Palm Harbor’s Brian Fletcher, son of Tri-City Kart Club president Barry Fletcher, recently won a nationwide competition that will have him competing in Portugal on Nov. 22.
PINELLAS PARK – This summer’s opening of Showtime Speedway – formerly Sunshine Speedway – has given Tri-City Kart Club the opportunity to bring competitive youth go-kart racing back to Pinellas Park.
The club’s 2012-2013 season kicks off at the speedway on Sunday, Nov. 11, as it hopes to revamp its reputation and build on its 40-year plus racing legacy in the county.
When Sunshine, the club’s longtime home, shut down eight years ago, it crippled Tri-City, leaving the group scrambling to find a new place to host its races. So the club raced at any track that was available – DeSoto Super Speedway in Bradenton, Citrus County Speedway in Inverness.
But these locations alienated its core base of young drivers, which came primarily from Pinellas County. A once thriving group, with as many as 120 racers descending on Pinellas Park from all over the state to compete each weekend, over the past few years it’s seen the number of cars competing dwindle to as low as 40 each race.
With its former home, though now under a new name and with a new owner, Tri-City is poised for a comeback. Having regular access to Showtime will be a boon for the club.
“We were at Sunshine forever,” said the club’s president, Barry Fletcher, a self-described “gearhead” who eats, sleeps, and breathes the sport. “It’s really the perfect spot. It’s centrally located, so we can easily draw from St. Pete, Clearwater, Tampa.” And, he said, it’s only a matter of time before the weekly races start to once again attract drivers from around the state in addition to loyal locals. “If we put on a good first race, the word will get out that we’re back.”
“The thing is, everyone has been waiting for this to happen,” said Jill Marie, the community relations representative for Q Motorsports and Q Auto & Injury Attorneys, sponsors of Tri-City, and who also works closely with the club to organize events. “There’s a whole new generation of racers to draw from. Adult mothers and fathers [in the area] who grew up racing in it now have children of their own.”
Tri-City is based on a ladder program. Drivers start racing as young as 5, getting behind the wheel of kid karts, with the karts getting progressively bigger and faster as the children get older and gain more experience on the track.
“Cars have the same chassis and motor, but the throttle restrictor is removed [to give older racers] more gas and speed,” Fletcher said. “We put restrictions on their karts so they can go only so fast.”
Speeds range from up to 30 miles per hour for the kid karts and nearly 120 miles per hour for the junior-class karts.
And while the races can get highly competitive, winning is not Tri-City’s focus. Instead, it hopes to instill good values in its young racers.
“It’s about safety, family, and sportsmanship,” Fletcher said.
Marie added, “You will be a good sport, or you will not race.”
Fletcher has seen go-kart racing change many lives over the years, teaching kids responsibility, improving relationships between children and parents, and bringing together blended families by providing common ground. “It’s really great to see them mature and take responsibility,” he said.