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|SuperNationals VIII - 2004|
For the eighth straight year, the best in the sport came to the desert in November of 2004 for the SKUSA SuperNationals, the race now under new leadership and at a new venue. It would have been impossible to duplicate the atmosphere at the 2003 event, which was held at the Rio Hotel just off the famed Vegas strip, so SKUSA focused on hosting a well-run event instead. New SKUSA CEO Joe Janowski and his new crew ran their first event which, earlier in the year, many people believed was not likely to happen. Despite the questions surrounding the race, the top pilots from across North America made their way to Sam Boyd Stadium to keep the magic alive.
The track layout put down on the parking lot of the UNLV’s football stadium was liked by some and deemed quite forgettable by others. It was wicked fast and, in some places, equally bumpy. Designed largely by Janowski, the track featured a long straight down the backside of the parking lot that had to be shortened to ensure the TaG motors would not blow themselves to bits under an extended high-RPM load. For the ICC motors, there were two areas where they would need to drop to first gear, which raised concern from the engine builders. Another test of the organization was functioning without the full strength “A-Team”, which had so ably managed SKUSA races in the past.
Having a major effect on the mood in the paddock was the shocking news of the death of CompCor owner Ron Huber. While riding his Segway scooter on Thursday morning through the paddock, Huber fell from the machine and was knocked unconscious. After being rushed to the hospital, Huber was treated aggressively, but sadly, he passed away late Friday in the presence of friends and family who had come in from his hometown of Phoenix, AZ. Huber had been a major supporter of SKUSA that year and his loss was a major blow to the entire karting community. Holding the team together throughout all the turmoil was Cliff Kujala, CompCor’s Technical Director. The Tony Kart team pulled together under very emotionally taxing circumstances and showed extremely well with two big class wins, including the crown jewel SuperPro triumph with Jason Bowles at the helm.
When the on-track battle began, it was an unlikely SuperPro polesitter after qualifying had been completed - Tad Funakoshi. Running as a privateer aboard an Energy chassis powered by SwedeTech - his employer at the time - the ’02 Formula S1 SuperNats winner laid down a blistering 50.916 lap time to surprise the paddock. Another former SuperNats winner, David Jurca (Italkart), had dipped below the 51-second mark. Kyle Martin showed speed early aboard the new Trackmagic FTR, which made its debut at the event with help from new R&D pilot Gary Carlton, the chassis’ designer. Pre-race favorite Ron White (CRG) was fourth with ’02 Moto World Champion Phil Carlson (Sportiva) - who was making his first SKUSA start since the SuperNationals that same year - rounding out the top five.
As surprising as Funakoshi’s pole position run was, so too were the names mired deep in the pack. Alex Speed was making his debut on the Birel chassis and was 29th quick. First Kart’s Bobby Wilson, making his return to karting after winning the Cooper F2000 Zetec Series, was 39th in the order.
The Prefinals were split by the qualifying order. Funakoshi walked away with the first heat race, dominating all 15 laps. Unfortunately it was short lived has he was DQ’d at the scales for being underweight and his Cinderella story would have to head for a chapter in the LCQ. That gave the win to Bowles who crossed the line second while Martin was moved to the runner-up spot. Brett Buckwalter (Reynard) returned to action with a third place run. National #1 plate driver and now Champ Car Atlantic driver Alan Sciuto (Birel) was fourth with Kyle Wiegand rounding out the top five. The Group B Prefinal was won by White, with Jurca coming home second ahead of his Italian Motors teammate Jordy Vorrath. Lorenzo Mandarino (GP) and Patrick Long (Zanardi) completing the top five.
The LCQ had an impressive field with Darren Elliott (CRG), ‘03 SuperNationals winner Wesley Boswell (Birel), RBI teammates AJ Noud and Alan Rudolph, and Joe White (CRG) all hoping for transfer spots. In the end, no one went home as SKUSA decided at the end to let everyone into the main.
Off the lights for the main event, Bowles jumped strongly from the pole and ran hard to the first corner before contact with White, who was attacking aggressively from the outside. Bowles was slowed and slid back as the field funneled to the second corner. Heading into turn two, the action continued when White ran into the side of Jurca fighting for the apex, ending both of their days before the race ever made it a single lap. Vorrath held the lead early with Bowles in second and Mandarino in third. Moving up steadily was newly crowned SKUSA National Champion Sciuto. After starting back in the pack, Sciuto powered his Kimball Williams-tuned Birel through the field. One by one, Sciuto moved up in the order as Vorrath continued in the lead. When the time was right, Sciuto made his move and took the lead from Vorrath with Bowles eventually getting past the Italkart as well. Sciuto’s SwedeTech TM began giving out on him three laps from the end and he knew it thanks to the display on his data gauge. On white flag, Bowles was in full stalking mode, all over Sciuto. Down the long back straight for the final time, Bowles looked to the inside but couldn’t quite make the pass. Heading over to turn 9, Sciuto slowed when his motor stuck hard. Bowles seized the lead while several other drivers scrambled to avoid Sciuto, who was dead-stick on the track. Bowles, hands in the air, crossed the finish line first with Martin in second and Vorrath in third. Wiegand drove solidly to fourth while Buckwalter capped the group that was invited to the podium. On the podium, Bowles dedicated his win to Ron Huber.
Nine support classes ran as well at Sam Boyd Stadium. In the S1 final, Brian Keck (CRG) made his appearance on the national stage with the biggest win of his career. Driving under the RC20 tent, Keck was quick all weekend and eventually cruised to the win over Rene Silva (First Kart) and Joey Barros (Top Kart). 2004 Rock Island Grand Prix Formula G1 victor Bonnier Moulton (Tony Kart) was the class of the field all weekend. After a mechanical DNF in the Prefinal the left him to start the final from the 23rd position, he worked his way through and scored another major win for the season. PP Mastro (KRT) and Chris Farrell (PTK) joined Moulton on the podium.
Both the TaG Senior and TaG Masters classes provided controversy for the event. First, in TaG Senior, Jerry Henderson (Azzurro) was declared the winner after post-race discussion with race officials when last lap contact between himself and Toby Scheckter (Tony Kart) left Henderson in second place at the stripe. In TaG Masters, Henderson again took a win with his Azzurro/Biland race package ahead of Garrick Miller (GP), also running the four-stroke Biland power. Michael Brookes (Intrepid) was third while Shayne Shipley (GP) finished up fourth.
After the TaG Masters race, SKUSA Tech Director Marty Casey impounded the leading Bilands for full inspection. After a close scrutinizing, Casey found the ignition coils and several internal parts were not the same as those homologated by SKUSA. As a result, the Bilands of Henderson and Miller were disqualified from the results. In wake of the decision, the TaG Senior win was returned to Scheckter while Brookes was declared the official winner in TaG Masters.
Kevin Casey (Top Kart) was the winner in the S3 class for the Stock 125 package, although entries were significantly lower then expected. A small contingent of K1 (80 Senior) drivers were on hand and, in the end, Matt Kimball came out on top over NorCal regular John Van Nghiem (Intrepid) and Ryan Lindhorst (KGB). The newly named K2 (80 Junior) saw Jeremy Reagles (CRG) emerge onto the national scene with a stellar victory. Billy Goshen (Top Kart) was second with Maxime Pelletier (Tony Kart) in third. In K3 (Novice Shifter), it was a Top Kart podium sweep with Gustavo Menezes taking the win ahead of Brandon Underwood, Connor DePhillippi, Zach Zimmerly, and Joshua Goshen.
When the sun set over the Nevada Mountains, the venue at Sam Boyd Stadium gave SKUSA a platform to build upon for the future. The only question that remained was could they continue to build on the success