USA karting nationals start in Shawano

Shawano Leader, Wisconsin/September 12, 2008

Trailers are jam-packed into the USA International Raceway parking lot, the sound of motors revving are in the background as the Rotax Grand Nationals are in full swing.

"It's a very colorful, international event," said Ray Verhelst, event manager for the Rotax Grand National Race.

Verhelst noted that there are over 180 kart racers in attendance for Saturday's championship races and between 600 to 700 racers, family members and team crews.

"This is the highest level of kart racing in the United States," said Andre Serra of the RDD Motorsports team. "If you come out here, you are seeing the best of the best."

The RDD Motorsports team has been in Shawano for over a month preparing for this competition. The team has a 3-level trailer set up as their headquarters of operations. The team is based out of Deerfield Beach, Fla.

"The people that are involved in this are dedicated and go to great lengths to compete," Serra said.

Verhelst said there are teams from Florida, California, Jamaica and Canada at the track.

"They come from all over to compete in this," Verhelst said. "This is an international event."

Heat races began Thursday and continue today as racers go around the track one at a time to be timed for their pole or grid position for the championship races on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, a last best chance opportunity will be held for any racer that didn't qualify in the heats.

"We know what it takes to get here, so we give them one more shot on Saturday morning," Verhelst said.

Following the last best chance race, the opening ceremonies are held. This year the Pulaski High School marching band will lead the parade of kart racers to open the race, which will then be followed by the singing of the national anthem by a Shawano resident.

The championship races kick off at 1:15 Saturday with six classes of racing, beginning with the kids as young as 7 years old.

"Having this race down here is a blessing not just for us as a team, but for the people of Shawano," said Bruce Milavitz, of Shawano, whose son, Aaron, races. "The town is going to benefit so much from having an event like this in town. It really is a great opportunity."

USA International Raceway is considered one of the toughest kart tracks in the country, according to Verhelst.

"You have racers out here who are doing laps in under a minute and that is an incredible feat because there are 17 corners in this race," Verhelst said. "On the straight-aways, the top speeds reach 100 miles per hour."

Verhelst said normal karts cost on an average of $10,000 when the kart is completed. He added that the motors usually run 30-40 horsepower.

"This is not your fun bumper-kart thing," Verhelst said.

The top finishers at the race will then advance to the Rotax Grand Finals in Italy as representatives of the United States.

"The very best drivers in the country are here, and the racing is top notch," Milavetz said. "It really is a great chance for people to come out and see the best of the best at work."

Admission is $10, while a pit-pass is an additional $10.

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