Rock Island Grand Prix race report

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois - Mike Welsh turned in the drive of his life in the final race of the day to cap an impressive three-win performance at this year's Rock Island Grand Prix. Indiana's Kyle Wiegand set a new track record in winning the ...

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois - Mike Welsh turned in the drive of his life in the final race of the day to cap an impressive three-win performance at this year's Rock Island Grand Prix. Indiana's Kyle Wiegand set a new track record in winning the Superkarts! USA King of the Streets race and Alan Rudolph won his second straight ICC World Street Championship.

SBC is the Presenting Sponsor of the Rock Island Grand Prix, the world's largest karting street race.

Welsh (Margay/Vega) turned in one of the most dramatic drives in the history of the Rock Island Grand Prix for his third win of the day in the Yamaha Medium race. After putting his kart on the pole, Welsh got off to a horrible start and soon found himself barely in sight of Corey Reeves (Margay/Bridgestone). But in the last eight laps, Welsh was able to reel in Reeves and erase a 3.5 second gap. All of this happened amidst one of the most torrid paces of the weekend with eight drivers eclipsing the class' previous fast-lap record. Welsh's other wins came in the Zimmerman Cars sponsored 2-cycle Super Sportsman, which had the largest field of the weekend, and Yamaha Heavy, sponsored by SBC.

The wins gave Welsh, of Davenport, Iowa, his second 3-win performance at "The Rock" and moved him into a share of third place in the all-time victory list at Rock Island. He is now tied with Iowa's Scott Evans with seven career wins and trails just Todd Bolton (8) and Jason Birdsell (11), both of Illinois.

"That's some pretty darn good company," Welsh said, impressed with being ranked among karting legends. Ohio's Gary Lawson, a three-race winner last year, was the only other multi-race winner Sunday. Lawson and Welsh each claimed three pole positions during Saturday's qualifying time-trials.

Lawson won two classes, but one victory came via a post-race disqualification of long-time friend Billy Dickson (Margay/Dunlop), at no fault of the Pennsylvanian. Dickson had the victory taken away after his muffler fell off during the 4-Cycle Stock Medium race.

"That takes away from me getting the victory," Lawson admitted. "That didn't have anything to do with the outcome of the race, so it's too bad. But it's not like I'm going to give it back. You have to take what you can at this race."

Wiegand's family turned the trip to Rock Island into a vacation and later a large celebration. Wiegand (GP/Pavesi/Bridgestone) already had two wins at Rock Island on his resume and came to town owning the track's fast-lap record. But despite his speed, and qualifying on the pole last year, he had never won the coveted King of the Streets race, sponsored by the Bob Bondurant SuperKart School.

"This is the biggest race of the year. It's unbelievable to win those kind of bragging rights," Wiegand said, after turning celebratory 360-degree spins in his kart, claiming the checkered flag and being crowned King. "I finished second in the final last year. Second's pretty good in any other race here. But in The King, there's only first place."

"We've got a lot to celebrate," Wiegand said, nodding to his elated family. Four sisters, two brothers and Wiegand's parents used this weekend as a family getaway. "Not bad for being on vacation," he said. His mother was in tears as he was interviewed at the Finish Line.

Arizona's Alan Rudolph (RBI/Pavesi), a four-time winner of King of the Streets, finished a distant second, but came back to win the CIK rules Intercontinental C World Street Championship race, sponsored by WHBF-TV.

"It never gets old winning here," said the six-time Rock Island winner. "And, it's nice to win this race again. But it's kind of a consolation prize. The King is what I come back for -- I want that title back. My wife came back with me, and like she always says it's easier to climb to the top than stay there. I just have to keep trying, I guess," Rudolph said. Polesitter Darin Marcus (First Kart) was the runner-up.

Entries at this year's Rock Island Grand Prix totaled 391, matching the all- time high for the event, despite cancellation of the ICA class and caps on the number of entries in some classes to keep them from getting too large. The event was marked by many fields that were close to the maximum of 30 allowed by event organizers, which made for great racing action from the front of the pack to the back.

In the 125 Shifter Masters class for drivers over age 35, sponsored by SBC, Kartsport Magazine contributor Bonnier Moulton from California (Paul Tracy/TM), unseated two-time champion John Kindhart of Texas (Birel/Honda/Continental). Another former champ, Dan Roe of Minnesota was third.

In 2003, the Rock Island Grand Prix was one of the first events to embrace the new TAG program for spec engine packages with electric start motors. This year it was rewarded with a large turnout of competitors in TAG Senior and Masters classes.

TAG Senior, sponsored by Easykart America, saw Minnesota driver Jim Cassi (Birel/Rotax) not only win the pole and the race, but set a fast-lap record for the class as well. After the race, he jumped out of his kart and hugged the flagman, Tommy Argy III. He later explained that Tommy and his father, the late Tom Argy Jr., had been at his first Rotax Nationals and encouraged him in karting. Argy Jr. died in a traffic accident late last year.

"Tom gave me a push one year in a race here," Cassi said. "I wish he had been here to give me a slap on the back, too."

Second place went to Dale Bales (GP/Sonik/Bridgestone) with Michael Johnson of Texas (Arrow) finishing third.

Illinoisan Sara Hyslop (Ital/Ital/Bridgestone) didn't win, but her fifth- place finish was the highest ever for a woman at the Rock Island Grand Prix. Wisconsin's Bobby Wilson, last year's King of the Streets, who this year won the open wheel Formula Zetec Series Championship, finishing 10th as a last-minute substitute for some Florida Easykart drivers kept from attending the race by a hurricane.

In TAG Masters for drivers over age 35, also sponsored by Easykart America, multi-time national champion Mack McCormack from Alabama (Birel/IAME) edged Iowa's Don Garwood (Birel/Leopard/Vega) by .78 of a second. McCormack had earlier finished sixth in TAG Senior. Rob Howden, editor and publisher of Super Kart Illustrated magazine, raced out of the Margay tent and finished sixth.

"I've been doing this 30 years, and it's just a thrill to win at this event," said McCormack, who brought a huge following with him from Alabama. "I took this year off to help others in the pit, and just point to this race, and it looks like it paid off. We're going to have some fun tonight."

In 2-cycle Senior Sportsman, Wisconsin's Corey Reeves (Margay) sweated out a protest after edging a field that included Joey King (Margay) in second and Mike Welsh (Margay) in third. The inquiry was filed by an official because Reeves passed under a yellow flag.

"I passed him, but the flag was just instantaneous, and besides it wasn't for position and it didn't affect the race. The finish was close," Reeves said. An investigation by race director Terry Riggins found that a lapped kart was passed under yellow but no position was gained, so the finishing order was allowed to stand. King bumped Welsh on the final turn to take the second-place check, an incident which Welsh credited with motivating him to win his final three races.

Rock Island also offered some great race action for 4-cycles. Two Briggs & Stratton Animal classes were added this year. The Tom Argy Jr. Animal Roundup, sponsored by Rieken Racing, was named after the late race director of the Rock Island Grand Prix. Senior Animal drivers competed for the first time in the Rumble at The Rock.

The first running of the Tom Argy Jr. Animal Roundup was won by Pennsylvania's Zachary Linsell (Coyotoe/Dunlop) who had to hold off a strong field of local juniors. The polesitter jumped out to an early lead, and never was challenged. "This is bigger than a national championship race," Linsell said. "The competition here is just great. I'm honored to win here." Taylor Moore of Indiana (Margay/Dunlop) was second by .173 and Travis DeVrindt from Sherrard, Illinois (Genesis/Dunlop) was third.

The Rumble at The Rock added another "Rock" to the trophy case of Gary Lawson, while Californian Nick Cole (Genesis/Dunlop), an Indy Racing League motor tuner with the weekend off, finished second.

There were also two races for stock Briggs & Stratton flatheads. In 4-cycle Stock Heavy, Ohio's Gary Lawson beat defending champion Billy Dickson of Pennsylvania (Margay/Dunlop) by just .124 of a second. "He actually got past me with two laps to go," said Lawson. "But I ended getting him back on the second straightaway and just held on from there."

In the 4-cycle Medium class, Scott Kleman was able to hold off Lawson with a victory margin of just .077 while Dickson finished third. "It was close," Kleman said of the finish. "You didn't have any room for error in that race, which was hard to do, when you have guys like that chasing you."

In the final gearbox action of the day, Dan Roe added another Rock trophy to his collection with a win by just .116 over Larry Nagy in the 125cc moto class. "It never gets old winning on this track against this kind of competition," Roe said. "There was some hesitation when I let off the gas. That's how he got by me once. So, I just stayed on the throttle and rode the brake in the corners, and I was lucky enough that worked. Plus, I knew how to take those corners, while he was getting a lot of air under his kart on the bumps. That's where I beat him."

The Rock Island Grand Prix is held through the streets of the Downtown Rock Island (Illinois) Arts & Entertainment District each year on Labor Day Weekend. It is the world's largest karting street race and the only race in the United States on the CIK international calendar. Next year's dates are Sept. 3-4, 2005.

Jumer's Casino Rock Island is sponsor of the $25,000 purse and Kart Expo International is also a major sponsor of the event. Other sponsors include: F1 Indoor Karting Center; Sprint Kart Speedway; Four Points Hotel by Sheraton; Budweiser/Stern Beverage; The Dispatch, The Rock Island Argus and The Leader newspapers; radio stations B100 97Rock and Star 93.5; John Deere & Co.; Illinois Oil Co.; The Jewell Group; A.D. Heusing; U.S. Cellular; Quad-City Online; CEC Communications; Courtesy Car City; Sunbelt Rentals; Koehler Electric; White Cap Construction, Gas & Electric Credit Union, The Body Shop and Michael Joseph Quane. For additional race information, visit the website at www.rockislandgrandprix.com.

The Rock Island Argus newspaper contributed to this report.

-rigp-

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Series Kart
Drivers Todd Bolton , Rob Howden , Billy Dickson , Alan Rudolph , Darin Marcus , Kyle Wiegand , Larry Nagy , Dan Roe , Jim Cassi , Bobby Wilson , Michael Johnson , Scott Evans