Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 17
Back on trackAfter two years in limbo, Go-Kart racing returns to action at Santa Maria Airport
BY JEREMY THOMAS
Santa Maria Karting Association president Scott Grundfor was beginning to think it was never going to happen.
But on July 1, following a two-year battle with the Federal Aviation Administration, go-karts returned to the club’s track at the Santa Maria Airport with an all-day open practice session, giving the group an idea of which members had kept the faith.
The FAA ordered the track shut down in 2010 over concerns it violated agency regulations regarding airport use. Grundfor, 65, with help from Santa Maria Public Airport general manager Chris Hastert and Rep. Lois Capps, finally straightened things out with the FAA, proving the track adhered to guidelines in the agency’s grant assurances program.
The airport has been home to the association since 1960, and the track’s location had never been an issue before. Other airports in California have karting tracks, some of which have been around since before World War II. As is the case in Santa Maria, many were abandoned and handed over to cities.
“They have a number of airports with these issues,” Grundfor explained. “Fortunately, the go-kart track [here] is not in any problem area, so we just had to point that out, and it just takes a long time.”
Throughout the hiatus, Grundfor said, the association board continued to meet every month, never giving up hope it would reopen for racing fans all over the Central Coast to enjoy.
“It’s really like a treasure in the sense that it’s very much an endangered species,” Grundfor said. “The next closest one is north of Bakersfield. … The other thing about our track is that it has some of the best weather in the world. Everybody wants to be here in the summer.”
Under the new three-year lease agreement, the association has installed a perimeter fence around the track to separate it from the airport’s operations area. The fact that it’s allowed to reopen is the good news. The bad news is it will cost the club 10 times what it used to pay in rent—going from $300 to $3,000 a month—a figure the FAA considers fair market value.
Grundfor admitted that while the cost is steep, he’s confident the club can afford it by increasing its membership, collecting more sponsors, and becoming more visible in the community.
Starting in August, the club will hold monthly races for its members to compete for a club championship. In addition to its own season, the association already has three major races lined up. The first weekend in August, they’ll welcome a regional International Kart Federation race. The federation is the major sanctioning body of karting.
The weekend of Aug. 17, the track will be host to Superkarts—powerful shifter karts capable of speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Then, about 100 vintage karts—karts from the 1960s and ’70s that are growing in popularity—are expected at a Vintage Kart Club of America event, coinciding with the Santa Maria Museum of Flight’s “Thunder Over the Valley” air show. The club is also bidding for the IKF Grand Nationals Sprint Championships, which would draw the best racers from all over country.
For the club, karting is a true family sport. Santa Maria resident Kirk Skaufel and his son Chance started racing together about eight years ago. Kirk, who’s always had interest in auto racing, said even his wife and sister-in-law got involved in the club.
“It’s just a good family atmosphere,” he said. “And the thrill of driving pretty fast on the track is a plus also.”
Upon hearing news of the track’s closure, Kirk was disappointed, and said the family had to get their racing fix by traveling hours to the nearest track. The road to reopening, he said, has been a “long battle.”
“It broke up a good group of people, and now it’s just trying to get all those people back and build it again,” Kirk said. “We’re excited to get back out there.”
Kirk, currently the association’s secretary, no longer races competitively, and serves as his son’s mechanic. At 14, Chance has built up quite a go-karting career already. At first, Chance said, he found the races “scary,” but was eventually able to win back-to-back association club championships.
Chance said he was “bummed” when the track closed, but he’s excited to have it reopen so he can practice more for regional races. During the hiatus, Chance traveled all around the state to race. With limited funding, he won three “Duffys”—the most prestigious trophy in karting—at the 2009 Grand Nationals in Redding, and recently finished fourth at the IKF Grand Nationals in Fresno. He’s also ranked among the top five racers in the region for three years in a row.
Many drivers who want to someday race in NASCAR or Formula-1 start out in go-karts. Chance’s dream is to eventually move on to Formula-1 racing, and said his favorite parts of karting are the atmosphere, speeds, and learning to drive. Karting is relatively safe, though these aren’t your amusement park go-karts.
The association has about a dozen different skill levels, and members vary in age from 5 up to about 70. Young children start out in kid karts and work their way up to cadet, and finally full-size karts. Motors can be 2-cycle or 4-cycle; with the smallest engines from 80 cc for children, up to 40 horsepower shifter cars for expert drivers.
Though he’s past 60, Phil Rockwell, a Santa Maria Karting Association board member, still enjoys racing both modern and vintage karts. Rockwell began go-karting in the mid 1960s in Illinois, but took a 35-year leave from the sport until moving to Santa Maria. Despite being unsure if he could handle the physical demands, he gave it a shot—and liked it so much he bought a used go-kart and started racing regularly.
“The simple explanation is it’s just plain fun,” Rockwell said of racing’s pull. “I’m good with the machinery, and I enjoy the camaraderie among the competitors.”
While the track was closed, Rockwell cut back on his karting because the other tracks were so far away. He said that under the new rent structure, the club will have more pressure to be successful financially.
At 65, Grundfor still races the same kind of vintage karts he drove in his youth. He said the track remained in “excellent condition,” and in the coming years, he’d like to add improvements, including a dedicated spectator area. He’d also like to bump membership from the current 80 members to around 300.
“We’re getting things going again, and hopefully we’ll be more available to the community, because there are a lot of people who have raced in the past and a lot of kids who enjoy motorsports.” Grundfor said. “I think a lot of the younger guys that do this would be out there hot-rodding, so it serves a useful purpose.”
Staff Writer Jeremy Thomas has trouble driving riding lawnmowers. Contact him at email@example.com.