By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Upon hearing that Superkarts! USA was hosting their Pro Tour WinterNationals at NOLA Motorsports Park on March 3-5, I immediately reached out to Rob Howden, announcer for the tour and founder/editor of ekartingnews.com about the event and going to it.
He said it would be a good experience and that this is where the Mazda Road to Indy kids would come from and that the size of the event would surprise me.
He was right, the size of the event did surprise me, but how little I knew of karting indicated how much of a surprise it would be.
There were trailers big and small going all the way back through the parking lot from the beginning of the rental kart center entrance to the back edge of the pavement.
Several teams had setups that would rival any Verizon IndyCar Series team’s setup on any race weekend. One team even had opaque sliding doors leading into their compound that was completely sealed off.
All of this for a karting event? I guess that team must take karting very seriously. Then again, some teams have a very small canopy over a few karts on kart stands so it all depends on how much money a team wants to spend.
The karts themselves come mostly from European builders. Tony Kart, Birel Art and CRG are three of the largest kart makers from Europe while Margay flies the American flag for karting manufacturers.
While walking through the paddock I saw many karts being worked on in several different areas. Stopping at one team’s awning, I made an interesting discovery after a team leader mentioned kart setup.
“Kart setup? These things don’t have springs, they don’t have shocks, they don’t have anti-roll bars, so what is there to set up?”
At this point, anybody with any insider knowledge of the karting world will be spitting their drink out if they’re consuming any kind of beverage at the ignorance I put forth to this team leader.
It was at that point I learned the most important thing about karting.
Almost anything you bolt onto the frame to build the kart can be adjusted.
Different spindle thicknesses, different spindle metals, different pedals, different rear axle thicknesses and metals, different stiffness levels of the body work, different stiffness of seats, hell even seat position can be adjusted by millimeters.
But how would this make such a big difference? The team leader told me an analogy.
“In an Indy car, it weighs about 1,500 pounds with the driver, which is about 150 of that. Here, the driver is half the weight of the whole package, so packaging weight here is critical.”
It all made sense, but there was still the business of racing left to do.
There was constant action throughout almost every race I saw, including one race with a margin of victory of .031 seconds, one race with multiple karts making contact in the final corner and the first five finishing all together and another race with the leader dropping a wheel off the track and retiring the next time around despite leading almost the entire distance.
There was a ton of bumping as drivers drafted with each other to catch each other and some strategies were clear to see as some drivers were playing a waiting game to make their move.
When the last lap came though, all bets were off, and so were some karts!
Regardless, the WinterNationals at NOLA Motorsports Park was a weekend that I won’t soon forget and it made me greatly appreciate the karting world.