After scouting the race two years ago, my son Conor and I decided to race at the USAC Elkhart Riverwalk Grand Prix this year. It turned out to be quite the adventure and an absolute blast. Our goal was to not embarrass ourselves (mischief managed on that count) and to not irreparably crunch either kart (the jury is still out on that one).
The front straight.
The setting for the track is Elkhart’s Riverwalk district. It’s a beautiful location and the City of Elkhart is beyond welcoming. There is a Ferris wheel and kids zone, bands, a corn hole tournament with a $5000 purse (!), fireworks and at the center of it all is is a kart race!
Our paddock spot.
The track is basically two long straights connected by bridges over the Elkhart River. You spend most of your time at full throttle and even 206 Masters reach some exciting top speeds. Heavy braking into an off camber Turn 1 gets you across the river; turn 2 leads to the long straight-ish backstretch which leads into a high pucker factor flat out right hand turn 3, across another bridge into a bumpy turn 4 back onto the front straight.
The format was two practice sessions and qualifying on Friday afternoon followed by the “Pro Fleet Dash” for cash ($500 to win IIRC. Drivers from my home track finished first and second). Conor was entered in 206 heavy A and Ignite Senior; I was entered in 206 Masters and Ignite Masters.
Saturday afternoon was a heat race followed by the features. Practice went well but it became clear that two classes with different setups and not enough time to make changes between sessions was a recipe for disaster so we decided to drop the Ignite Senior and Masters classes. Our tires were a year old and kinda scary especially before any rubber went down. So 206 Heavy A and 206 Masters is what we ended up running.
Practice went off well. Qualifying went reasonably well, I qualified 9th of 14 and Conor was somewhere around 18th of 25 which wasn’t bad considering he and the barrier at turn 2 got up close and personal on his fourth qualifying lap. The result was a bent left spindle, kingpin and both tie rods were bent. Happily, I had spares and Brandon from Margay came over to our tent and helped us get everything back together, arguably better than it was when we arrived.
Heat race grid
Saturday morning was an uneventful warmup session followed by 10 lap heat races. Starts were LeMans style with everyone backed up to the curb. Conor did reasonably well in the heat (not sure where he finished since I was getting ready to go). I started ninth and made up a few places on the start and actually had some fun battles until the off camber turn one caught the kart in front of me out. I slowed to avoid them and got podded into the barrier on the approach to the bridge between turns 1 and 2 by someone trying to pass. The contact bent my left tie rod and may have tweaked the frame a little but I was able to finish, somewhere around 12th of 14. Margay came to our rescue again with a new tie rod and pill and sniper session to correctly align the kart again.
Feature races started after the sponsor races around 4:30; sadly, so did the rain. We haven’t run in the rain yet and don’t have rain tires or filter covers. Elkhart doesn’t seem like the kind of place to learn to race in the rain, so we scratched from the feature races. All in all, it was a great time! USAC does a fine job of running the event. 11/10 Highly recommended!
I can’t say enough for the guys (Brandon in particular) from Margay and their support. They absolutely kept both of us in the race after our incidents.
TL;DR Get thee to a street race! They’re challenging and a blast! No excuses! Rock Island is Labor Day weekend I think and the Clyde (OH) GP, Part of the Clyde Fair festival, is Sunday Sept. 17. Evidently, there are only four (!) street races left in the country. Get out and support them!
Also [insert shameless plug here] order some of James’ Kartpulse stickers and fly the KP Flag wherever you go!