The sounds of high revving go karts were heard all weekend long on the temporary street circuit in the heart of downtown Modesto at the inaugural Save Mart Supermarkets Modesto Grand Prix for the Superkarts USA Summer Nationals.
On Saturday the racing program extended well past the planned closing time of 10:30 p.m. as a series of accidents in several different divisions pushed the schedule back time and time again. The final checkered flag of the evening did not wave until almost 3 a.m. Sunday morning.
Only one of the many accidents resulted in a serious enough injury to cause a driver to be transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Even when the track was red there was plenty to do for the thousands of fans that lined the 8-turn, 9/10ths-mile track including carnival rides, zip lines, product exhibits and a wide range of food concession options.
The start of Sunday’s program was moved up by an hour and condensed in hopes of ending much closer to the scheduled 11 p.m.
Jordon Lennox, one of eight drivers on the PSL West team, struggled in Saturday's blistering heat to qualify just 10th out of 30 cars in the premier S1 division, but found his groove by taking his heat race and then the main event in the wee hours Sunday morning.
“I really didn’t think we were quick enough to win on Saturday, but we went hard, stayed clean and things just fell my way,” said Lennox, 23, of Cambridge, England.
Lennox enjoyed the street circuit setting, but was very cognizant of the extra dangers inherent with racing on a track lined with solid barriers and without any runoff areas.
“It is really something different and a bit dangerous because of the high speeds we are hitting,” said Lennox, who has only been racing in the states for a year. “You have to keep in your pocket some margin of security. You can’t push quite to the limit here as you can at most of the tracks we run because it is much less forgiving here if you make an error.”
Like most of the participants, Lennox also enjoyed the aspect of racing at night. Over 80 temporary generator stations lined the track to augment the permanent downtown building and street lighting.
“It took a little of an adjustment, but it is tremendously fun racing at night here. For some reason, it just seems a bit quicker under the lights,” he said. “I think the spectators really like it too.”
Another driver who dominated the action on Saturday was Andrick Zeen in the Tag Sr class for Team Leading Edge/Praga.
Zeen, 21, of Huntington Beach, qualified second overall, won both of his heat races and then captured Saturday’s main event.
"The main event was a little more difficult compared to the heats where we won pretty easily by getting ahead early, letting the guys fight it out behind me and pretty much cruising home,“ explained Zeen. “In the final I fell back to third on the start, but the car started rolling better and better until we were able to just get by to take the lead towards the end. I really had to work hard for this one, but it was a satisfying way to end a long day."
Zeen also spoke to the mental preparation for running on a street circuit versus a normal road course.
“You kinda have to toe the line a little more on a street course. You think ‘do I go for it or be a little more conservative and stay clean?’ You really have to ride a fine line. It is really tough to drive physically and a real mental challenge as well.”
Zeen hopes the experience and skills he is acquiring in karts will lead to something bigger in the future.
“Like most of us here, my goal is to become a professional race car driver. At the same time I am really enjoying what I am doing now. I go to school, race go-karts all over the country and even all over the world, and I am pumped to be where I am at right now. I’m just living my dream.”