I bought my first shifterkart in 1997 when I lived in Newport, Rhode Island and I raced with Superkarts! USA in the Northeast division. In 1998, I loaded it into the back of my V-8 Volvo wagon and drove 2,700 miles to Las Vegas to race in the second edition of the SKUSA SuperNationals.
The SuperNats was a new event but with big ideas. At the time, SKUSA was all about promoting a new kind of kart racing. Jim Murley, the new chief in ’97, published the tagline, “Not your daddy’s go kart club”, and it appealed greatly to me. The WKA and IKF experiences I had were underwhelming. They had so many classes for so many different kinds of equipment that it diluted the quality of racing. SKUSA had only four main classes in the beginning, with either 80cc or 125cc two stroke motocross engines, with six speeds and a sequential bump shifter behind the steering wheel. They were awesome to drive, though my Goldkart / Honda 125 was a handful on bumpy tracks.
Even in 1998, the SuperNats were a big deal and there were enough entries that there were multiple rounds of heat races to whittle the field down to the main event. I raced in the S2 semi-pro class and I almost made it, one position out of the big show, 9th in the B-Main. I had made it up to sixth place from my 14th place start, which was enough to get into the show! But the track at Vegas had an infield turn that was maybe 270 degrees, most of a circle, and it was brutal pulling perhaps three G’s for that long. I got exhausted and faded before the checkered flag.
After that race, I managed to do a deal to develop and maintain the SKUSA website, skusaonline.com. Part of the deal involved an entry for the 1999 SKUSA Pro Tour, where I hoped to race the full season in the S2 class and see where my talent placed me at the end. As it happened, I had a huge wreck at the third round in Reno and was out for the season. I ended up working with SKUSA until 2003, and I have a lot of really great memories from the seasons I traveled the country as part of Jim Murley’s A-Team, helping run the North American ProMoto Tour.
A few days ago, I was looking for a place to land for Thanksgiving in southern Nevada and I scrolled Google Maps across the place where I ran in that B-Main in 1998. What a shock, it is long abandoned and completely overgrown.
I could not remember who owned the track back then, or the circumstances of its existence, but it surprised me to find it dead. SKUSA moved the event into downtown in 2002 with a temporary circuit in a parking lot at the Rio Hotel and Casino, which seemed to be a huge success. I was changing paths in 2003 and didn’t make that event, and I haven’t been involved in kart racing since then. Apparently the event had many successful years at the Rio, but this year had to change venues at the last minute.
Driving north through Vegas on the day before Thanksgiving, I came across Las Vegas Motor Speedway and as I passed it, I noticed a familiar looking set of temporary barriers being set up in a parking lot. There were a few RV’s lined up, and white tents scattered across what sure looked like a paddock for a kart race.
Turns out, it is the location for the 24th edition of the SKUSA SuperNationals, and the event is already underway. I think I’m going to have to go visit.