Jeff Gordon made it look easy in winning Wednesday's charity go-kart race in Knoxville, Iowa. (Photo: Cyndee Bonkowski)

Fans race (and try to wreck) Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson

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KNOXVILLE, Iowa — How many NASCAR fans have said to themselves or friends, “Man, if I only had the chance, I’d love to bang fenders with my favorite driver?”

Or, “Man, I’d love to take (fill in driver’s name) out in a race.”

Well, on Wednesday at Slideways Karting Center in Knoxville, Iowa, nearly 60 lucky fans had the chance to do one of the rarest things in pro sports: to race with their heroes, four of the biggest names in NASCAR.

Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson took on the lucky fans in the second annual Kick-It/Weld Racing Go-Kart Spectacular to benefit pediatric cancer.

“This is really going to change the lives for children out there with pediatric cancer, so thank you, thank you, thank you,” Gordon told the crowd of about 2,500 fans that turned out to watch. “When I looked at the parking lot today and saw the line of cars down the road, I knew it was going to be a good day.

“I don’t know of anywhere in the world where you’re going to go to a go-kart track and see Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and myself together – or have as much fun.”

Each of the nearly 60 fans that raced paid at least $300 for the chance to do some rubbin’ and racin’ on the slippery oval, a track that was made even more slick with periodic rain sprinkles throughout the afternoon.

“We’re all passionate about this week, this event and we’re all passionate about Jeff’s efforts,” Stewart said. “We do it because of Jeff and because of the kids that he supports. That’s what racers do. It’s not about being a stock car driver. That’s the breed of drivers we are and the background we come from.”

There even was a special guest in the house, Gordon’s former crew chief and NASCAR team owner and broadcaster, Ray Evernham.

Evernham and the four drivers were all in town for the Daytona 500 of the sprint car world, the Knoxville Nationals, which began later Wednesday evening.

Before one of the heats, Evernham looked like he was trying to improve Gordon’s go-kart, prompting Tony Stewart to quip with a laugh, “No fair, no working on the car. You’re cheating just like you used to.”

“It’s great to see Jeff, Tony, Kasey and Kyle supporting what they’ve got going on out here,” Evernham said. “To me, (sprint car) is really grassroots racing. It’s where a lot of us grew up and it’s really neat to see a lot of people doing it and all the support that they have.”

When I asked Evernham why he wasn’t in the go-kart race, he replied with a laugh, “My problem is I’ve always been a much better mechanic than driver.”

The event raised nearly $25,000 for charity, including Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Foundation.

“Oh my gosh, it was so much fun,” Gordon said. “This place is so much fun to go out there in (simulated) sprint cars and slide ’em around. A little bit of sprinkle making for a lot of fun conditions. And there’s some guys out there with some real skills. We all have big smiles on our face, having a lot of fun.”

“Those of us with Kick-It, for kids cancer, this is a real treat for us to be able to come here, be a part of this event, raise money for a great cause – pediatric cancer – have a go-kart event like this and to have the fans come out and support the way they did this year is amazing. It’s a huge crowd. When you get this kind of a driver lineup out here in Knoxville, the fans are going to come. I hope they enjoyed it, because we certainly did.”

Added Kahne, “It’s neat to see, all the money goes to a great cause, and we get to race a lot of people that are out here having fun like we are. It’s a cool, cool event.”

There were eight heat races leading up to the main event. The winners of each heat advanced to race all four pro drivers, who understood and took it good-naturedly that some of their fellow drivers were looking for bragging rights that they spun out a NASCAR star.

“It’s fun racing with the fans because this is like the biggest thing they’ve ever done, racing with us,” Larson said. “They take it really serious, you can see it on their faces. It makes it fun for us to see how focused they are. And when we beat them, they grip the steering wheel even harder.

“You can see it happen, too. You see them like focus on your rear bumper and just turn toward you. We understand it, though, and it’s funny.”

Not surprisingly, much like the way Sprint Cup drivers typically dominate when they race in the Nationwide Series, the Cup drivers were the stars in Wednesday’s main event.

Gordon won the race, Kahne was a close second, and Anthony Corini, a 20-year-old college student from Rockville, Md., was the top-finishing fan, taking home a trophy and the experience of a lifetime.

“That was pretty fun,” Corini said. “The rain made it real interesting. It was a lot of fun. I’ll never forget it. It was a great moment. There was a lot of money raised for a good cause.

“I did it last year, but I ran around the back in the main. I made it, but I didn’t do as well as I did this year. I finished behind Jeff and Kasey, but not too bad of company, I guess. I think I was flying under the radar.”

Stewart and Larson finished further back in the 12-driver pack.

“I think (sprint car driver) Brad Doty put it best when he said, ‘Think about what this means to people and being able to do this,'” Stewart said. “But at the same time, think about how much it means to us to be able to do it. It’s fun for us. Nobody’s out there trying to wreck you and put you in the wall. Everybody’s racing and having fun. It makes stuff like this a lot of fun.

“Look at everybody that’s out here, and in the rain, no less. That’s the kind of fans you see at sprint car races. Everybody’s having fun and enjoying it.”

As for a certain MotorSportsTalk writer who also competed in the event, well … let’s just say he finished and leave it at that.

And we won’t get into that he got spun twice by a certain NASCAR star whose last name rhymes with “pain,” or about the flat tire – his third in five days – said writer had on the way to Iowa.

But that’s another story for another time.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Maxwell, Rabe win CTSC poles at Road Atlanta

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Scott Maxwell (No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C) and Jason Rabe (No. 31 Bodymotion Racing Porsche Cayman) have the pole positions for Friday’s Road Atlanta 150, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season finale.

Maxwell extended a pole streak in GS and has his sixth pole of the year in the car he shares with Billy Johnson, as the pair look to secure the title.

Meanwhile Rabe has his first career ST pole in the entry he shares with Devin Jones, following his fastest lap of the weekend.

Two accidents interrupted the session. A worse-looking one occurred in ST when Michael Johnson hit the concrete barrier before Turns 10 and 10A in the No. 54 JDC Motorsports BMW 228i and Jeff Mosing in the No. 56 Murillo Racing Porsche Cayman was also involved, but both drivers were checked and released.

Meanwhile Peter Ludwig had an off in Turn 3 in the No. 21 Muehlner Motorsports America Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport in the GS qualifying session, but had minimal damage.

Qualifying results are linked here.

Friday’s race rolls off at 12:25 p.m. ET and is the last two-hour, 30-minute race for the Continental Tire Challenge before standard races shift to two hours in 2017, with two four-hour endurance races also on the schedule.

Donny Schatz, Clauson-Marshall Racing enter 2017 Chili Bowl

CONCORD, NC - MAY 22:  Team owner Tony Stewart (R) jokes with Donny Schatz, driver of the #15 ArmorAll Chevrolet, in the team hauler prior to the World Of Outlaws - Sprint Car Series on May 22, 2009 at the Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for Motorsports Management International)
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Cool story here as the legacy of Bryan Clauson will be honored with the Clauson-Marshall Racing team and seven-time and defending World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz at next year’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. Schatz will make his Chili Bowl debut.

A full release and further details are below:

Seven-time and defending World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion, Donny Schatz, announced today he will compete in the 2017 Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals driving for Clauson-Marshall Racing (CMR). Schatz will be making his Chili Bowl debut and the entry is the first for the multicar CMR team in the 31st running of the event held Jan. 9 to 14 at the River Spirit Expo Center.

“I’m looking forward to having the chance to compete in next year’s Chili Bowl and drive for Clauson-Marshall Racing,” Schatz said. “We’ve been thinking about doing this for quite a while. It all came together earlier this year when Tony (Stewart) and I were talking about the Chili Bowl and what it’s like to be part of it. With how things worked out with my Australia schedule in January, the opportunity to get to Tulsa this time became an option and everything fell into place. I was looking forward to working with and learning from Bryan. He set the standard pretty high there and we’re going to do everything we can to continue adding to that legacy. I’ve been fortunate to compete in some of the biggest dirt track events in the world during my career and I’m excited to add the Chili Bowl to the list.”

Schatz, a teammate with the late Bryan Clauson at Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) for five seasons from 2010 to 2014, is looking forward to making his Chili Bowl debut in January with the CMR team. Both won championships for TSR and their similar driving style and respect for other competitors, along with a clean racing history, helped forge a bond between to the two.

As Clauson made his way into Winged Sprint car competition, Schatz served as a role model both on and off the track. Clauson was a student of whatever motorsports discipline he participated in and, when transitioning to Winged Sprint car competition, he felt that Schatz was the only driver to learn from. There wasn’t a driver Clauson respected more than Schatz, and he was his first choice when putting together a team.

After the 2016 Chili Bowl, Clauson and his father Tim discussed bringing a “Dream Team” to the 2017 event. The idea was to bring a team of drivers who were at the top of their game, not only competitively in their respective series but also professionally. The duo wanted to bring a team that was a threat to win every night of the Chili Bowl and carry themselves as professionals outside the car, as well. The Clauson family felt Schatz fit the bill and was thrilled its 2017 team would include the reigning WoO Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion.

“Before Bryan passed, we had confirmed that Donny (Schatz) was going to be part of our 2017 Chili Bowl team,” Tim Clauson said. “He (Bryan) was pretty excited to get to work with a driver like Donny and share his Midget car racing expertise. Being able to announce Donny as our first driver for the 2017 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is both humbling and exciting for the Clauson-Marshall Racing team, and we know Bryan is thrilled that we’re able to do so.”

More information regarding Schatz’s 2017 Chili Bowl entry with Clauson-Marshall Racing will be announced in the coming months.

Schatz is in the midst of his 20th season of WoO competition and is chasing his eighth championship. With nine of 83 events remaining, his 23 victories are among 55 top-five finishes and 70 top-10s. He leads the WoO Craftsman Sprint Car Series standings with 10,317 points, with a 284-point lead over second place.

IMSA: Shank tops both Thursday afternoon practice sessions

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Olivier Pla and Ozz Negri split being the fastest driver, but both share the same fastest car, the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda, after the first two of three practice sessions for this weekend’s Petit Le Mans, the season finale of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaign.

Pla topped the morning session with a best time of 1:14.157 around the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course, while Negri went quicker in the warmer afternoon conditions at 1:13.923.

“I can’t say enough about my Michael Shank Racing team, the crew, my engineer Dale (Wise), Gary (Karamikian) at Honda HPD, they’ve all been working flat out. I’m giddy about having this group of people including Olivier Pla on this team. We like the same thing in the car. Anything he asks for with the set up works for me, and whatever I ask for works for him. It’s just a great thing. We are here for one objective which is to be up front and win this race,” Negri told IMSA Radio.

The No. 60 Shank Ligier Honda is not in the championship battle in Prototype. Among the three title contenders, the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP (Dane Cameron, Eric Curran and Simon Pagenaud) ended ahead of the sister No. 5 car (Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque) in both sessions. The No. 31 was third, the No. 5 fourth in the morning and then fourth and fifth, respectively in the afternoon.

In both instances, they trailed at least one of the two Mazda Prototypes.

Renger van der Zande (morning, No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09) and Johnny Mowlem (afternoon, No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09) were the two PC session leaders. Van der Zande’s time of 1:16.235 was best of the day to this point.

In the GT ranks, the guest entry from Scuderia Corsa was fastest. Daniel Serra, who won the pole position back at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca earlier this year, had the best GT Le Mans time of the day in the afternoon in the No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE at 1:18.354. Antonio Garcia topped morning practice in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R at 1:18.840.

The Porsche 911 GT3 R led both sessions in GT Daytona. Alex Riberas topped the first session in the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:21.788 before Jorg Bergmeister was quicker in the afternoon at 1:21.340 in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Session results are below. Night practice is scheduled from 7:30 to 9 p.m. ET and local time.

PRACTICE 1
PRACTICE 2

Perez wants F1 future resolved in next week as delays continues

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India in the Paddock during previews for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 29, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Sergio Perez wants to get his Formula 1 plans for 2017 firmed up in the next week after growing tired of continued delays in talks with Force India.

Perez had hoped to make an announcement regarding his future following the summer break at the Belgian Grand Prix, only for delays to postpone any confirmation.

The Mexican had been linked with moves to Williams and Renault, but his sponsors are understood to have settled on keeping him at Force India for another season.

Perez said in Singapore two weeks ago that he expected to make an announcement prior to this weekend’s race in Malaysia, but nothing has been confirmed.

Speaking to reporters in Sepang on Thursday, Perez expressed his frustration before saying he wanted his future resolved in the next week, or would begin to look elsewhere for a drive – potentially outside of F1.

“I believe that next week is crucial to sort out my future, so by next week I need to know if the option remains or if I have to look somewhere else,” Perez is quoted as saying by AFP.

“At the moment I hope it works out with one team, and if it doesn’t then by next week we will have to look at something else.

“Obviously I want to keep my career in Formula 1 going, but I cannot wait much longer.”

Perez joined Force India in 2014 after a one-year stint with McLaren, and has managed to revive his career with Vijay Mallya’s team, leading to speculation about a move up the grid.

Perez is thought to be in contention for a seat at Ferrari once Kimi Raikkonen calls time on his spell in F1, with a one-year extension with Force India a consideration if he is to make himself available to the Scuderia.