This month comes from the Lone Star Grand Prix, a round-the-houses street race held at Lockhart, Texas, a delightful city less than an hour’s drive from the impressive Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, home of F1’s USA GP.
The Event was a joint promotion by Dallas lawyer, Rob Miller and the Lockhart City Council. It made me reflect on what could be achieved in our own country if local councils would embrace the notion that an imaginatively marketed kart race can bring a lot of prestige and economic benefit to their community. Oh Boy how we could learn from such an arrangement in this country! It was astonishing to see a posse of council workers emerge at 6.00pm on Friday evening on to the city centre roads around the Old Court House council offices and transform the scene from a busy rush hour street network into a kart racing track of just under a mile length. Then following Sunday’s racing, the reverse procedure kicked in.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the welcome from the Lockhart community. Residents and Businesses embraced us and there were many references to the race in shop windows, local TV and radio adverts, roadside signage and overhead advertising banners. The city centre that wasn’t part of the race track became a karting paddock for the 230 drivers, mechanics, and of course, the enormous rigs that transport American racers the huge distances they travel. The First Presbyterian Church of Lockhart found itself right in the middle of the Paddock surrounded by karts and karters. Their reaction? They put on a 7.00am pre-racing Sunday morning service for the karters. Sunday was not only Finals day but also a Texas Independence Day celebration. This included a Wild West shoot out on the main street / home straight which ended with one of our 3 commentators being shot before getting a very enthusiastic kissof- life and physical resuscitation from the Wild-West ladies.
There were 10 classes: TAG Senior, TAG Junior, TAG Masters, TAG Cadets, Stock Honda Heavy, Stock Honda Light, Stock Honda Masters, 125 ICC/Modified, Chonda, and KT Pipe 100. So we had Direct Drive, Gearbox, 2-Stroke, 4-Stroke and a drivers age range from 13 to 60 – something for everybody in fact. I couldn’t believe my ears when Stock Honda driver Steve McCaffery spoke to me. He has run an Off-Shore Oil Personnel Agency for the last 17 years having come to Texas from Singapore. But the unmistakable accent revealed his County Durham roots. Furthest travelled driver was 55 years old Dave Broen from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. He found the long trip worthwhile collecting a trophy for a podium finish in 125 Modified/ ICC and a beautiful souvenir Lone Star GP hat worth $700 donated by sponsors Texas Hatters. 57 year old Paul ‘Doc’ Torre could lay claim to being the toughest driver on the grid. He broke his neck and both legs in a car race at Texas Motor Speedway in 1999 but continues his rehabilitation (?) by racing karts on street circuits such as this! .
The only downside was that shortly before Sunday’s Finals, the weather suddenly turned very cold, wet and windy. Last year there was an attendance of 9,000 and the City Council Officials had told us that a crowd well in excess of 5 figures was expected this time. Unfortunately the weather spoiled that but it was truly a family event with many parent/children combinations and almost as many grandparent/children groupings. I noticed that the youngsters were especially fascinated by the huge Jumbotron roadside screens showing Kart Racing Network’s live TV coverage of the Event. One surprise for me was the young ages of many of the circuit officials and marshals. Many of these had contacted the promoter asking to be part of the team. It made a stark contrast to the UK where we often struggle for younger blood willing to give up their time to perform these essential tasks.