Competitive racing allows Allen to sneak away, have fun
By ALLEN GEMAEHLICH
My editor teased me about going out the past three weeks to practice for my latest
I suppose, in some ways, I deserved it.
I didn’t really practice mountain biking to be prepared for my trip on the White Rim Trail in
Canyonlands National Park last spring or for running off a mountaintop to paraglide a few years ago.
So, yeah, I snuck away from the office a couple of times to learn how to drive a
two-speed shifter kart at Grand Junction Motor Speedway.
I needed the practice. I was driving a kart with a 125cc engine, capable of speeds more than 100 mph.
Every time I practiced, I went the same direction on the track, clockwise.
When I arrived at the track Sunday for my first competitive kart race, I expected the race to go in the same direction.
This particular club race went counterclockwise. The club switches the direction for each race. Perfect.
Luckily, all the drivers were allowed a couple of practice runs before qualifying, and boy, did I need them!
On my first run, I spun out on the first corner. This is going to be an interesting day. I was able to get going again, only to brake too hard around another corner and drive off the track.
I took a few more laps, spinning out at least once each lap. Not good.
For the second practice run, I made it around the first corner OK, but I still spun out on two corners.
A few laps later, I spun off the track again into a pile of soft dirt so thick I couldn’t get the kart to move.
I had to wait for Richard Talley to tow me back to the pits ... with everyone watching.
After the practice laps, I was introduced to the rest of the drivers at a meeting. I was teased more than once about going off the track.
After visiting with John Casey, a shop mechanic who has worked with me the past three weeks, I figured out how to keep the kart on the track, and I prepared for qualifying.
That went better. I managed to keep the kart on the track this time, but I still spun out a couple of times. Needless to say, I had the worst qualifying time. I didn’t even need to check the starting position list to know I was going last.
The kart was running fine, but the driver had a lot to learn.
It showed in the heat race.
I fell behind immediately when I spun out on the third corner. By the time I was on my second lap, I had been lapped.
Before the heat race was over, I was lapped three times. Three of the drivers lapped me on the back sweeper, where you can gain the most speed. I tried to keep up, but spun off the track.
I thought I was doing OK until a 15-year-old girl lapped me. Then again, it was former Touch-and-Go world champion Sabré Cooke, so I didn’t feel so bad.
The main event race went about the same, with a few spinouts.
I managed to complete 12 of the 15-lap race in 14 minutes, 50.661 seconds. My best lap time was 1:11.105.
I raced four one-speed karts. The fastest lap time in my heat was by Anthony Gianonne, 55.857 seconds. Even the kids posted quicker times than me.
Still, I felt more comfortable in the kart each time out. Another driver, the track owner, shop manager and the race director all said I did well — for my first time.
“I’ve only been at this for three months,” TaG Master driver Kit Axelson said. “I was just like you. The DD2 is maybe over your head. I’d start out with this (TaG kart) and work on getting seat time. Only one guy lapped me today. When I first started out I was lapped three times.”
Axelson bought a rental kart at Grand Junction Motor Speedway for $1,500 and has since upgraded. He has invested more than $3,000 in his current kart.
“You were legendary,” track owner Stacey Cook told me. “You did better as you went. It’s intimidating to jump in there like you did. Every time you were on the track, you got better.”
Shop manager Marty Casey and his son, John, helped me prepare for the race from the start and worked on the DD2 kart I drove.
“I think you did spectacular,” Marty Casey said. “It looked like you had fun and you progressed a whole bunch. I think you need to buy a kart.”
Race director and head flagger Charles Pruitt has seen a lot of first-time drivers.
“You did great for your first race,” Pruitt said. “It’s not as easy as people think. Practice is one thing, but then when you get out there with others, it’s totally different. I have more and more respect for the drivers.”
Rental karts are available at the speedway, from 10 minutes to an hour or longer.
With my $10 gift certificate I won for taking first place in the DD2 class (I was the only driver), I’ll be sneaking out soon for more practice.