‘South Park is to karting what Monaco is to Formula One’
QUINCY — Rick Fulks may be looking forward to this weekend more than anyone else, and that in itself is quite a statement.
This weekend marks the 36th overall Grand Prix of Karting at South Park and the fourth since its 2018 return as there was no Grand Prix during the 2020 pandemic year.
The 58-year-old Fulks, a Jacksonville, Ill., resident, has served as the Grand Prix’s race director since it returned in 2018.
But this weekend, he’s trading in his shades, shorts and slides for a helmet and firesuit and getting back in the saddle to once again attempt to tame the legendary 1.2 mile South Park track.
“I got tired of watching,” Fulks said.
Fulks had been a regular during many years of the first installment of the Grand Prix before it ended in 2001, due largely to a downturn in popularity of karting at the time. That period when the Grand Prix was nothing more than a memory was especially difficult for racers like Fulks, who viewed South Park as the holy ground of karting.
“It was like the loss of a member of the family,” said Fulks, who is one title away from cracking the all-time Grand Prix top 10. “South Park is to karting what Monaco is to Formula One.”
Fulks says the Grand Prix is so special because the 13-turn South Park course “is the ultimate — the most unique karting course in the world” and Ekartingnews.com has listed the Grand Prix as one of the top 10 races in the United States.
Fulks loves the way Quincy embraces Grand Prix and the sport itself.
“Quincy is the karting capital of the U.S.,” Fulks said. “We all love Quincy.”
The Saturday-Sunday spectacle will bring together many of the top karters in not only the Tri-State region, but across the Midwest and beyond. It also launches a special month for racing in Quincy.
Following this weekend’s karting extravaganza at South Park, the Quincy Derby — formerly the Quincy Soap Box Derby — will unfold June 17-18 on the 18th Street Hill near Quintron Way and Bob Mays Park, followed by one of the highlights of the local dirt-track stock car season when the UMP Summer Nationals Hell Tour rolls into Adams County Speedway on June 22.
Somewhere between 350 and 400 entries will be in the pits this weekend, which will be another record since the 2018 revival. There were 343 a year ago.
“This is the most unique track in the nation,” echoes organizer Terry Traeder, whose father, the late Gus Traeder, founded the event. The trophies that are now awarded to Grand Prix winners are called “Gussies,” and bear the founder’s likeness. Terry Traeder, 70, a former world champion karter who retired from the sport in 1994 after a 37-year career, still shares the record for most titles won at the Grand Prix with 27.
Two other familiar faces will also be on hand this weekend — Stan and Maroline Long. The Longs are not only longtime friends of the Traeder family, but also worked with the Traeder’s in different areas of their business ventures. Oh, and the Longs were highly involved in karting, too. Stan’s reputation as a mechanic was known coast-to-coast and was an integral figure in Terry Traeder’s karting success. Maroline coordinated scoring and other statistical areas of the Grand Prix for years.
“Racing has been good to us,” said Maroline, 78. “There was always a real connection with our racing family, plus we got to see a lot of places year after year. It was a good job (working for the Traeder’s), and we got to meet a lot of people. It was very enjoyable.”
“Gus promoted races all over the country, and we traveled all over,” said Stan, 84, who worked for the Traeders for 47 years prior to his retirement. “Back when we started, engines for the karts were only about $100. There also weren’t all the classes there are now today.”
Terry Traeder has nothing but admiration for the man he likes to refer to as his “older brother”.
“Stan was truly a doctor of mechanics,” Traeder said. “He could fix things and figure out problems better than anyone I’ve known. It was weird, but I think he could see in his mind how the air and fuel were flowing inside the motors and knew how much to modify the motor for maximum horsepower.”
These days, a premier kart power plant will go for about $2,500, although many of the classes on display this weekend will be the sealed motors offered by Briggs and Stratton that sell for $599. Those engines help provide “a level playing field,” according to Dan Roche, the director of motorsports for Milwaukee-based Briggs and Stratton.
Roche feels that “level playing field” has been one of the key reasons for a major spike in karting interest, particularly over the past decade. Roche will be making his first journey to South Park this weekend.
“There has been a global boom in karting interest and I expect it to continue — our priority is to keep up with that boom,” Roche said. “We want an equal playing field at a modest budget.”
Racing gets underway at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, following day-long warm-up, practice and qualifying sessions starting at 8:30 a.m. On Sunday, racing begins at noon. Opening ceremonies, including prayer and national anthem, will start at 11:30 a.m. Presentation of the Gussies and other awards will start at 5:45 p.m. Six classes will race on Saturday and 11 classes will run on Sunday.
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