SKUSA: Geoff Dodge World Finals qualifyign

COLORADO SPRINGS, Sept. 12 - Geoff Dodge, 17, of Colorado Springs has qualified for the Superkarts! USA World Finals Sept. 21-23 at the Oklahoma Motorsports Complex in Norman, Okla. Dodge, a senior at Air Academy High School, is the only...

COLORADO SPRINGS, Sept. 12 - Geoff Dodge, 17, of Colorado Springs has qualified for the Superkarts! USA World Finals Sept. 21-23 at the Oklahoma Motorsports Complex in Norman, Okla.

Dodge, a senior at Air Academy High School, is the only shifter kart driver from Colorado Springs to earn this distinction.

The World Finals will feature the top 64 shifter kart drivers from the nation, split equally with 32 from the West and 32 from the East. Over 1,500 racers from many different countries over three continents make up the SKUSA membership ranks.

Dodge is the highest-ranked driver from the state who competes in the Formula S1 class. Regionally it's the top class of karts, and at the World Finals it is second only to one other class. Dodge's class will be the largest in the number of entries, however, which makes the competition at the World Finals even tougher.

Regionally, after four rounds of competition he leads Reggie Brown Jr. in the Mountain Region point standings with no finish lower than a third place, including one victory and two seconds. He is currently 20th in the Flatout Group Formula S1 Western point standings out of 48 drivers and 36th out of 116 drivers in that class's combined point standings.

Dodge's cart is a Birel CR32X powered by a Banke Honda CR125 engine. It uses Bridgestone YGB tires and FreeLine components.

Superkarts! USA shifter karts can reach speeds of 125, accelerating from zero to 60 mph in only 3.8 seconds. The drivers, who range in age from 9 to 30, sit only an inch off the ground.

Dodge has been competing solely on road courses ranging from a little less than a half mile to 1.2 or 1.3 miles in length. "The fastest speed I've seen is 118, and we average 70 to 90 down the straightaways on most of our courses," he explains.

Many of today's top Indy car drivers got their start in shifter karts, and many professional race car drivers use them as part of their regular training program to keep their reflexes sharp. Memo Gidley, winner of the '99 "Supernationals" for shifter karts, was recently named to a CART champ car ride, and Indy Racing League stars Greg Ray, Mark Dismore and Sam Hornish Jr. came from karting.

Dodge would certainly like to follow in their footsteps, but unlike many 17-year-olds he has a mature outlook on the pitfalls inherent in all professional sports.

"I'd love to race professionally as a career, but the reality is that I'm going to have to get a real job," he says. "Even if things would work out great for me in racing, most professional racers now have a college education too. I'm definitely going to go to college next year, and I'm probably going to major in business.

"Driving is fun," he adds. "Raising sponsorship funds in order to race is the hardest part, and college business courses will give me a good education that I can use for all sorts of things."

That fact isn't lost on Dodge's mother, Connie, or his father, Richard (Dick) E. Dodge Jr., first vice president/investments for Salomon Smith Barney's Colorado Springs office and a racer himself. The elder Dodge, a Pikes Peak Hill Climb veteran with two class victories and numerous top-five finishes, is a two-time record holder at the Peak and a former Rookie of the Year at Colorado Springs' most famous motorsports event. He races 360 sprint cars at Rocky Mountain Speedway and, like his son, has driven 125 shifter karts in SKUSA regional events.

"Without my parents' help I wouldn't be able to race at all," the younger Dodge continues. "It takes a lot of sacrifices on their part to help me do this. I'm coming to the end of my fourth year in karts, and realistically if we can finish within the top 20 at the World Finals, we'll have a great weekend. There will be really good drivers there with top equipment. It's a track that I've never even seen, let alone driven on, so if we can end up in the top third of the field in our first attempt at the World Finals, that will be great."

Dodge is searching for sponsors, and whatever marketing partnerships he can line up will determine what path he takes next in the sport.

"We're not sure if we'll be in karts next year or not," he says. "We'd like to stay with open-wheel cars of some sort. Formula cars are great but they cost so much money. We are looking at mini-sprints and midgets, but for what you invest in them, you might as well do a sprint car program. Realistically with me getting ready to go to college, we really have to watch the racing budget."

Dodge's family, which includes a 13-year-old sister, Rebecca, are all planning to attend the World Finals to cheer him on.

"My crew basically just consists of my dad," Dodge continues. "Another driver, Ryan Bailey of Lakewood, Colo., helped us at one of the races, but he'll be racing at the World Finals too so he'll be busy. His father, Jim Bailey, has been a monumental help by giving us a lot of good advice.

"A motorcycle shop in Golden, Colo., called J.S. Pro Performance Shop has helped some too, as has MRP/Speed out of Baroda, Mich., which imports the chassis we run.

"But mom and dad have helped the most," he adds gratefully.

-gdr

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Series Kart
Drivers Greg Ray , Mark Dismore , Memo Gidley , Reggie Brown , Geoff Dodge , Sam Hornis