Quincy GP: A One-of-a-Kind Race

Columns: Close Up
There is a city that comes to a standstill once a year for a karting race. It's Quincy, in the heart of the United States, where for about 50 years, an incredible kart race has been held within a city park, attracting around 20,000 spectators over the race weekend.(fm)

Everything about this event seems legendary, but then you arrive at the circuit, and incredibly, everything you read about this race is true, with no exaggerations from those who reported it. There is the hill, right in front of the park entrance, where the founder of the Quincy GP rests, the trees lining the lightning-fast track, and the 20,000 people who, over the two-day event, arrive in long lines of families with strollers and coolers filled with beer.

The circuit is clearly a street race, located within Quincy’s South Park, a town in Illinois on the border between Missouri and Iowa. Quincy has about 40,000 residents and is the only city of significant importance in the vast rural area it inhabits, providing services and facilities. Not far from here, there's also a real karting track – just beyond the Mississippi. The circuit's layout is entirely immersed in the park and shaped by the park's narrow streets and numerous ups and downs: what emerges is a hybrid between the Monaco circuit and the Isle of Man, and to understand how crazy it is to race here, you have to experience it at least once in your life. We enrolled in the race in the only category potentially suitable for beginners here (although there is a category for those who just want to drive a kart without competing, the so-called "novice") which is the Margay Ignite Sr, where everyone races with a Margay chassis and LO206 Briggs & Stratton engine, an engine that is the essence of grassroots karting here, bringing thousands of ordinary people to the track each week in a sporting scenario very different from what we are used to in Europe.

Back to the track: there's no room to think about anything other than the curbs and dry stone walls lining the entire course, there's no margin for error, and there's very little time to learn: the format is deliberately designed to truly highlight "the best" and inevitably reward experience: one practice session (8 minutes, considering that one lap takes about 1.20 seconds), qualifying (6 minutes), and two races: one on Saturday and one on Sunday – of course, preceded by the inevitable national anthem. You drive flat out for about 80% of the track, and as the icing on the cake, at the end of the fastest section, just a few meters after the finish line, there’s a real “jump” where the karts momentarily leave the ground, flying you into the first challenging right-left S that brings you into the heart of the park, where the constant shade from the trees gives the course unforgettable and simultaneously frightening traits. This section is filled with spectators on both sides, lounging on the park's green hills with beer in hand, enjoying a unique show, but there’s no time to think about the empty stands of the FIA World Championship as the circuit demands your attention: the one and a half kilometers seem endless and memorizing the curves is not as simple as on a normal track. Maybe it's just me, but every lap feels like a different track. The kart, very unstable almost everywhere due to the crowned nature of the park's road, continuously alters your setup as practically every corner changes the camber when you widen your racelines. The wisest thing to do, following the advice of the more experienced drivers here, is to never take too wide a raceline at the entrance of the long bends and, oh, I forgot: the kart tires are deliberately – to make the category popular beyond suspicion – extremely hard (80 sh, practically rental tires) and the grip is minimal: consider that here you can use a set of these tires for an entire season on track.

At the end of the two days of racing, I finished 21st out of 33 participants, considering that for beginners it’s essentially a survival race where the primary goal is to reach the checkered flag unscathed, and I have never seen, in a single race weekend, so many chassis return to the paddock as wreckages bent in half, with broken bodywork and detached steering wheels, ready for the scrapyard.

Many factors strike the European karting enthusiast, obviously. One is certainly how the organization of such events is no longer part of our repertoire (for many reasons we can't delve into here) and how quickly it can be dismissed as a “they’re American” if you don’t consider that it is all organized in an incredibly serious manner, they also had issues with insurances to get things done but in the end Jeff Scott, the promoter, worked it out working hard for that. It essentially comes down to the relationship we have with rules and what we think of our sport: on one hand, it seems ‘crazy’ not to have a maximum track capacity (if 60 drivers registered for a category, you would see 60 drivers start that race) or the complete freedom of race gear compared to homologations, left to the drivers's discretion, or, as the cherry on top, the possibility to participate without a license (you read that right, without a license), as it is an event outside any Federation. On the other hand, there’s a great level of awareness and respect for the sport and its possible consequences. We said 'a serious thing', yes, serious in what sense: because in many years – both as a gentleman driver and as a karting environment worker – I have not seen such a long, specific, participated briefing with the total involvement of the drivers as here in Quincy. Questions and proposals, punctual observations, and the race director's openness to the best ideas without anyone looking at their phone and sighing. Professionalism is another matter, and you are right, but if there is something this type of competition can inspire, it is that the roots of karting are those of a popular, authentic, imperfect but also creative sport, rough but noble. Characteristics that have largely been set aside in the ultra-professionalism of our days.

One last thing, which I consider of absolute importance: in two days of racing, I didn’t see one, not one heated argument, a fight, a threat, I didn’t see any angry people in the pit, not even after the most absurd accidents, and I didn’t see any children in karts because in this kind of race there is no Minikart category. I saw thousands of kids but no in a racesuits, with their parents in the park having fun watching the races, while asking the drivers for a sticker: some of them might decide to buy a go-kart with their first paycheck when they grow up.

Created by: fmarangon2 - 10/06/24

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