Flashy flagman returning to Quincy for return of Grand Prix of Karting in June

Grand Prix flagman

Jason Burgess has become quite a fixture at the South Park race with his dapper mode of dress — including his ever-present black chapeau — and his energetic presence at and around the start-finish line along the northeast corridor of the park. | Photo courtesy of Jason Burgess

QUINCY — When Quincy businessman Jeff Scott vowed to revive the Grand Prix of Karting, one of his immediate goals was to bring back popular flagman Jason Burgess.

Mission accomplished.

Burgess, who lives about a mile from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Ind., has agreed to be a part of the rebirth of the Grand Prix on June 8-9 at South Park.

Burgess had become quite a fixture at the South Park race with his dapper mode of dress — including his ever-present black chapeau — and his energetic presence at and around the start-finish line along the northeast corridor of the park.

When the Grand Prix first returned in 2018 following a 17-year absence, Burgess, now 45, quickly became as big of a draw for the race as any of the drivers in the long, rich history of the event, which has long been recognized as one of the crown jewels of karting. The twisting 1.125-mile South Park course, equally famous from coast to coast, will again provide the perfect backdrop to what many consider the perfect karting challenge. 

Burgess appreciates what the Grand Prix represents, both to the sport and the Quincy community. He was admittedly heartbroken when word of its demise reached him in late 2022.

“The competition and the reaction of both the drivers and fans alike, seeing all of that come to life has always been amazing,” Burgess said. “And it’s not only about those who win. The history of the Quincy race makes (everything involved) a big deal.”

Scott was ecstatic when Burgess agreed to be part of this year’s comeback.

“Jason is the best flagman there is,” Scott said. “I can’t tell you how happy we are he will be with us.”

Where he is positioned during a race, Burgess said he enjoys the emotions and satisfaction of all the drivers, including those competitors who may not be running up front but are still satisfied simply to finish such a prestigious competition. Burgess said the looks on the faces of those drivers is extremely rewarding. Make no mistake about it, he’s incredibly appreciative of their effort and desire. 

“It’s a once-a-year event. It’s not like they race every weekend,” Burgess said. “It’s fun, and it’s what racing should be. There’s no one pointing a gun to their head.”

Burgess is known across the country for his fancy on-track appearance. Several years ago, Marshall Pruett of Racer magazine wrote, “Honoring the old-school starters who dressed impeccably and were fountains of style and enthusiasm has driven Burgess’ approach.”

“I love looking back at the history of motorsports, and when you go back to the 1960s, it wasn’t about putting logos on the officials that might be seen by a camera for half of a second,” Burgess told the magazine. “It was style and class. The cars were unique, hand-painted and built by hand. Then there was the flagman: He’s wearing a suit coat, standing feet away from the cars, jumping, entertaining, putting on a show while doing his job. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see that very much anymore.”

Burgess is still pinching himself that the Quincy race has been resurrected.

“I did not expect it to come back,” he said. “There was no indication that it would.”

Burgess understood the decision of former race director Terry Traeder, whose late father, Gus Traeder, founded the Grand Prix in 1970. The Traeder family wished to step away. Terry Traeder was 71 when deciding to end the Grand Prix shortly before Christmas in 2022.

The Grand Prix’s original run in Quincy was 1970-2001, a 32-year stretch that put the city on the world karting map. Terry Traeder helped bring it back in 2018 and guided it through 2022 (minus the 2020 cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

All good things must end sometime, Burgess said. Then he got a phone call from Scott a couple of months ago.

“This is one of those events that has a romantic value,” said Burgess, who has worked in numerous roles in numerous racing disciplines, including as an IndyCar spotter for driver Alexander Rossi. Burgess was spotter for Rossi when he won the Indy 500 in 2016.

Those kinds of jobs have been a perfect compliment in helping him emerge as a world-class flagman.

“Staying calm is the key,” Burgess said. “The main thing is being precise.”

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