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NHRA’s Golden oldie: At 83, Chris Karamesines still reaching for 300 mph in Top Fuel dragster

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BROWNSBURG, Indiana – He looks at least 20 years younger than he is, drives close to 300 mph with regularity and oftentimes outperforms drivers that are 60 years or younger than he is.

Wait, that’s a misprint, right?

Nope, Chris Karamesines is still battling the 1,000-foot standard in the NHRA, a war he’s waged since 1950.

This year is Karamesines’ 65th year in the sport.

For those of you who may need a calculator to figure it out, the 83-year-old Karamesines is the oldest active competitor in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

One of the most legendary drivers in the history of the sport, the Chicago resident turns 84 on November 13 and is already preparing for his 66th season in 2016.

“I love the sport, enjoy what I’m doing and as long as I can do it, I’ll keep on doing it,” Karamesines said Sunday while attempting to qualify for the 61st Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway. “That’s basically where it’s at. I just enjoy racing and being with racing people. I’ve been around them all my life.

“As for next year, it’s a matter of finding people to work for me. We’ll run maybe six to eight races, mostly close to home and enjoy ourselves.”

The man known by his colorful nickname of the “Golden Greek” has outlasted every one of his peers on the drag strip. Even “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who is also 83-years old, has scaled back to race electric dragsters that run only about 170-180 mph.

The key for Karamesines is staying in good shape, both physically and mentally.

“(The G-forces) really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “One thing about it is we have to go through a full physical test and they have to find you in good shape.”

If Karamesines had a dollar for every time he’s been asked when he’ll retire, he’d likely be a millionaire.

“If I have any trouble, I’ll get out and have somebody else drive it,” he said matter-of-factly.”

But there’s no question about the kind of incredible career Karamesines has enjoyed.

He was the first driver to hit 200 mph – back in 1960. He was one of the greatest barnstorming drivers in the 1950s through the 1970s. There was never a track or opposing driver that Karamesines couldn’t beat.

“The sport has probably helped me out,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since 1950. That’s quite a bit of time. Traveling around the country, doing 50 races a year back in the old days.”

Reports of Karamesines potentially retiring a the end of this season are like Mark Twain: they’ve been greatly exaggerated.

“No, I never really considered that,” he said. “I’ve never decided to quit.”

Unfortunately, Karamesines failed to qualify Saturday and Sunday and will not be one of the 16 drivers who will race in Monday’s final eliminations of the U.S. Nationals.

Still, he’s having the time of his life. He’s doing what he loves to do, driving a car that was built by legendary team owner and fellow Chicago native Don Schumacher – who then gave it to Karamesines as a gift.

It’s probably the best car and most state-of-the-art car that Karamesines has driven in decades.

“We’ve had the car for almost two years,” Schumacher said. “It was really nice what he did for me, putting me in a real nice car. It’s a pleasure to drive and I feel very comfortable in it.”

In perhaps one of the greatest ironies in any form of motorsport, even though he’s been racing in NHRA for more than 60 years, Karamesines has reached the final round three times, but has never won a national event.

But back in the 1950s through 1970s, he won numerous races in the International Hot Rod Association, American Drag Racing Association and American Hot Rod Association, including winning AHRA championship in 1959.

Named one of NHRA’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 2001, Karamesines’ career best elapsed time is 3.897 seconds, while his best career speed is 310.63 mph.

If there are some who think Karamesines has lost a few mph, think again: he reached the quarterfinals at Bristol Dragway last season.

Yet despite never winning a NHRA race, Karamesines has no regrets.

“I’ve done pretty much everything,” Karamesines said. “I guess the 1950s were the best, and then the 1960s and 1970s.”

Then, he added with a slight smirk under his trademark mustache, “After that, it gets complicated as it goes on and it cost more money. But it was a lot more fun back then.”

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Wayne Taylor Racing, Meyer Shank Racing will race Acura in IMSA DPi

New Acura IMSA teams
Acura Motorsports
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Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing will become new Acura Motorsports teams next season in the Daytona Prototype International class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

In a multiyear deal, each team will campaign a car in IMSA’s top division starting with 2021, essentially replacing Acura’s two-car factory effort with Team Penske that will be ending after a three-season run.

Honda Performance Development president Ted Klaus said drivers for WTR and MSR would be announced later by the teams.

Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Cadillac leads the points in the DPi division this season with drivers Ryan Briscoe and Renger van der Zande after opening the season with a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, its second in the past three seasons in the prestigious sports car event.

Meyer Shank Racing will be moving up to the DPi level after campaigning Acura NSX GT3 entries in the GT Daytona class this season. MSR also fields a full-time Dallara-Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Acura Motorsports

Here’s the release from Acura Motorsports:

Acura Motorsports today announced it will partner with Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing to campaign a pair of Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype International entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, beginning in 2021.

“It is a pleasure to announce that Wayne Taylor Racing will be joining the Acura ARX-05 IMSA program in 2021, along with Meyer Shank Racing, which will build on our very successful partnership by moving up to the prototype ranks,” said Jon Ikeda, Acura Brand Officer. “We’re confident that both teams will help us build on the successes we’ve achieved to date in IMSA competition, as we continue to apply Precision Crafted Performance to all of our activities – on the race circuits of North America, in our production vehicles, and in the market place.

“We also want to thank Roger Penske, who has long been an important part of the Acura family as one of our great Acura dealers. It has been a privilege to have Roger as part of the Acura Motorsports family over the past three years.”

Defending IMSA GTD class champion Meyer Shank Racing [MSR] is in its third decade of operation. With wins in some of the biggest races in the sport, the Ohio-based team played a key role in the development of the successful Acura NSX GT3 Evo, and has raced the car to victory lane in four consecutive seasons, culminating in the drivers’ and teams’ titles in 2019. Acura and MSR are the current leaders in all three major GTD title championships.

“When Acura and HPD chose Meyer Shank Racing to debut the Acura NSX GT3 in 2017, it was a big moment in our history. I’m really proud of building a championship-winning program and everything that we’ve been able to accomplish together with the NSX,” said Michael Shank, co-owner of Meyer Shank Racing. “As a team, we’ve been working toward the opportunity to go and fight for overall wins for a long time, and I am eager to get going with this program. But we have some work to do first, and we are 100 percent focused on bringing another IMSA championship home with the Acura NSX in 2020.”

“Mike and I are both eager to expand our IMSA program and get to once again work with Acura and HPD,” said MSR co-owner Jim Meyer. “Mike has built such a strong IMSA program over the last decade, and this is another step that we’re looking forward to pursuing.”

Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, Wayne Taylor Racing [WTR] has built a proven track record of success and ingenuity in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype class, including two IMSA driver championships [in 2013 and 2017] and the 2017 IMSA DPi team championship. A three-time champion as a driver in sports car competition and Le Mans winner in 1998, Taylor’s Acura roots stretch back to 1992, when he drove for the championship-winning Comptech Acura team in IMSA Camel Lights competition.

WTR also has played an important role in winning eight IMSA manufacturer championships and has scored multiple victories in endurance racing’s most iconic events – the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Twelve Hours of Sebring, Petit Le Mans, and Six Hours at Watkins Glen.

“I am extremely excited to have this opportunity given to me by HPD and Acura Motorsports,” said Wayne Taylor, owner of Wayne Taylor Racing. “Since getting to know everyone at HPD and Acura Motorsports, I feel that they have a lot of respect for the Wayne Taylor Racing family. What I really like is that they have the same passion and vision as I do. I am looking forward to running the DPi for the next few years. I am equally excited to be able to bring my long-term partnership with Konica Minolta, Rick Taylor and Michael Mathe to the program. We all can’t wait to get started.”

“We welcome Wayne Taylor Racing into the Acura Motorsports family, and very much anticipate their contributions to our prototype program,” said Ted Klaus, president of HPD, the competition arm for Acura Motorsports. “Equally, we look forward to growing our successful partnership with Meyer Shank Racing, now in DPi. Our intention is to have Acura Motorsports partner with MSR and WTR, to not only continue our championship ways in DPi, but to collaborate to develop the next generation Acura LMDh. Finally, we want to thank Team Penske for their outstanding effort and impressive results together with Acura and HPD these past three years.”

In addition to sweeping all three major IMSA DPi championships in 2019 – for Manufacturers, Drivers and Teams – the Acura ARX-05 has scored six race wins, 14 additional podium finishes, and 11 poles from 25 races in two-and-a-half seasons of IMSA multi-manufacturer competition that has included Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. Acura comes to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course seeking a third consecutive win this season, as well as a third consecutive victory in this weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio.

Acura Motorsports also campaigns the Acura NSX GT3 Evo in the IMSA GTD category, with defending GTD champion Meyer Shank Racing and the Gradient Racing organizations.  Winner of the IMSA GTD driver and team titles in 2019 – and the current GTD championship leader – the NSX program is expected to continue in IMSA competition in 2021.