|2ND ANNUAL VINTAGE KART OLYMPICS, QUINCY, ILLINOIS|
By John Copeland
Photos by John Copeland and Larry Mudd
TNT Raceway in Quincy, Illinois has hosted plenty of important karting events since it opened in July of 1961. The 1966 IKF Nationals at Quincy were televised nationwide on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. It will host its 17th Nationals this summer with the IKF 4 Cycle Championships. But on June 19- 21st track owners Gus and Terry Traeder brought karting’s past back to life. Dedicated karters brought out their prize vintage karts for the 2nd Annual Vintage Kart Olympics at TNT Raceway.
The event, which attracted more than 80 entries from 17 states, was part race and part exhibition, but more than anything a reunion. Everywhere you looked there were historic figures in the sport. Earl Larson, founder of GEM Products and Faye “Lady Bug” Pierson from K & P Manufacturing, whose driving skills took her to the pinnacle of the sport in the late 50s, were the honorary King and Queen of the event. Former Margay Factory drivers Bud Roll and Junior Neal were there along with Margay President Don Frieber. California’s Mona Sturgeon and the legendary Pete Berlt were there as well. The remarkable Terry Ives and Quincy’s Terry Traeder came prepared to renew their longtime rivalry.
The array of karts, many rescued from barns and basements and lovingly restored, were truly dazzling. Some were brought only for show, their owners not daring to subject them to the rigors and risks of the track. But most came prepared to run their karts and to race them as hard as they would go. Early arrivals on Thursday began testing and tuning their vintage treasures, but there was plenty of time to admire the efforts of other restorers. While McCullochs and West Bends powered the majority of the entries, there were plenty of older Komets and B-Bombs as well as a few Clintons and Power Products engines.
Promoter Gus Traeder separated the entries into classes for Single Rear Engines under 6.1 cubic inches, Single Engine Sidewinders under 6.1, Rear Engined singles over 6.1, Sidewinders over 6.1, Dual American Engines, Dual Foreigners, and Juniors. “We want everybody to have a chance to run and have a good time.” Traeder commented. “It’s great that people have preserved these pieces of karting history so that newer karters and the public can get a chance to see them. Otherwise they might never get a chance to see a direct-drive Clinton run or a real 90 horsepower C-Open. This is karting’s history.” The Traeders, part of karting’s history themselves, did a masterful job of gathering community support for the event as the numerous signs throughout the city welcoming the karters could attest. Thursday evening’s opening reception, hosted by the Quincy merchants, was highlighted when Quincy Mayor Chuck Scholz gave the vintage karters the Key to the City of Quincy. Legendary driver Faye Pierson accepted on behalf of the karters.
Friday was a day devoted to more serious tuning and practice. The air was filled with the scent of methanol, castor oil, and various “secret” ingredients. “This is what heaven smells like” quipped Omaha, Nebraska’s Virgil Love. Among the more unusual participants was Richard Kennedy from Gualala, California. Kennedy is an exhibition driving karter whose specialty is driving on the 2 left-side wheels only. His odd talent was developed when he began working at the Sacramento Kartway in 1964. Away from karting for more than 15 years, he said “Hanging out with vintage kart guys got me back into the game. It’s a lot more relaxed and a lot more fun.” Practice and repairing finally gave way to organized qualifying by mid-afternoon. By 4 PM everybody knew where he or she would start for Saturday’s races. Then it was time to wipe off the chain oil, polish the chrome, and haul the karts to the Quincy Convention Center for the Friday evening display.
Again Friday evening the vintage karters were treated to the hospitality of the Quincy Merchants Association who supplied food and drinks at the Convention Center. The nearly 100 karts on display provided the visiting karters as well as the general public with an incredible opportunity to see the development of the sport’s technology first-hand. In addition to the karts fresh from a busy day and the track, there were many deemed too precious to drive by their proud owners. Margay’s Don Frieber drew the daunting task of judging the entries in 5 categories. Reggie Fulks, always willing to offer an opinion, hovered nearby. The attendees also voted for a “Peoples Choice” award. They selected Dave Romaine’s spectacular 1967 Margay new Breed Dual with Twin West Bend 820s.
Gary White of Marion, Illinois was a double winner with his 1972 Margay Cheetah/Komet K78 judged Best Sidewinder and his 1968 New Breed Dual/West Bend machine - Best Appearing. The Most Original trophy went to Nashville, Illinois’ John Wall’s 1960 Homelite Spitfire Dual with twin Homelite K-82 engines. Junior Neal’s 1961 Hoffco Hurricane with Twin West Bend 700s was judged Most Original and the 1967 Bianchi Dual FKE of Max Torque’s Jim Donovan was selected Best Enduro. The coveted Best of Show trophy went to Oceanside, California resident Vince Hughes. Originally found in a North Hollywood garage sale, his 1959 Bug Custom, fitted with a Clinton A-490, was perhaps the most perfect example of the period that anyone had seen.
Saturday finally arrived and with it the proof that competitive juices still flow, regardless of age. Karters of all ages put on a spirited display of driving in every class. At the driver’s meeting the format was revised from (2) 12 lap heats and an 18 lap feature to 8 lap heats and a 12 lap feature. (Most drivers agreed that they probably couldn’t survive 18 laps!) In a touching pre-race moment, an emotional Bert Power fulfilled Bud Roll’s long-time dream by giving him a fully restored, perfectly detailed Margay Twin Enduro, complete with Twin B-Bombs, just like the kart that made Roll the terror of the Enduro circuit in the 70’s. A choked up Roll could barely believe Power’s generosity and there were more than a few damp eyes among the onlookers.
Drivers started the first heat in their qualifying order, the 2nd heat inverted, and the feature based on total points from the heats. In the Single Engine Sidewinders under 6.1 feature New Berlin, Wisconsin’s Joe Deckert held off fast qualifier Lyle Caswell to claim the win. Deckert’s Mac-powered machine proved to be too much for Caswell and the rest of the field. The Single Engine Rear Mounted 6.1 class proved to be the closest of the weekend. Legendary racer and scoundrel Junior Neal from Greenville, South Carolina slugged it out with Monticello, Indiana’s Bobby Lee. Lap after lap they went after each other, leaving the rest of the field in the dust. “If it’d been the Nationals, we’d probably both been watchin’ from the weeds!” Neal commented later. At the flag it was Bobby Lee by a few feet for the win. The Junior class gave some younger drivers a chance to see what karting was like before sticky tires and digital gauges. David Bonbright from Vinburg, California claimed the Junior trophy.
The Single engines over 6.1 cubic inch classes pitted the 101 Macs against the more powerful West Bends. In the Sidewinder class Indiana’s Bobby Lee notched his second win of the weekend, holding off a hard-charging Gerry Booth. At 73, Faye Pierson showed she could still hustle her way around the track, giving the spectators an inspiring show. The Single Rear Engines of 6.1 gave another karting legend, Citrus Heights, California’s Terry Ives, a chance to shine. Ives’ West Bend 820 powered machine rocketed away from the rest of the field for the win.
The final races of the day combined the 2 Twin-Engine classes. Although they were scored separately, putting the American Duals on the track together with the twin B-Bombs set up the premier matchup between Ives and many-time C-Open Champion Terry Traeder. Most of the karters put down their tools to watch this one. Ives proved that he is still one of the nation’s best sprinters with an awesome display, but his Twin West Bends were no match for Treader’s thundering BBombs. With literally thousands of laps on his home track, Traeder cruised to a comfortable win. Ives furious pursuit left his fellow American-powered competitors in the distance, as he became the 2nd double winner of the weekend.
The final event of the 2nd Annual Vintage Kart Olympics was the celebration held at the Mark Twain Casino in nearby LaGrange, Missouri. Once again the Treaders had arranged for complimentary food and drinks and it was a pleasant way to re-race the races and re-live the weekend. In addition to awards for the race winners, Gus Traeder announced the winner of the 1961 Percival Hellcat kart that he donated to be raffled off. The winner was attending his first vintage karting event. What a great way to get started!
Plans are already in place for the 3rd Annual Vintage Kart Olympics and Reunion, June 24 - 26, 2004. Already an overwhelming success, this event is well on its way to becoming the cornerstone of the growing Vintage Karting movement.