SBRS: Steve Welk and the lure of karting

Despite open-wheel success, Welk intends to remain close to the karting ranks. Following the Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Championship presented by RACER events at Putnam Park Road Course in May, Wisconsin native Steve Welk and a few...

Despite open-wheel success, Welk intends to remain close to the karting ranks.

Following the Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Championship presented by RACER events at Putnam Park Road Course in May, Wisconsin native Steve Welk and a few other karting veterans got together after a full day of practice to visit an old friend. You see, despite the fact that they have all progressed to the open-wheel ranks of the National Championship, despite the fact their careers are pulling them in another direction, they still make time to race karts.

Earlier in the day, the drivers were given the opportunity to tour PWR Championship Racing's Champ Car shop in Indianapolis. As the tour wound down the topic of conversation turned from the 800hp Champ Cars they were examining to Stephan Johansson's Indoor Karting Center. As soon as word of a kart track in the area spread, the buzz among drivers was"when and where?" Who, among the Formula Dodge drivers, was up for a night out on the karts?

Plans were finalized to meet after dinner. Seven drivers had signed on. Not surprisingly, five of them were former karters; four were in the National Championship based on their karting results. The drivers in question were; Barber-CART Karting Scholarship winners Ward Imrie, Craig Baltzer, Colin Fleming, 2001 CART Stars of Tomorrow Award winner Scott Speed, former National Karting Champion and current engine builder Doug Fleming, Skip Barber Racing Instructor Gerardo Bonilla and Steve Welk, a Barber-CART Scholarship finalist who graduated from karting this year to contest the National Championship.

Now all these young men have driven 125cc 40hp shifter karts at the highest level in karting. Yet when they get to a fun kart track they become like kids in a candy store, barely able to wait for the attendant to get through directions. Among the instructions the drivers find most amusing is"no bumping." Soon after being sent out, the drivers proceeded to"bump" anyone that came near them and occasionally failed to acknowledge the caution lights, meaning several drivers landed in Stephan Johansson's sin bin. The laps, as well as the session, was timed allowing the karters to compare trips around the short circuit and earn bragging rights. Although the field featured some former karting champions, they were one-upped by none other than Skip Barber Racing Instructor Gerardo Bonilla, who set the fastest lap time of the evening on the tight indoor track.

For most karters in the National Championship, karting still remains a very important part of their racing careers. Drivers still try to compete in kart races as long as it doesn't interfere with their open-wheel schedule. Count Steve Welk among this group. The Wisconsin native remains very active in the world of kart racing.

Although Welk has committed to running the National Championship, he is still extremely involved in karting. He started his racing career in karts at alocal track in Dousman, Wisconsin at the age of eight and first ran in WKA National events at the age of 12. During his career in karting, Welk has garnered four WKA regional Championships, and won several national events, including the 97 CIK/IKF Jr. U.S. Championship.

In 1998, Welk was given the opportunity to compete in the Karting World Championships held in Ugento, Italy. The ascending star jumped at the chance. Welk drove brilliantly in his heats but was caught up in one wreck that put him in the last chance race. His result may not have been ideal, but the experience of over-seas competition sure was.

Welk returned to Europe in 1999, held then in Mariemburg, Belgium, and produced strong results in qualifying 30th out of the 108 competitors. But again, bad luck in the heats kept him out of the final for the second year.

"My experience at the World Championships was one of the greatest of my racing career," said Welk."The competition at that race is top notch. I learned quickly that in order to be fast, I had to raise my level of driving to theirs. Those two races taught me to learn from my competitors more than anything. I knew that by watching what they did compared to myself I could figure out what I was good at and what I needed to improve on. It taught me to adapt to the different styles of drivers I have never raced against quickly. I contribute a lot of my success in racing to this experience in the World Championships, to what I learned while I was there."

Welk competed in karts for two more years in the Super Karts USA Pro Moto Tour and CART Stars of Tomorrow series before turning his efforts to the Official Amateur National Championship of CART.

"Karting is still a huge part of what I do. Although my attention is focused primarily on the National Championship, I am still very involved in karting.

Among other forms of study, Welk finds that working as a mechanic and driving coach helps him understand and convey what the kart is doing to young karters. This exercise, and the ability to put it into words, has contributed to his understanding of race craft. He routinely examines his own driving style in the R/T 2000 and can more easily identify areas he can improve over the season. Dividends are starting to pay out as his comfort level in the R/T 2000 increases. His best finish to date of the 2002 campaign is an eighth place result at California Speedway in Round 3.

"I am still looking to put together a limited racing plan; it's currently taking shape right now," said the rising star."As long as I can secure the budget for the remainder of the National Championship. But, regardless of what happens, karting is very dear to me. I have made a lot of friends in the karting community. Karting is one of the most fun things I do. I don't see myself losing touch with it, no matter how high up the ladder I climb."

-cart/barber-

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