All-stars, philanthropy unite with $81,000 raised in charity kart race

Photo courtesy Kart 4 Kids

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.

Pros in practice. Spencer Pigot leads Trent Hindman here. Photo: Tony DiZinno

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.

Pros prepare for their final 10-lap stint. Photo: Tony DiZinno

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 takes checkered flag. Photo: Tony DiZinno

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.

Bourdais, in helmet, waits for his final stint. Photo: Tony DiZinno

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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.