PALMETTO, Fla. – It’s not often you get a glut of talent from the open-wheel and sports car racing worlds in one spot, and also take them back to their roots in go-karts.
Even better is when you take the talent assembled and have them all there for a good cause.
But that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night at Andersen RacePark for the sixth annual Kart 4 Kids Pro/Am Kart Race, which raised $81,000 for the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
At the event, a mix of items were auctioned off at both a live and silent auction, while the 14 pro drivers competed in a 75-lap kart race with each team featuring four amateur drivers alongside.
This provided fans or observers who wanted to donate an opportunity to bid on such unique items as both Sebastien Bourdais ($4,300) and Patrick Long’s helmets ($5,200) which will be race worn this weekend, Scott Dixon’s Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT firesuit ($6,100) from a year ago, and also a two-day racing school at the Lucas Oil School of Racing.
One of the children at the hospital also hand designed a print for the event, signed by all pro drivers.
Long, Porsche’s lone American factory driver, had helped take the event from its origins to where it is now during its first five years.
But the opportunity for Bourdais to take on a greater role with the event’s growth this year allowed Long to step back from a full leadership position into a joint leadership one, and allow the Children’s Hospital to move to the front of the fore.
Having been at the event, seeing the smiles and excitement on the faces of those amateur drivers – myself included – was all the evidence needed to call the event a success. And the fundraising aspect brought the total amount raised to $281,000 over the six years.
The drivers were all game for the evening too. The mix of talent saw five full-time Verizon IndyCar Series drivers set to compete this weekend in Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones, along with Pirelli World Challenge drivers Long and Nate Stacy.
The remaining pros all ran in the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year (Jordan and Ricky Taylor, Jan Heylen, RC Enerson, Daniel Morad, Trent Hindman and James French) or in other sports cars last year (Ethan Low, Glenn McGee). The Taylors, French, Bourdais and Morad all won their respective classes of Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona at this year’s Rolex 24.
Pigot’s team was particularly well stacked, with Bell Racing USA Director of Motorsports Chris Wheeler joined by three Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda active drivers in Team USA Scholarship winners Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood and three-year USF2000 driver Luke Gabin. That team won the race by more than a lap, and from watching Jupiter, Fla. natives and longtime friends Askew and Kirkwood run together in practice, it was no surprise to see their excellence continue in the fun race.
As a media member in car, my teammates were Enerson, Thomas Nakagawa and son Colin, and Robert Keller on the teal team, number eight. Our team finished a little further down the order as we learned the intricacies of our kart; most of the competitors acknowledged some karts were a little bit better than others. The five of us though had a great time and the Nakagawas, in particular, were thrilled with the opportunity to run together as a pairing in this environment.
Seeing the interaction between the drivers who otherwise don’t get to see each other too often given their competing forms of motorsport was a fun part of the night. Ricky Taylor, for instance, was fresh off his Rolex 24 victory and his own first IndyCar test with Team Penske, whereas for Dixon and Kanaan, it was a chance to return to their roots more than two decades ago.
Then you have the up-and-coming drivers like Low, McGee, French, Askew, Kirkwood and Gabin who were all loving the opportunity to race against and learn from some of their racing heroes in the same equipment. Low, in particular, stood out as he battled Dixon late in the race.
A late change announced by Bourdais saw the pros’ required lap count drop from a minimum of 20 laps and maximum of 25 to a total of 15 only, the first five followed by the last 10. This allowed the amateurs to run the bulk of the race and get the most track time, though.
Ultimately though, this event is about the hospital, and the cause of raising money for children’s medical needs. This is the sole purpose of Kart 4 Kids, Inc., which is an all-volunteer organization where all money raised net of direct event expenses goes to directly to the St. Petersburg-based hospital.
This hospital, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is the only critical care children’s hospital on the West Coast of Florida. Included in their areas of expertise are extreme premature births, infant open-heart surgery, pediatric cancer, and children’s critical care and trauma.
Partners who helped the event included Tequila Patron, Cardio Access, Construction Services, Rally Stores and Alegra Motorsports, to name a few.
Bourdais joked during the live auction he hoped he’d win this weekend and thus make his Bell helmet even more valuable than it already was.
But he, Long and the hospital have already won with their charitable efforts and the continued growth of this pro-am kart event, which served as a great kickoff to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend.