.  The goal of the morning practice was to get used to the track again and tune the kart for optimal speed.  This was the first time we were running the Briggs Animal this year and trying out a new clutch.  If we could find the gear ratio that allowed the motor to reach its maximum rpm near the end of the the straights, and still have enough power to quickly accelerate out of the corners, it could be a good day.  With a young driver who is still learning this can be a bit of a challenge because you need good feedback, sometimes it’s hard to get that from a 9 year old.  Throughout practice, I made gearing adjustments and he kept getting faster, and eventually the rear gear became to small.  Since I had limited gears for the new clutch, I decided to go back to an old clutch that had a taller gear on it.  Interestingly, this put us back on the same gear configuration we used last year using the LO206 motor.  I think, if I had actually looked my notes from last year I should have started there.

IMG_1157Starting order for these races is a little weird.  The karts are sorted by class and then each class is sorted by who got their entry forms in first.  I got those forms in the day they were available, so Jason started first in his class. While practicing, our starter nut was rounded by the 12 point socket on our starter.  We had to borrow a friend’s starter and be careful to start the motor the first time, since we did not know if the nut would give out completely.  Of course, this made the first race start a little nerve-wracking.  We also had not yet really determined it the gas tank held enough methanol for 25 minutes of racing.  On the green flag Jason made his usual power start and made his way up to 6th place overall by the first corner.  From then on it was the faster karts and drivers making their way around him and Jason lapping some of the slow karts, including a kart with an old Briggs flat head – something you don’t see around much anymore.  Jason finished the race in 3rd place in his class and 10th place overall, and had fuel to spare.  At then end of the day I was able to get a new starter nut put on the motor which should make Sunday a bit easier and less worrisome.

Sunday morning, and frankly the rest of the day, was difficult for everyone. During the 2nd practice session a pair of karts in very fast shifter class touched wheels in the front straight just past the start finish line.  One kart tumbled down the rack and the other flipped into the kart rail.  The driver of the kart into the kart rail was seriously injured and had to be evacuated by helicopter.  At this time the driver is doing OK(click to support) but is going to need to take some time recovering.  The safety and flight crews did their jobs with distinction and skill to keep our friends safe and and on their way to recovery.

The day’s spirit was a bit dampened by the earlier accident.  Some folks even went home, but most stayed.  Jason was on the pole for his class, but the motor would not start.  After a few attempts, I found the spark plug was still disconnected.  It was a quick fix, the kart started up, and off he went, but 30 seconds behind everyone.  He caught up to the slower novice class and passed them.  Then started working on closest of his rivals.  Passed one then another, to fourth place.  From there he drove hard to catch up, but with tires still warming he lost some traction in turn 5 and spun loosing more ground and and had to start over again from the back.  He made a quick recovery and drove with his heart to try to recover almost impossible ground.  Again worked his way back to fourth then on the last lap in the S turn a driver in another class got squirrelly in front of him and he pushed the brakes hard, locking up the read sending him off the track.  He tried in vain to drive out of the grass but the kart was stuck and his race was done.  That same driver lost control of his kart a few turns later and ended up rolling his kart, again sending out the medics.

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Saturday’s racing was supported by the Greenwood Restaurant in Glenview, IL. Mike and his staff serve excellent food with a friendly face. The restaurant’s walls are covered with pictures of regular customers including the extended Wild Duck Family.  We usually head there for a good luck breakfast before we head to races and then are back again the next day to to show of the trophies.  As is tradition after CES races we headed to the Monday 10406931_706372686090436_9156082961649286829_nNight Car Show at Old Orchard.  Lots of very cool cars and people.  Jason managed to win a 1956 Chevy bank.  Going to this show allows us to give back to the sport and introduce other folks to kart racing.  It also lets us promote the folks that help us race with sponsorship.  Thanks to Atomic Decals, Danrr Auto Body, GoPro, Amsoil, C&M Auto Service, Stardust Memorials, and of course this week The Greenwood Restaurant.

With the accidents this weekend, I want to take a moment to talk about safety of racing.  Any sport has risks, just ask the current pro-football players that are suing the NFL.  Karting has risks, too.  Jason understands this risks and has the equipment and the training to make sure he is a safe driver.  Every race starts with a drivers meeting where the rules and safety procedures are covered.  The older drivers he runs with keep an eye out the the younger ones and help them understand when they have done something that is dangerous.   Everyone, is aware of the inherent risks in motorsports and the do’s and don’ts are give to the kids every race.

Our next race will be at Sugar River Raceway on June 8th in their LO206 Junior class. We are waiting to see if we can get the kart set up right and if everyone is rested enough.  After that, we are planning to race at Road America Kart Club in a night race during that will take place during the June Sprints the weekend of June 12-14.  If you are out there racing with the SCCA come on out and support the next generation of racers.

First, I want to put out a heartfelt thanks to the safety crew at Blackhawk Farms. They did a great job of keeping things safe as possible and stepping up when things went wrong. The crew that picked up our racing comrade and flew him to the urgent care he needed.  Dave Larsen and the CES crew to putting the great event on. The Vehrings at 4 Cycle Central for helping us keeping it together mechanically.  This races sponsor The Greenwood Restaurant.  And Karen, yes I know we drive you crazy with all this racing but it makes us both so happy.

What a difference a week makes, MASS 2

badgerplot

After working hard for the last few week we attended the second race weekend with the Mid-American Sprint Series at Briggs and Stratton Raceway Park, hosted by the Badger Kart Club.  Jason had been struggling to conquer this very difficult track and find the best setup for his kart.

Badger’s track is a series of very tight, flat turns followed by a 3 straights with 90 degree left turns between them.  If you can keep the momentum up through the all of the inner corners (instructions) and hit “no-mans land” (corner 10) just right and fly down the straights at top speed, you can catch your competitors.  Jason has had only a handful of sessions on this track and most of them were in his kid kart almost two years ago.  If he can get the hang of this track he should be able to apply the same principles on other tracks in the series.  This is a real driver’s track, requiring a host of different cornering techniques and patience to find the precise line for your kart and style.  Then, you can start to race the rest of the field.

IMG_0977The week before the race, we rested, attending school, doing homework, and playing baseball.  We packed up the truck on Thursday night and set off for the track on Friday morning.   The afternoon weather was expected to be nice after the morning rain.  So we took our time getting packed, remembering to bring our clothes.  We spent the afternoon running around with friends, fine tuning the kart, and practicing, often in that order.  The last time we were there, lap times were mostly in the area of 49 to 50 seconds a lap, which is about 3 seconds off the pace.  We both had work to do to find those seconds, but we would be happy running consistent 48s.  Most of Jason’s time was lost in the corners.  He was still slowing down too much on the entry, losing time getting back up to speed.  At the end of the day he was getting closer, with a few 48s and a lot of low 49s, and signs of improvement.

IMG_1005Saturday had some of the most competitive racing of the weekend.  Jason qualified 4th of 6 in his class for the pre-feature.  In the pre-feature race, he got a good start and did not give up any places but did not gain any either.   He held on until midway through when Dylan (#4 from Concept Haulers) was able to take advantage of a mistake in the hairpin and popped by Jason.   Jason got stuck behind Dylan and this allowed Randy (#23 from Road America) to catch up to Jason.  Two laps later Jason pulled back into 4th exiting no-mans land (turn 10) with more speed than Dylan, and held off Randy till the end.

In the feature race, Jason again stared in 4th.  His start was not as aggressive this time, and was passed by Randy as they flew into turn one.  Jason dogged him, working to pass him, corner after corner, lap after lap, trying to find the edge and looking for the mistake.  Each time there was not quite enough room – the speed was just short, or his randy_2timing was off.   At last, as they entered no-mans land for the 16th and the last time, Jason was right on Randy’s bumper and ready.  As they exited the turn and headed down the straight, Randy was just a little too fast and little sideways, stripping his momentum. Jason made his move for the inside line and beat Randy to turn 11.  His opponent overcome he pressed the pedal to the finish line for 4th place

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The races on Sunday, also Mothers Day, were also excellent but it was a struggle to get there.  Jason had crashed his bike at the track the night before and gave himself some good road rash and bruises.  It was painful but superficial.  When he woke up, he was immediately uninterested in racing and wanted to “just go home”.  IMG_0975After some convincing, a bit of children’s Advil, caffeine, and strong fatherly cajoling (yup, I made him drive injured) he was convinced that he could and should race.  He took to the track for qualifying and put in a respectable 48 second lap but only qualified 4th of 4.  His start for the pre-feature was off and he was not able to take any advantage.  A few laps later he had a good run on Randy again.  They banged side by side into turn one and he got a good bump in the rear from Randy on the exit.  From there it was downhill.  The kart was very loose and he was not able to catch Randy again.  It turned out that the last bump had moved his right rear wheel inward about an inch, throwing the kart’s handling out of whack.  That said he still ran some his fastest laps in a broken kart.

I was able to fix the kart for the feature but he was about ready to give up.  He was tired, sore, and frustrated.  Then we remember the cheese cows from the day before.  Not only do the top three drivers get trophies they also got cows made of cheese.   Noting that he had been running low 47 second laps until the bump, I said I would get him a cheese cow if he could run a 46 second lap, a lap that would be on pace with the fastest kart on the track.  That brought his spirits up and he was pretty stoked about being able to earn a cow.  On the green he pushed really hard and held the outside of turn one forcing Randy to drop back. For the the first few laps he and Randy dropped back from Seth’s (#88 from Road America) 2nd place.   Then Jason’s laps started to get faster and the Seth started to get closer.   He managed to catch and pass Seth coming out of no-mans land, putting him in second place.  He just need to run clean.  Unfortunately, he spun in the hair pin turn and narrowly IMG_1015avoided a collisions with Randy and Seth.  He got back on track quick leaving Seth behind and started to make his way back up to Randy.  Over the next several laps to the end he made great progress on closing the distance between him and Randy but there was just not enough time left.  At the checkered flag he took third earning him a trophy and a cow.  Unfortunately,  he did not earn a second cow missing a 46 second lap by mere 1 hundredth of second.  I would have gotten it for him but he seem so pleased that he a earned the cow on his own that it was not necessary.  He spent the rest of the day exclaiming to anyone who would listen that all he wanted was his cheese cow.

Next race is at Blackhawk Farms Raceway in South Beloit and the first race with Championship Enduro Series the last weekend of May.  We are going to spend the next few weeks making some notes about the current kart setup and then researching and making changes to get ready for road racing.  The first of these changes is taking off the Briggs LO206 that we have been using and putting on the Briggs Animal a faster more powerful motor.

Thanks to his buddies that he fights with on the track, and then runs off to play catch with until the next race. Thanks to Julie Westie (Randy’s Mom) for the two of the photos.  Most importantly, thanks to my Mom and Jason’s Mom.

Growth and getting ready for the future.

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2012

For those of you that are just joining us or need a review, this is the story so far.

In late 2011 Jason got his first taste of kart racing with some seat time in a borrowed kart at Road America.  He really liked it, and got his first kart for Christmas, and soon was on the track learning to drive.  We planned an easy 9 race season at Road America for 2012, but as the season progressed we added few more at other tracks.  He raced in the area of 15 races and learned quickly, While he was not the fastest kid out there, he was definitely near the front.  In 2013 he moved up to the LO206 sportsman class and joined Concept Haulers Motor Speedway for 14 races.  He also added the Champion Enduro Series for 10 races on big race tracks in Illinois and Michigan.  Jason and the team worked hard and he finished second in both series.  The total race count for the season was 19.

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2013

This year we have stepped up by joining a WKA regional series, the Mid-American Sprint series, consisting of five race weekends in Illinois and Wisconsin.  Both Jason and crew are going to have to work very hard.  Jason is going to have to learn four tracks that he has either never raced on, or only been on a few times.  The crew is going to have to pay attention to track differences, listen to Jason’s feedback, and review lap times to get the kart into an ideal configuration before every race.  As they say in many sports, “it is going to be a building year”.

badger_trackAs part of our preparation for the next MASS race, we were at Badger Kart Club’s Briggs and Stratton Raceway Park a couple of weeks ago for a Saturday practice.  The practice on Saturday went very poorly; the kart was off and the track was very, very slippery.  Jason spent most of the day sliding off the track and doing donuts in the grass.  The crew spent most of the day attempting to figure out why, and how to improve the situation.  We had planned to camp at the track overnight but the weather turned cold and rainy.  With our exhaustion settling in fast, we opted to stay in hotel in Dousman for the night.  This was an good decision, since there were high winds and rain overnight, and the next morning, the races were called off for rain.  We still needed to get some practice tuning, so we decided to go to the first Badger points race the following weekend.

IMG_0834Once we returned home the kart was unpacked and preparations were begun to get the kart ready for the next outing.  We discovered that the front axles were not level, meaning the kart chassis was bent.  The kart was taken apart and the chassis sent to the shop to get fixed.  Our friends at Viking Karting Products got it on Monday night and straightened everything out.  We picked up the chassis on Friday night and worked for a few hours to put it back together pack the truck for Sunday’s race.  Saturday’s hours were already allocated to baseball and family activities.

On Sunday we picked up Jason’s grandpa and had some “good luck” breakfast at the Greenwood Restaurant (a sponsor) before we headed off to the track.  When we arrived, we learned that the day’s race format was qualifying. This is good because he needed to practice qualifying.  But it was also bad because it meant we only got one practice session to set the kart up, making it even more difficult to accomplish our intended purpose of kart setup and practice.

The morning’s practice went well but he was still a little off the pace.  On the bright side, he stayed on the track lap after lap.  I made a rear gear change for qualifying (video) and it made things worse.  He qualified third but only a few hundredths of a second behind the second place qualifier.  At this point, I needed to make quick decision on what to do next.  After consulting with some of the other crews I made a radical change, changing out the front gear from the original 18 to a 15. This takes the gear ratio from near 3:1 to closer to 4:1.  This change gave him less power (slower exits) in the corners but a higher top end speed.  The pre-feature (video) went much better.  His lap times were better and he finished second after a rather bumpy set of opening laps and avoiding the other drivers as they spun their karts in front of him.   At one point Jason clipped a another kart sending some bumper parts into the air, but he remained un-phased and determined to finish with fast clean laps.

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2014

We had a brief time before the feature to contemplate the last opportunity to make setup changes.  With some deliberation and discussion with Jason, we changed the rear gear again to improve speed and front geometry to try to improve cornering.  Jason started on the outside of the first row in second.   At the green flag (video) the pole driver pulled away and Jason started to pull away from third.  Twelve laps later, Jason gave his three fist pumps as he crossed the finish line in second for the day.  Hopefully, his hard work will pay off this weekend when he races the second Mid-American Sprint Series event at Badger.

IMG_0852As a sports parent you want your child to win.  But even after two years, Jason has so much to learn to become a really proficient and winning driver.  It is important keep expectations in perspective.  The only thing you can hope for is continued improvement and ride the ups and downs of competition.  Yes, there was some frustrating practice, but he learned what a bad chassis feels like.  At the next race he now has a better understanding of what’s wrong and what he needs to ask for to get it right.

Thanks Brian at VPK, Badger Kart Club, Marty Murray, Pete Johnson, Regan at 4 Cycle Central, my dad, and Karen.

MASS Race 1 Mid-State Kart Club

From a non-racing standpoint it was a really difficult weekend.  We left Thursday night for Springfield so that we could get an early start practicing on Friday.  During the drive up, the truck’s power steering pump began to make an unholy noise.   After following incorrect GPS instructions, we arrived about an hour later then we expected. 10 pm is late for an 8 year old who needs to be alert in the morning.  While unpacking for the night we discovered that our luggage for the hotel was left at home.  This was a ominous beginning to our weekend.  It was going to take a lot of determination to avoid these distractions.IMG_0758

This was the first race weekend of the Mid-American Sprint Series, the first race of the season for the track at the Mid-West Kart Club, AND the first time Jason has been on this track.  This track’s layout is good mix of Badger with its tight turns, Concept Haulers with its long straights, and Road America’s elevation changes, making for fast and technically difficult racing.  It is very much like Jason’s favorite track Grattan, so much so it is currently his number 3 favorite, behind Grattan and Black Hawk Farms.  The Mid-State Kart Club is run and owned by the club, much like Badger Kart Club.  This lets the track run as a non-profit organization and turn any profits back into the track and keeping the club and kart racing going.  Concept Haulers is privately owned and are relies on making a profit to support the track’s owners.  Club owned tracks make for best racing experience because everyone involved is primarily interested in safe quality racing as the highest priority because they are personally invested and work at the track because they love racing.

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Saturday was the first day of two race days.  Our expectations for the day, as underdogs, were to have fun racing. The drivers Jason would be up against were some of the best, and this was primarily an opportunity for learning.  His lap times were very good but a few seconds off the pace.  Our friend Brandon, who has helped us at Concept Haulers, was there and helped Jason drop a few precious seconds per lap with some coaching.  Jason ran a great race and definitely shows the hallmarks of a budding driver.   He managed to stay on the lead lap even with a few mistakes, and only a second or two off the pace.  The more he races the faster he is going to get.

The truck did not fair so well, it dumped all of its power steering fluid and was really hard to steer.   Brad Kline, Brandon’s dad helped us get some steering fluid, but it quickly leaked out.  We decided to park it at the track overnight and the Mersburgers let us put the kart and tools in their trailer overnight.  At that point, we were going to have to stay until Monday and wait for a shop to open.  In the mean time we can Focus on racing.IMG_0742

The weather for Sunday’s race had it’s own special excitement – a forecast for rain.  Most club races don’t race when it rains.  Since this was a WKA feeder series and a more serious event, they still race when it rains.  To keep the day short and try to beat the rain, practice was limited to one session.  Jason qualified third.  All but the last two classes qualified in the dry.  The second to last class was red flagged as the rain came in, and teams were given 15 minutes to change to a rain setup.  At that point everyone else the needed to change to a rain setup and it was officially a rain race.  Knowing this was coming and most of our adjustments we done; we moved wheels in the front out and rear wheels in and put the rain tires on.

IMG_0720If you have an opportunity to watch any motor sport race in the rain, definitely take advantage of it. The whole dynamic of the race changes, it requires the driver to change almost everything about how they take to the track. The racing line is different – wider and smoother.  Throttle and brake control need to be very precise.  Drivers that are fast in the dry suddenly become slow and cautious, and occasionally the slow guy runs away. Jason listened to his coaches and took their advice to heart for the pre-feature and took the wet track like a duck to water. He started the race in third position and his class was behind a two cycle class. At the green flag he jumped out from behind the pole on the inside and made a beeline for the first corner, beating his competition. He headed off the two other drivers for three of the six laps until his kart started to become unresponsive to the motor and was passed at the first tight corner by both of the drivers behind him. He kept the kart going and managed to stay on the lead lap, limping the kart to the checkered flag.131869_10202311844931029_7887569204154681356_o

During the break between the next race we looked at the kart.  We did not find anything obvious, but suspected that the clutch may have issues. Jason took the kart out to the track for the feature, driving as fast as the kart could, until it just stopped working.  He put in a great effort and again stayed on the lead lap for all 12 laps despite throttle problems.

This first race put lots of challenges in front of us.  Some of them on the track and some of them off.  Jason kept his cool and focus on the moment, not letting problems with the truck, rain, or kart distract him from his goal.  Since we had no chance of fixing the truck during the weekend we worked on the problems we could solve and had a lot of fun. IMG_0754Adding an extra night to our trip was not too much of a inconvenience, except for missing work and school, both of which we will have to make up later.  On Monday the truck was road-worthy by 10 am and we on the road home with stories to tell our family and friends.

This next weekend we are off for the holiday then its back to our second home Badger Kart Club on April 27th for their non-points race and some practice before the Sprint Series race on May 9th.  If you are looking for something new to do stop by the track and see the racing.

This weekend we really depended on our track friends to get us through. The Mersburgers gave space in their trailer to store the kart and tools overnight at the track.  Brad, Brandon, and Jeremy Kline lent us moral and technical support including coaching and transportation to various locations.  Thanks to all of you for you understanding and assistance.  Thank you AJ Brown at S&K Buick for getting us back on the road quickly.  Scott, the organizer of this series, deserves lots of thanks for a thankless job of starting a new series.  The folks at Mid-State Kart Club stepped up their game for this first race of their season and hosted a great event.  This was one of my personally favorite weekends with Jason (so far) so thanks to him for being a great kid. It goes without mention that my wife deserves much thanks for being open to possibility way back when…

Start your Engines!

The weather in the off-season, as everyone is painfully aware, was not cooperative.  I did not finish the kart until the week before our first race and then we just had to trust that it was done right.  Last year, we were able to start practicing in February.  Not so lucky this year.  The weeks before this race we worked to get the kart ready and get back in to the rhythm of racing.  We had to collect accessories parts and tools, check the weather obsessively, find the awning and chairs, try on and pack race gear, plan drinks and snacks, etc..  Finally on Friday night, we loaded it all into the truck set out for the track early Saturday.

IMG_0536Jason grew this winter, which is not surprising for an 8 year old. But this meant he needed a bigger seat and a new suit.  A kart seat is like skate or ski boots – it needs to fit tight so the driver has good support and control – but it also means kids grow out of them quickly.  A race kart is a finely balanced machine and changing the seat also changes everything else on the kart, from the motor to the steering wheel and pedals.  Everything needs to be adjusted to accommodate to the driver’s new size and position.  We also bought a new motor to replace the used one we ran for the last 2 years, and which was a few years old when we got it.   I would have preferred to have set it up and tested it in practice conditions but sometimes you just need to work with the time you have.

In order to prepare for the season, we headed to Concept Haulers Motor Speedway for their first race.  We needed to get some track time in to make sure the kart is ready for the more challenging Mid-State Sprint Series.  For our first run at practice we focused on just breaking in the new motor and remembering the track. To break in a motor you need to run it under load (drive it) over a wide range of conditions, fast, slow, light acceleration, heavy acceleration with standard car oil.  Between the first and second practice session I removed the break-in oil and poured in the 4T Amsoil that we normally race with.  Jason, drove the kart like he had never been away and the kart handled great.  All of the test fittings in the basement really paid off.

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This race brought some new friends and some old ones.  Chad (#56), Kyle (#26), Logan (#27) are back.  Racers Ryan (#99) and Skyler (#5) are new to the sport, though Skyler has some indoor racing under her belt.  Finally, Sophia (#83), Skyler’s older sister was a great addition to the group.  She has a lot of indoor experience and was very smooth and fast.  It was shaping up to be a great racing day.  The only issue during practice was when the right king pin on Kyle’s kart shattered as he drove over the tunnel.  It caused him to lose a wheel and he slid off the track into the mid-field.  Thankfully, everyone was unharmed and the kart was fixed but not quite the same for the rest of the day.

After the usual drivers meeting and opening ceremony the races got under way.  Jason was scheduled to start the first heat in 7th position, but he swapped to 6th with Skyler because it was her first race and she is a very green driver.  This spot was actually very good for him because it meant he will start the second heat on the pole.  If he does well in both heats, he should be on the pole for the feature.   After a rough start with stalled motors and confusion, Jason leapt from 6th right up to to 4th trailing behind Kyle, Chad and Logan on the green.  Sophia caught and passed Jason at the end of the first lap and Logan got by Chad.  At the end of the next lap Kyle, Logan, and Chad all slide into the infield as they entered turn 13 in a slow tangle of karts.  This left Sophie in the lead and Jason in 2nd.  Jason chased Sophie for another lap until they came up on Skyler’s very slow kart on the hill again.  Jason was able to get by Sophie in turn 14,  but got bogged down by Skyler between turn 2 and 3, and Sophie took the lead again.  Jason passed Skyler in turn three and took off after Sophie until the last lap where he set up turn 4 just right to pass her in the back straight.  From there, it was straight on home to the checkered flag for the the first win on the season.

For the second heat they reverse the order of the first so Jason started on the pole.  He got a great start and led the 6 lap heat all the way to the last corner of he last lap.  Chad had been running hard and caught up with Jason just as they caught the slower Skyler.  Jason checked his brakes to avoid hitting her, but that caused Chad to bump the rear of Jason’s kart.  Jason spun off the track and stalled out the engine.   He ended up in last, after a really great run.  Disappointing but understandable.

With the win in the first heat and the last in the second heat Jason was placed in the third position behind Chad and Sophie.  This was just about the worst place for him to start the feature.  It was going to be tough to get by both of these skilled drivers.  At the green they got a good start: Chad and Sophie followed by Jason.  Chad started to pull away as Jason worked at finding the edge around Sophie.  In the 6th lap Jason at last passed her in the back stretch.  She made one attempt to under cut and gave him a little bump in the hairpin but he hung on and kept driving the line.  Even with 6 more laps there was not enough time for him to catch Chad – he was just too far ahead.  Jason finished his first race of the 2014 season with a mighty fist pump as he crossed the finish line.

Aside from enjoying another race, the main goal for this day was to test the kart and team as we get ready for the Mid-American Sprint Series on April 11th.  On Thursday, we will be leaving for Mid-State Kart Club in Springfield, IL for the first of 5 race weekends, allowing us some practice time on Friday.  Some of the best Briggs LO206 teams in the Midwest are expected.  It is going to be a very challenging weekend.

Thanks to Brandon Kline for giving us some much needed advice and support; he really helped tune Jason back to the track.  The new Concept Haulers Track Tech, Marty Murray who is going to be a wonderful asset to the already great crew.  Most importantly, to my supportive wife and daughter who let us boys play together all summer long.