September 4, 2006


The Rock Island Grand Prix was held this weekend and Sunday's kart racing was exciting as usual. (Apparently, these little rockets are now referred to as "karts", to separate them from the non-racing "go-carts" we're more familiar with.)

It's impossible to describe what it's like to see these racing karts run, some reaching near 100 mph on the straights, then taking corners so amazingly fast that it's like they're on rails.

The competition is intense, as the Grand Prix is the only course run on city streets in the US and attracts drivers literally from around the world. To win in Rock Island is truly a high achievement.

Drivers often are bumper to bumper at very high speeds, including around tight corners.

There's spin-outs and several wrecks in almost every race. One of the worst of the day happened directly in front of me when the leader hit the barrier and spun causing a chain reaction of at least 6 karts smashing into each other at high speeds, ending up with one driver laid out on the street as green shirted track officials tended to him.

The shook up driver, who like the others appeared to be about 12 years old, later got up and wandered to a hay bale and laid down as a fellow driver in a white helmet checked on him. The on-site ambulances came within seconds and he was checked out, but amazingly, no one appeared seriously hurt.

The karts have no roll bars and no seat belts, the idea being that the driver is safer being thrown free of the cart in the event of a roll-over. But they do flip and go airborn on occasion. The sport isn't much more dangerous than others however, with perhaps one racing fatality a year out of the hundreds of thousands of kart racers in the U.S.

An illustration of the force of impact can be seen by the bend rim on one of the karts involved.

Another massive wreck occured during one of the faster classes. This guy slid into the barrier which is what set it off.

If you look closely at this shot, (click to enlarge) you can see one driver who hit the hay bales with such force that he blasted completely through them. (in red) Two other drivers have spun completely around and are against the barrier, (in blue) and of the five karts rounding the corner, three of them have already slid completely sideways to try to avoid the pile up. (in green)

It tore a rear tire completely off this kart when another kart locked wheels with it in a corner, and broke a large chunk off of the alloy wheel. (I guess it would be a "kartwheel"?)

Though there were light sprinkles throughout the afternoon, the threatened rain never was a factor and it didn't seem to diminish the race fans from coming out in large numbers.

*Update* Just noticed that Quad City Images has some shots and a vid clip up on the Grand Prix as well.

*Update* Following QCI's lead, I uploaded a video clip you can watch as well. It's not the greatest, by any means, but it will give you some sound and an idea of the speed of the karts. Though this was shot in a shorter, slower stretch in the middle of the course and was of one of the slower classes, you can still see that they move VERY fast.


At 9/05/2006 6:38 AM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

Your RI Grand Prix coverage is much more in depth, and generally better.

I only spent slightly over an hour over there due to some other plans this weekend, but next year I plan to see more of it.

At 9/05/2006 12:05 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Thanks, but it's not really possible to cover the entire event. I didn't arrive until several classes had already run. I wandered around the track a couple times, though there weren't many places which were good for photos, unless you happened to be carrying a step ladder to get over the fencing around the track.

I did contemplate climbing up on some brick light fixtures near turn 1, but thought better of it. There was a planter near turn 3 that would have gotten me above the fence as well, if I managed to climb up on it.

But there again, in the debate between having a clear shot from the planter and the distinct and embarassing possibility of ending up flat on my ass and in severe pain if I tried, I decided to try to shoot through the fence instead.

I spent most of the race talking to spectators and learning more about the sport. I happened to meet a guy who was on the board which organized the races, and was a racer himself. I asked a ton of questions which he was only too happy to answer and I learned a lot.

And being anywhere near turn three is pretty much a guarantee that you're going to see wrecks, crashes, spins, collisions, and whatever else involves karts flying in all directions.

The straightaway after turn one is a long one and they reach their highest speeds there. It's essentially a drag race to the third corner, and if you hit the brakes a split second too late going into it, or are jammed up and off line, you're going to be in big trouble.

I'd wager that if you could somehow remove all the rubber left on that corner alone, you'd probably have enough to make a set of tractor tires. ha!

But again, it's hard to really convey what the race is like in stil pictures. I shot several which slowed the shutter speed to give the blurred indication of speed, but even that didn't seem to work too well.

I took several video clips as well, to show the speed and most importantly, the sounds involved, which pretty much sound like a swarm of mutant killer wasps that are VERY pissed off.

And of course, the smell of burning alcohol fuel hung thick in the air. I kept smelling it for 24 hours afterward.

But there's really no good way to convey what it's like. You just have to see it (and hear it and smell it) for yourself.

I found out that some video outfit covers the race in it's entirety every year, including multiple camera positions, and that you can order videos of the races from them. I'm not sure of their address, but if anyone wants to find out more, contact me and I'll try to find out.


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