20 Years on: the '02 WKA Grand Nationals
20 years ago today, and it feels like a lifetime ago.
It was the 2002 WKA Grand Nationals at Badger Kart Club in Dousman, Wisconsin, and it changed the trajectory of my time in racing.
A month earlier, we were thinking about not running national events anymore after a horrid weekend in South Bend, Indiana that left most of our Paul Tracy Kart chassis wounded and/or used up. Thankfully, Jamie Sieracki got wind of this and offered up an old BRM DK2 chassis from circa 1999 that he had sitting in his shop.
We tested the kart out at a Midwest Sprint Series regional event two weeks later and won the Horstman Piston Valve Heavy feature convincingly, and suddenly, everything was looking up. Shockingly, actually.
Heading into the WKA Grand Nationals, my tuner, Guy Schneider, recommended we not run every practice session and just work on gearing for race day. The Friday practice session saw us in contention, but then I lost a contact lens. I drove home to my parent's home with one eye open, got a fresh set of contacts and made it back to the track in record time to get my final session of the day.
There are moments in your life where you feel things you know you've never felt before, and that day I did. We packed up that evening and I knew we probably had the setup to beat. It was something I never experienced before, and its always a great feeling when everything clicks.
That night I was so relaxed I drove to the Hartford Theatre to watch Road to Perdition and went to bed early.
Saturday morning, a storm hit. Every race weekend that summer there seemed to always be a rain storm on Saturday morning, but it too favored our setup. A humid, tacky track was going to line itself well for the setup the BRM loved: new front tires, old rears. It balanced the setup, and always seemed to be the magic setup for the kart, which had a ridiculously positively-steering front geometry that favored my style.
One thing I recall vividly that day was Greg Nelson giving me a set of new G-Force gloves- red of course, that I used for the remainder of my karting years- I still use G-Force gloves from Greg to this day.
Of the 37 karts in the class, the #00 machine qualified second, behind California Margay pilot Boomer DeRoads, but I managed to get in front of him in the Pre-Final after he attempted to nudge me off.
The start of the feature event was perfect in every way, and the BRM came into form as it did two weeks earlier in the regional. In the last few laps, fellow Hartford native Nick Wagner was catching me, but I knew if I made it out of the final turn in good order, we'd get the win.
It was the only feature race at a national karting event we ever won.
However, we did it, with a borrowed chassis with an engine that someone sold us thinking it was marginally good, with a driver who at that point had never put it together.
The first to congratulate me was Nick's Dad, Jim, who we lost last year. That was followed by Gary Schneider, who with a tear in his eye gave me a giant bear hug. It was only six years earlier, he DQ'd me at my first event when I drove onto the scales in his son's old Coyote. Gary, too, is sorely missed.
Guy and Dad were over the moon, but in the subtle, humble way that I came to understand from both of them. I think Dad even had a beer that night!
It seems like a lifetime ago, and it is. I learned a lot from my time in karting, but most of it came from that season. There were a lot of mistakes, but that one day everything was 100%, and I'm glad it was able to happen for our efforts.