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SKUSA Pro Tour

Open Letter from Tom Kutscher Re: The Modesto Grand Prix
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 09:01
Hello, Superkarts! USA drivers, teams, families and supporters –

I’d like to take the opportunity to speak to our racing family in regards to the successes and failures of last weekend’s Modesto Grand Prix. The event was by far the hardest and most time-consuming project I’ve ever been involved in, and I’m sure I cashed in a year or two of my life through the stress of it all. The event had some big positives in terms of exposure for the sport, but there were also harsh lessons that we learned in terms of track design, event management, staffing and scheduling. I’d like to publicly thank everyone who took the time to offer us their own thanks for the weekend and the event, for our support of karting, and for our work to grow karting by taking on the challenge of the GP. That said, I would also wish to take this opportunity to apologize to the karting community, and our racers, for the shortcomings of the race and the event. I dropped the ball on a number of items, although not for lack of effort. To anyone who was left feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, nervous, exhausted and unhappy, my sincerest apologies. This is obviously never our intent for our business. 
The Modesto Grand Prix was a ridiculously big project, with an estimated budget of over $300,000 just to build the track thru the city streets. Yes, we could have gone to one of the quality tracks on the West Coast, but everyone talks about taking karting to the people, so I decided to give it a shot. We spent hours working on the plan for the racetrack, but as I found out, it was extremely difficult to accurately measure and survey a course through the busy downtown streets of a city. I made six visits to Modesto to work on the design, and we did our best building it. But once we hit the ground in the city, we had to improvise. We were only given control of the streets one at a time, then the full race course late on Thursday afternoon. It was the first time we laid it out, and we were adjusting and evolving as we went. There would be no real chance to test-drive the full track, so using input from our staff and some trusted pro drivers, we built it the best we could. I was very focused on making the track as safe as I possibly could, and everything you saw that looked a little different from other street circuits were added to limit the speeds. I wanted the track to be safe and suitable for our newest TaG Cadets – yet challenging enough for our Pro drivers. The track was laid out, and we poured the cement for the curbing; here I was hoping for similar success that we had with the poured curbs at the SuperNationals over the last two years. Then, the city delivered the water barriers, we laid them all out, changed things back and forth, and I wore my crew out completely. These guys are hard workers and we wore them out trying to make it right.

In the end – and I fully admit it – the track had issues, and for that I am sorry. Please understand that my motivation was pure. The chicane that I laid on the exit of turn five was intended to slow everyone down, but the results were anything but what I had envisioned. I had some trusted drivers tell me that the chicane added to the challenge of the track, but the wrecks on Friday were just too much. In evaluating the track after Friday’s practice day, we knew that we needed to remove at least the second curb in the chicane and the results were very positive. We chipped away at the second curb until 4:00 am to remove it.

Last weekend was the hardest thing we’ve ever done, and not just for Patti and me as the promoters, but for my ‘A Team’ as well. Most of them were at it for 20+ hours on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, setting up, working the race, and then tearing down the track. Just like all of the drivers, they were tired and hot and if any tempers flared or if they were snippy, I’m sure you’ll understand. I, myself, am not proud of how short I was with some people. Dealing with the city, the demands of the event sponsors, and the questions and tempers of our paddock, I was pushed to the limit on many occasions. I guess I never believed that it could get as hectic and chaotic as it did. By 3:00 am on Sunday morning – when the final checkered flag waved to complete Saturday’s race day – we were all on edge. Again, it was a learning experience and it’s obviously not how we ever want to do things.

I’ve heard lots of input on the race and why there were so many issues on Saturday and very little on Sunday. Was making this race a Pro Tour stop the wrong move, as I’ve heard questioned by several people? Yes, for quite a few reasons, but mostly because it seems to put a lot of pressure on the drivers. Perhaps we should have taken that into consideration, although it seems more apparent in hindsight. Our intent was to provide our racers with the biggest and coolest street race ever, working with a city that was motivated to provide this in a partnership, and to build the awareness of karting to the best of our ability. We had an estimated 10,000 spectators visit the Grand Prix grounds over the weekend, and we were packed on Saturday night. I honestly hope that it educated some people about our sport in a positive way and maybe motivated them to join our community.

Back when I was racing, and then when I owned my own kart shop, I shared the dream that everyone has about taking karting to the professional level, making it a spectator sport, getting it on TV and putting it in front of people, whether it be as part of the X-Games for example, or running the streets like Indy Car at Long Beach, St. Petersburg or Toronto. Many of us believe that taking the sport to the people will help it grow, providing exposure that we wouldn’t otherwise get running around the hidden kart tracks of America. That was my motivation when I elected to take on the Modesto Grand Prix. I thought it would be big for the sport, especially in NorCal. We opened the door and offered a display area for the local clubs and shops, and I’ve been told that this was a huge success for them. If we brought a couple new people into NorCal karting, that’s a positive in my books.

I cannot predict the future, but if the race happens again in 2015, we’ll do things much differently. It was our first temporary street circuit race as part of the Pro Tour, and we learned so much. My notebook is full with ideas and plans. We adapted throughout the weekend – much of it occurring after Friday’s practice sessions and Saturday’s marathon. We’re always concerned about providing our racers with massive track time and value for their money, and the motivation to push through on Saturday night was to make sure that the drivers got their laps in, and that we wouldn’t have to overload the Sunday schedule. We could never have predicted the continuing red flags that pushed Saturday’s races later and later. The drivers who raced through to the end have my ultimate respect. Thank you for being such professionals. And thank you for coming back on Sunday and turning everything around. We knew our delays were impacted by the lack of a large kart retrieval trailer and an overly ambitious race day plan, but we adapted and made some good adjustments to Sunday’s revised schedule, I think. Adjusting the timetable and bringing in an additional recovery vehicle allowed us to stay more on schedule, and our racers drove like stars and put on a great show. I cannot thank you enough for such a strong performance through to the last checkered flag.

As a conclusion, I want to thank each and every racer and team who joined with us in ‘taking karting to the public.’ You stepped up so much on Sunday after the Saturday all-nighter. We’ll keep trying to do right moving forward. We learned a ton, and we’ll get a chance to put this education to good use – even when we run the upcoming temporary circuits in Lake Elsinore, Lancaster and Las Vegas to complete our year. We hope that we’ll see you out for one or more of these races. Once again, thank you all for coming to Modesto and working with us through this learning experience. If you have comments and feedback, please feel free to contact me at the SKUSA head office: 951-491-0808 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . I’d be happy to speak with you.

Sincerely,

Tom Kutscher
President
Superkarts! USA