The kart racing world is about to get a bit smaller.
Representatives of the Rock Island Grand Prix street race, in anticipation of becoming licensed by the FIA/CIK in 2003, visited 8 karting manufacturers and 2 tracks in Italy. Their goal was to learn more about the international karting classes that will be added to the 2003 Grand Prix lineup, and the equipment and specifications associated with them.
The Rock Island Grand Prix has applied for a license and been inspected with plans to become the only CIK-licensed track in the United States. The Grand Prix has also applied to be added to the CIK world calendar as an international open event.
CIK classes to be featured at Rock Island in 2003 will include Intercontinental C and Intercontinental A. When the license is approved, any B level (intercontinental class) driver currently licensed in any of the 103 nations that participate in the sport of karting, would be eligible to legally participate in the Rock Island Grand Prix.
The group from the Rock Island Grand Prix, and the Quad Cities Convention and Visitor's Bureau, traveled to Italy with Grand Prix race director Tom Argy Jr. as part of the TCM Racing Factory Tour. In their quest to learn more about international karting they met with top factory executives at CRG, Tony Kart, Italsistem, SKM & Intrepid, MBA, IAME, Rakama, and Birel. Future trips are planned to meet with other factories.
They met with Mike Wilson, 6-time karting world champion at Rakama, Danilo Rossi, 5-time world champion driver at CRG, and Gianlunco Beggio, 5-time gearbox world champion at Birel. They saw the new chassis undergoing homologation as well as newly designed, safety-tested body work. They met with distributors and visited the new SKM and Tony Kart factories.
The group saw Achille Parrilla's innovative new 4-cycle rotary valve Rocket that puts out 58 horsepower, and held extensive discussions about the future of the new touch-and-go (TAG), easy to maintain, electric start motors that will greatly expand interest in kart racing.
They also visited the racing circuits at Parma and Lonato.
""There is so much change going on in the industry that people can't comprehend it. It amazes even me,'' said Tom Argy Jr. who organized the trip through his management company, TCM Racing.
""TAG looks like a super way to keep 2-cycle racing growing strong within the industry. The 4-cycle technical advancements are so incredible that its creating controversy within the industry toward the implementation of the new pre-destined CIK class structure,'' Argy said.
""I've always been proud of the Rock Island Grand Prix race committee for recognizing trends in the sport that enable the event to be successful and continue to grow. Now it has come to the point where Rock Island is no longer a reflecftion of the times, it is fast becoming a window to the future.''
The group was enthusiastically welcomed at each of its stops. Their goal of learning more about international racing and the problems foreign drivers may face going to a different country, were more than realized during the trip.
Group members were excited to learn that the Rock Island Grand Prix was already well-known among the manufacturers who were anxious to hear how they could be involved.
The group used a CD video presentation prepared especially for the trip by Rolling Thunder Productions and www.kartweb.com, to explain the various elements of the race.
The group also gathered input from two top American drivers, Benny Moon and Jason Bowles, who traveled with them and tuner, Jason Berry.
Debbie Duffy, Grand Prix treasurer, said the trip helped her to realize how big karting really is. ""We have one race and can lose sight of how big this sport is in the world.'' she said.
Curtis Hoegner, a Grand Prix board member and kart driver, said he learned a lot on the trip. ""These people are very serious about what they do, and I think they took us very seriously. I'm afraid that many people are going to take this race very seriously and we have to be prepared.''
""It's one thing to apply for a license and just sit back and wait for the drivers to show up. But when a volunteer group like this takes time off from their jobs and family to go half-way around the world at their own expense to tell the industry about their race, that's pretty unusual. I think they took notice,'' said Grand Prix president Roger Ruthhart. ""We want to be the best and there's no better way to do that than to learn from the leaders in the industry.''
Cheryl Ealy, vice president of sales for the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the trip the experience of a lifetime. ""The mission convinced me that the potential of this event is immense and that our community plays a large rule in the success of the event. Gaining respect from the manufacturers and distributors will help determine our future success,'' she said.
The Rock Island Grand Prix was originally created to bring racers and spectators to the city's downtown business district. This year, when the CIK license is approved, that invitation will be extended to kart racers all over the world, Ruthhart said.
Many of the manufacturers said they intend to send race teams to Rock Island in 2003. Ruthhart said they are also working on sponsor and marketing partnerships with several of the factories and their importers.
The Rock Island Grand Prix is held each year on the American Labor Day Weekend, August 30-31, 2003, through the downtown streets of Rock Island, Illinois. In all it will include 14 races with practice and qualifying on Saturday and feature races on Sunday. Presenting sponsors are SBC/Ameritech and Bi-State Home Improvement. The more than $25,000 purse is sponsored by Casino Rock Island. Many other sponsors have supported the event for many years.
More information on the Rock Island Grand Prix is available at www.rockislandgrandprix.com.
Argy said the goal of the trip was to bridge the gap between the two greatest spheres of influence in the karting industry -- North America and Europe. It's something he's been doing for many years.
""I tell people that we're the biggest street race in the world and people take my word for it. To come (to Europe) and have them agree and verify it is even more important,'' Argy said.
""Knowing that you are the best in the world at what you do is something pretty special,'' he added.