The USAC banner was flying over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jim Cornelison sang “Back Home Again In Indiana”. The winner chugged milk and took home a brick. But this wasn’t the Indy 500 — it was the USAC “Battle At The Brickyard”, and your humble author was in the pack that rushed past the sportcoat-clad starter in search of a win at America’s most venerable racetrack.
It should be noted that this was my first kart race. Like, first kart race ever. I had an outstanding ride — a brand-new Ignite K3, prepared by Margay and maintained on-site by a dedicated mechanic. I had two great teammates — Larry Webster and Hagerty’s only former WKA competitor, young photographer and autowriter Cameron Neveu. Most of all, I had the ironclad and completely ignorant belief that I could parachute in and race head-to-head with people who weren’t just famous as kart racers but well-known in other motorsports as well, like multiple SCCA Runoffs and pro series winner Keith Scharf.
Naturally, I won it all. Okay, that’s a lie. I didn’t even finish in the top half. In the fourteen-lap main event I took a 23rd place out of 33 non-disqualified karts in the final, ahead of just four other karts that were still running at the end of the thing. Not exactly Days Of Thunder material here, boys.
Now here’s the thing. I didn’t get passed in corners. I defended my positions pretty well. After lap one of the final, I was somewhere between 10th and 15th place, having started in 29th. I even made a couple serious and successful moves on highly experienced competitors, some of whom took podium positions in the various heats and pre-finals. Why’d I get stomped so bad? Let me, ahem, push myself away from the buffet table and explain.
Ignite Masters is a 370-pound class. That means you and your kart must weigh at least 370 pounds at the end of qualifying and at the end of the final. I never saw anyone finish in the top ten who weighed in at over 374 pounds. Once I heard a competitor weighed at 382 and he said, “Thank God I have ten pounds of ballast on the kart to remove before the final.”
My kart and I were… 424 pounds. Running the 8.8 horsepower 206cc Briggs&Stratton engine, that meant I had 48 pounds per horsepower compared to the 42 of my competition. To put in terms normal car people understand, I was driving a Corvette Stingray and everybody else was driving a Corvette Z06. My top speed was 58 miles per hour; Larry Webster was hitting 65. All but two of the turns at the IMS road course are taken flat out. This was a problem.
Over the course of the three-day event, we worked on ways to counteract this. I learned to tuck like a monkey behind the wheel and steer using my palms against the wheel with my knuckles on the insides of my legs, which was intensely painful in fast corners but was worth perhaps 1.5 miles per hour. We raised my gearing ratio until I could match the acceleration of my competition at the green flag, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to stay with them once the field opened up. Sure enough, I made hay at the start, but ended up being passed by plenty of karts. On lap 12, I was caught by the three leading racers; on lap 13, two more showed up. Oof. I can’t remember the last time I was lapped in a club race.
How to fix this? Well, I could lose fifty-four pounds, which would put me at 195 even. I haven’t been that light since I was 28 years old. Back then I ran four miles a day, five days a week, and often rode twenty miles on a bike after running. In theory, I could do it again. Somehow. If I thought my son would die if I didn’t scale at 195 by next July, I could do it. Can I do it for the purpose of placing fifteen spots higher in the order of a spec-series kart race? Probably not.
Brother Bark does a much better job staying thin than I do, to put it mildly. At the moment I’m pretty sure he can do twenty pull-ups and bench half again his actual weight. I don’t have his discipline in that area, and I’m constructed fundamentally differently. So I think it would be better if I stuck to club racing and didn’t go full Karen Carpenter in 2021.
That being said, if I lost twenty pounds I would only be fifteen pounds above the minimum for the Briggs 206 Heavy class for next year’s Battle At The Brickyard. A fifteen-pound disadvantage is much better than a fifty-four-pound disadvantage. And I have a year to do it. On the other hand, my local Ruth’s Chris just reopened. There are two wolves inside me, as the proverb goes. One of them wants to win a kart race. The other one wants to have Tim Horton’s for breakfast, every day. Which one will win? Why, the one I feed, of course!
I would also encourage my readers to read Sam Smith’s examination of what happens when a spouse, and mother, is lost.