Article by: Superkarts! USA
After the success of the inaugural Superkarts! USA ProKart Challenge West Coast Shootout in 2009, the concept of bringing together the best drivers from the North and South regional programs again proved worthy with an even bigger driver roster and fiercer competition this year. The Santa Maria Karting Association Kart Track played host to the second annual ‘North vs. South’ title fight – set as the final round of the six-race South championship chase while counting toward round five for the North. With 120 drivers from all over the west, the beautiful coastal weather greeted a packed paddock that was buzzing with excitement as drivers went head-to-head against their regional counterparts. In the end, the South would prevail over the North in the final tally, thanks to performances like Bobby Kelley in TaG Senior – and despite the efforts of those like NorCal star and former national champion Alex Speed – claiming the S1 Pro Stock Moto victory.
The driver lineup in the S1 category mirrored the roster of the SKUSA Pro Tour, with all three series leaders on hand. While Clinton Schoombee and Fritz Leesmann were looking to help control their fate in the regional championships, Alex Speed had nothing to lose as he continues to prepare for the upcoming SKUSA SuperNationals. The qualifying session for the headline category was ended after just one-minute on the clock, due to oil on the track. It would be one minute too late, as it collected championship contenders Jason Toft and Tommy Thompson, ending their session with kart damage into the barriers. After the clean-up, the remaining drivers were allowed a second qualifying session, and jostled the pole position back and forth until Speed claimed the spot with a 46.669. Leesmann was a close second, as Brad Dunford slid into third ahead of Schoombee. The top four were separated by just eight-hundredths.
Leesmann scored the opening 8-lap heat race win, as Speed had to fight Schoombee for second. Leesmann led early in the second moto, until Speed worked by with two laps to go, scoring the win. Schoombee, however, retired on the final lap due to a shattered front right brake rotor, costing him valuable points in the chase and moving NorCal driver Brett Buckwalter up to the third position. The main event was another thriller – this time for 15 laps – with Leesmann at the point early on. Leading the first five laps, Speed hounded the PKC North point leader until lap six, when he overtook the position. Leesmann looked to retake the lead, but would come up short as Speed picked up the pace in the late going, posting the fast laps en route to his first PKC West Coast Shootout victory. Dunford held the third spot for the majority of the race, staying with the top two until lap 12, when he spun in turn one trying to get around Leesmann. Buckwalter assumed the position and crossed the line behind Leesmann to complete the podium. Thompson recovered from his qualifying misfortunes to end up fourth in the final – with Schoombee on his bumper up to fifth.
Victory at the PKC West Coast Shootout in TaG Senior not only has put Bobby Kelley’s name into the forefront for the SKUSA SuperNationals pre-race banter, but it has also positioned him as the championship leader in the PKC North program heading into next month’s finale. The event began with Kelley ending up second in qualifying to his teammate Nick Johnston, who posted a 47.749 lap time. PKC South championship leader Phil Giebler had transponder issues during the session, forcing him to pit early – but was able to clock in the third quickest time. Johnston showed the way in the opening heat race, until Kelley made his move coming to the white flag and going on to the win. Senior rookie Louie Pagano made his move at the same time, pushing Giebler back to fourth. Kelley was able to break away to score the win in the second heat, as Johnston fought with Giebler for the runner-up spot, eventually losing out and holding off Pagano for third.
It was a mad shuffle to begin the 15-lap feature, as Giebler came away with the point over Johnston and Kelley fell back to third. Once by Johnston on lap four, Kelley set his sights on the former Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. Four laps later, Kelley pulled the trigger and regained the lead. From there, the top two were evenly match, with Giebler unable to advance by Kelley. In the end, Kelley would score the victory by one second over Giebler, while Johnston earned the final podium position over two Senior rookies – Adrian Starrantino and Pagano.
The largest class of the weekend was the S4 Master Stock Moto division – with 22 primed, veteran drivers taking part – which coincidentally is the first class to reach the 40-driver mark for pre-entries at the SKUSA SuperNationals. Qualifying was paced by the South contingent, with the first six spots held by drivers from SoCal entering their final round of the season with the championship chase up in the air. Leading the way in the timed session was Doug Hayashi, point leader Jeff Littrell and Phil Conte, as the top three would only be separated by seven-hundredths – with Hayashi’s 48.070 lap time best of the run. The surprise of the session would be the position of PKC North point leader Jeff Smith, as the SKUSA SpringNationals winner was only 13th in the final tally. Conte went from third to first in the opening lap of the first heat, going on to the win over Hayashi and Littrell as Jason Campbell joined the fight from P9 grid position. Campbell continued his progression forward, leading all but the opening lap to score the win in heat two over Hayashi and Conte. Littrell would lose valuable championship points, getting shuffled back to 20th after attempting a pass for position and spinning around in what appeared to be fluid on track. Meanwhile, Smith continued to overcome his poor qualifying effort, placing sixth in the first heat and ended up fourth in the second moto, matching the pace of the leaders.
Campbell grabbed the holeshot to begin the main event, with Smith able to work by both Hayashi and Conte in the opening lap. Smith took only three laps to size up Campbell, making his move on lap four to take the lead. From there, Smith would post the fast laps of the race to score the victory, his seventh straight on the season – including SKUSA Pro Tour and regional action. Campbell stayed with Smith for the remainder of the race, crossing the line second to complete a solid performance, while Conte ran on his bumper to complete the podium. Littrell drove forward to end up eighth. Luke Bianco swept the day in S4 Magnum, outrunning Marc Lewis and Larry Metter to clinch his second straight PKC South title.
Needing to gain maximum amount of points to have a chance at the PKC South S2 Semi-Pro Stock Moto title, Ryon Beachner did just that as he swept the day’s action to score nearly a perfect score for the event – missing out only on the 10 bonus points for fast lap in the main event. Beachner posted a fast lap of 47.323 in the qualifying session to top the charts, with the top four split with North and South drivers. Fellow South driver Vivek Tandon was third, while North drivers Neil Joseph and Matt Alcorn were second and fourth. Joseph grabbed the holeshot in heat one, and led the first two laps before Beachner reclaimed the top spot. Joseph then fell back to third and Tandon advanced up to second with Alcorn, the North championship leader, holding fourth. Positions remained unchanged after the start in heat two, with Beachner taking the holeshot over Tandon – while Alcorn jumped in front of Joseph. Battling to stay in the top-five, Joseph eventually made contact with Bryce Miller, who spun out in front of him while battling for position, finishing 10th.
Tandon began the 15-lap feature as the leader, while Beachner had to settle into second place with Alcorn on his bumper. The top three ran nose to tail until lap seven, when Beachner took over the top spot from Tandon. From there, Beachner would go on to take the victory by just over a second, as Tandon crossed the line in second. Alcorn was pressured late in the race by Cameron Pringle, and on lap 14 Alcorn was shuffled out and fell back to fifth in the order as Pringle took the final podium position over Nicky Freytag – who posted fast lap of the race after starting 15th.
The S3 Novice Stock Moto category was also swept on the day, as South driver Jason Attwood paced the field throughout the event, claiming the class title in the process. Sure to be a great addition to the S2 division in 2011, Attwood drove away each session with PKC newcomer Austin Countryman placing second over Jessica Sollberger. S5 Junior Stock Moto ran on track at the same time, and looked to be a sweep as well heading into the final. SKUSA Pro Tour winner Daniel Langon led the way through the day until the first turn of the Final, when an S3 driver spun in front of him. With nowhere to go, Langon was collected - along with S5 driver Matias Podboj. However, all three were able to get restarted after the field drove by. This allowed Augie Lerch to take the point and score the big victory in only his third PKC start in the S5 category. Scott Phillips ended up second with Micah Hendricks completing the podium.
TaG Master was paced by the PKC North contingent – with point leader Ethan Wilson coming away with the victory. After topping the charts in qualifying, Wilson was edged out for the first heat win by Peter Workum. Coming back to win the second heat, Wilson went on to cruise to the victory in the main event after Workum retired on lap three with mechanical issues. Jeff Deehan advanced to finish second to put the North 1-2 on the podium – with South championship leader Ron Rossetti in third.
TaG Junior was anything but a breeze for the young rising stars, as they battled it out hard at the front of the field. Jake Craig made his first PKC start of the season, beginning the event as the top qualifier over another first-time PKC driver Carter Williams – while PKC North driver Kathryn Cornell sat third. Cornell got the jump on the two ‘newbies’, as she came around leading the first lap, going on to score the win ahead of Craig and Williams. Cornell led things early in heat two, until Craig took the spot and went on to win – with Kathryn falling to fourth behind Austin Dement and Williams. Craig and Williams went at it tooth-and-nail for 13 of the 15 laps in the main event, swapping the lead numerous times until the two made contact, taking them out of the race. This put Dement to the point, as he scored the victory over Cornell with Emmanuel Mestre completing the podium.
Craig nearly had a victory locked in the PKC North HPV2-Junior category, as well. Showing the way the entire day heading into the final, Craig was sidelined on lap two after dropping a wheel off track and then hade his chain pop off. This allowed Christian Rochester – who was making his first PKC start – to take the point, as he cruised to a 12-second victory over Daniel Langon and Jack Freese.
From the PKC South program, the G1 category completed its season in Santa Maria with a familiar driver out front. SKUSA Pro Tour championship leader Fernando Diaz swept the day’s action, earning the checkered flag by over four seconds ahead of Nick Firestone and Troy Butts. Diaz’ performance earned him the credit as the only driver to repeat his 2009 victory at the West Coast Shootout.
The new TaG Cadet category – which debuted in the SKUSA Pro Tour – made a one-off appearance at the West Coast Shootout, as drivers looking to warm-up for the SuperNats in November asked for inclusion at the event. Colton Brooks swept the day’s action with Colton Herta and Noah Grey completing the podium.
In the final tally, the South once again topped the North in the overall Regional Shootout, which took each region’s best three finishes in the eight cross-over classes. Despite the fact that race wins were split between the two programs – four each – the South was able to capitalize with podium sweeps in TaG Senior, S3 and S5. The calculations show the South with 183 points to the North’s 123 markers, earning the title for the second straight season and gaining bragging rights for another year.
With the PKC South program wrapped up, the final championship points are still being tallied and the class champions will be announced shortly. The PKC North program will commence its final event over Labor Day weekend – September 3-4 at the Jim Russell International Karting Center in Sonoma, California. Once that weekend is complete, the SKUSA staff and competitors will focus its full attention on the SKUSA Pro Tour finale, the SKUSA SuperNationals XIV, at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on November 17-21. For more information on anything related to SKUSA or the ProKart Challenge, visit the www.superkartsusa.com website or call the SKUSA head office at 951-491-0808.