Know your Outlaw Karts:
Beginner Box Stock: The opening level of Little League for Outlaw Karts.
Box Stock: The next step after graduation from "beginner". (See video of Box Stocks from Red Bluff.)
Intermediate: 250 cc. "Age group generally ranges from 10 to 14 years old." - Larry Shelton
Open Intermediate: 500 cc. Kids getting up to speed but not quite ready for the full "Open" class.
Open: 500 cc. The best of the best.
Sportsman: 500 cc. For the older guys who just want to get in there and have fun.
Sean Becker - "The Shark" is considered one of the best ever at Cycleland.
Robbie Berge has excellent on-board footage from his Sportsman Outlaw Kart. (Fast forward to the 4:00 minute mark to start of race.)
Robert Carrel - Considered a pioneer in Outlaw Karting.
Maria Cofer - Johnny Cofer's daughter Maria is racing in the Outlaw Karts. Johnny is a former USAC Western Midget driving champion. (See some incredible footage of a hard crash she was involved in.)
Colby Copeland - Outlaw kart hero that now races sprint cars.
The Cycleland Speedway website is here.
Karsyn Elledge - The daughter of Jimmy Elledge was featured on ESPN.com
Kalib Henry - Mike Henry's son is fast!
Kyle Hirst - Follow Kyle on Twitter as he runs his winter sprint car series "down under".
Tom Hubert - Hubert, from Cottonwood, CA., raced in NASCAR's highest level.
Pete Johnston - One of the all-time great Outlaw Kart drivers!
Kyle Larson - The prototype.
QRC Karts - The market leader in chassis building of Outlaw Karts. QRC Owner, Jimmy Elledge said, "I actually raced the first year they ran these things in 1984, and kept racing into the 90's before when I went off to NC and pursued my NASCAR career."
The Red Bluff, California "Winter Series" in on now. Check out their excellent website.
Tyler Reddick - The Corning, CA. Outlaw Kart grad is now a NASCAR star.
Morgan Sandhagen has an excellent website with GREAT photos of Cycleland. Check it out HERE!
Brad Sweet - The Outlaw Kart graduate is currently racing with the World of Outlaws. He will promote his first race in 2015 when the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars return to Placerville Speedway.
Michael Tarter - Mike, who builds karts, finished third in the "Open" class at Cycleland in 2014.
The Vineyard Bowl is a homemade track Rico Abreu used to get extra practice time. These days, due to his hectic schedule as a professional driver, Rico rarely races at the track his family built at their home. Check out this classic video of Rico, Kyle Larson and R.J. Johnson having "the greatest three kart race ever"!
Where else do they race Outlaw Karts?
As the success continues for Kyle Larson and other graduates of the Outlaw Karts, the obvious question becomes - where can I race one? While Cycleland may be the Knoxville of such joints, Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina recently scored a major coup by landing on television with their SpeedSport Challenge race. That star-studded feature event was won by Central Point, Oregon driver, Mike Wheeler. Among the competitors were World of Outlaws aces Paul McMahan, and Joey Saldana. USAC and NASCAR hero J.J. Yeley was also in the house as drivers from eight different states comprised the A-Main field at Millbridge.
Saldana said following the event, "The horsepower to weight ratio is unbelievable. It is probably the closest thing to a sprint car you can drive."
McMahan shared how he thinks the karts are safe but should never be taken for granted. "You need the the whole package; arm restraints, Hans device, fireproof suit... These things can bite you." Despite thousands of laps at tough tracks like Eldora Speedway, McMahan had second thoughts about 'ripping the top' at Millbridge. "By myself, no problem. I was up on the top. But racing with others, I was glued to the bottom. I wasn't trying to hurt myself."
All athletes have their routine. Sometimes superstition, and borderline obsessive-compulsive behavior, creep into the process. For Holly Shelton, the ritual includes putting her left hand driving glove on first, and NEVER having painted fingernails when racing. She also thinks odd numbers are bad luck, which partially explains her choice to be number four. "I was number 22 but so many people were already that number, and my Grandpa's favorite number was number four."
Our one concern:
We enjoyed every bit of our time at Cycleland Speedway. Our one concern; Outlaw Karts race to the yellow flag. We were told "it's always been that way."
Keeping the race alive when a kart is disabled or spun out can be potentially dangerous. In the old days, 'racing to the yellow' was common but after too many injuries to helpless drivers who were 'sitting ducks' on the racetrack, most sanctioning bodies eliminated racing to the caution flag. With Raceceiver technology in 2014 calling out yellow flags immediately is now possible. It may add time to race events but it also may save and prevent a karter from an unnecessary serious injury.
The perfect proving ground.
Inside the Cycleland Speedway star-factory.
"I think Cycleland is the only place you need to go to learn how to race." - Rico Abreu.
It is not as if Cycleland Speedway is, or ever was, a secret. The track, located south of Chico with an Oroville address, has been at its present location since ground was broken in 1960. The recent success of Cycleland graduates Kyle Larson, Brad Sweet, Rico Abreu, Tyler Reddick, Kyle Hirst, and Sean Becker - just to name a few, however, has helped to bring a fresh abundance of enthusiasm for the eighth-mile dirt track known as “THE perfect proving ground” (Larry Shelton’s term).
Now, on a given Saturday night, from April through mid-October, hundreds of fans and family members cram onto the property of the Lowell Moural family for a night of intense Outlaw Kart action that includes slide-jobs, rim-riding, and all the fierce competition a fan would expect at a top level open-wheel dirt show.
A beautiful sunset at Cycleland Speedway. (photo courtesy: MorganSandhagen.com)
Outlaw Karts are the main attraction. "I think Cycleland is the only place you need to go to learn how to race," said Rico Abreu, the 2014 USAC National Midget driving champion. "It teaches you everything..., (including) patience. You can run the top and be fast, or you can run the bottom and be fast. The racing is exciting all the time. The thing about Cycleland is you can race every time you are on the track. It's not just 'get though your heat race' or 'get through the dash', you gotta race!"
Abreu didn't start his racing career until 2009, running at Red Bluff, in a 250cc kart. Considering where he stands in 2014, as one of the most outstanding open-wheel pilots in the world, his ascension is truly remarkable. Abreu was running two classes of karts at 30 shows per year when he started. He figures he raced 60 features a season during 2009 and 2010. He participated in a partial season in 2011 as his commitments to bigger cars came along.
Inside the cockpit of an "Open" division kart, a driver at Cycleland Speedway is beyond busy. Most noticeable is the amount of “earthquake shake” the driver endures. Bobbing up and down, and shaking side to side, the pilot takes a beating. “Falling out of the seat” is a real factor. (We do not mean literally falling out of the seat. The term was used to describe late race fatigue in the days prior to power steering.)
The wheel base is very short on an Outlaw Kart (between 40 and 43 inches on an "Open" kart), and the machines do not offer luxuries such as power steering. You simply cannot duplicate the repetitions and movements of the driver at Cycleland Speedway. One hundred horsepower packed into 420 lbs. of “Outlaw Kart” equals BAD ASS! The quickness of the drivers arm movements, at the mercy of the track and the kart, would render any such simulator illegal by means of unnecessary roughness. "You do get bruises on your back", said Holly Shelton, following her night of racing.
Rico Abreu won 24 feature events in 2014. "They (Outlaw Karts) are easy to take care of. I just think they are the greatest thing," said Abreu.
Physical condition and breath control are two factors that have made Holly Shelton among the top “Open” drivers at Cycleland. She finished second in the 2014 points chase (Tyler Seavey won the title). “I used to not breathe, and I would get tired,” said Shelton, a petite 19 year-old sophomore who studies criminal justice at Sacramento State University. Following her third place run in the feature, she said, “Now I could go run another main event." Holly says her arm muscles are much bigger than most young women her age, all due to her six years of driving the kart at Cycleland. At one point in the feature race, Holly nearly flipped but explained that she saved it by "gassing out of it", the way a good sprint car driver would do.
Ask Abreu why the Outlaw Karts on dirt are producing so many good sprint car drivers and he will quickly tell you, "The power to weight ratio, and then, just how darty they can be. The racing is so close. Nobody is dominating, I don't feel. Everyone is so equal with the karts." Abreu adds, "I also think it's cool that it is really a co-ed sport. There are female and male racers that can run because it is more affordable than a sprint car or midget."
These things are FAST!
Outlaw Karts reach speeds over 80 miles per hour, which is insanely fast when the driver is mere inches off the ground. Larry Shelton, a noted sprint car mechanic who has worked with everyone from Kenny Woodruff to Mitch Sue approximates that he has $10,000 invested in daughter Holly's kart. The bulk of the cost comes from the engine. An “outlaw kart roller” is in the neighberhood of $4,500 according to Jimmy Elledge the owner of QRC Karts. QRC builds karts that come with various options. You want one with carbon fiber? You can have it. The four year old in the beginner Box Stock class obviously does not need all that. However, the competitors in the Open class want it all!
QRC is recognized as the industry leader in kart chassis manufacturing. "As long as you're not tearing up anything, you can race one of these things for $100 to $150 a night," says Elledge. "And that is pretty reasonable for racing. Especially for something that powerful."
Elledge bought QRC two years ago from Robert Carrel. The Carrel family is responsible for starting the Outlaw Kart phenomena over 30 years ago in Red Bluff, California. QRC was the first manufacturer to put a roll cage on a go-kart. The cage, the top-wing, high-back racing seats, and five point harnesses do all they can to keep the karter as safe as possible.
QRC builds close to 300 karts a year, according to Elledge. "It's finally catching on. It's incurred a lot of growth around the world. It's a good form of racing. The safety factor is a big deal in these karts with the cages, and the seats and the seatbelts over (standard open-cockpit) karting."
Danger is inherent in auto racing and safety is a concern at every level. The “Outlaw Karts” are no different. On the night we attended (September 20, 2014), there were at least two of the 109 drivers in the pits that required attention from the safety crew. Yet, racing mom, Julie York, says she does not worry about her son Drake getting hurt. "He hasn't gone fast enough to scare me yet." Larry Shelton, a racing father and kart owner agrees. “I’d like to see left-side head nets be mandatory, but other than that I’m fine with them.” Shelton is among the few that run the left side head net. “As easily as these karts get turned around, you could smack your head without the net," he said.
Holly Shelton's #4 is one quick kart!
We asked Rico for his thoughts about the current crop of Outlaw Kart drivers. "The two Seavey boys are pretty good, and definitely Ryan Robinson, who runs our kart(s) now. There are a lot of kids that are really good and a lot who don't get enough credit."
Some of the best drivers at Cycleland are presently seeking rides in sprint cars. Tyler Seavey is a talented 19 year old from Sutter, CA., that many observers we spoke with think is ready to take that next step. Seavey has been racing karts since age six. This season his travel schedule has taken him to Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Missouri, Montana, and Idaho as a hired, kart-driving, gun.
Seavey hopes to follow the path laid by Cycleland graduates before him. "Kyle Larson. (Colby) Copeland. (Kyle) Hirst is good. Sean Becker, he's one of my favorites. He's really good," said Seavey.
However, taking that next step from kart to sprint car has been a rude awakening for Seavey. A well-known Northern California car owner recently sat down for lunch with Seavey, asking Tyler if he could bring money in exchange for the opportunity to drive the car owner’s winged sprint car. “He wanted $2,500," lamented Seavey on the realities of landing a ride in 2014. "Another guy would do it for $1,600 but I had to give him a ‘crash deposit’ of two grand.”
Without the resources to buy his way into a sprint car ride, Seavey continues to wait for the right break to come his way. "I try to race as much as possible even if it's not a sprint car. Really, this place (Cycleland) puts on a good show and I just try to stay sharp and maybe something will come of it."
Tyler Seavey is ready for the next level beyond karts.
Larry Shelton would like to find his daughter Holly an opportunity in a sprint car. "There are friends who would loan us a car, but we would still need an engine," said Shelton. "And a good engine. I’m not going to put her (Holly) in a deal just to say we did it. It would have to be a good engine.”
Shelton expects to see Ryan Robinson in a sprint car in 2015. Ryan is the son of David Robinson Jr. (or "Powerfeed" as his friends know him). Ryan ran in the Open and Open Intermediate classes of karts in 2014, winning the Cycleland championship in the latter. His sister Jodie was a regular feature winner in the Intermediate 250 class. Between Ryan and Jodie, the Robinson siblings combined for 31 feature wins at Cycleland in 2014.
"There is not a doubt in my mind that Ryan Robinson has all the tools to be a STAR," says Troy Hennig, track announcer at Cycleland. "He is surrounded by a great family with deep racing roots."
Carsen Perkins, the 2014 Cycleland Box Stock champion, was tabbed by fellow driver Drake York as the pilot with the most potential for stardom beyond the karts. The young York also thinks both Logan and Tyler Seavey will be future stars in sprint car racing.
Other names that impressed us included, Tanner Carrick, the Intermediate champion at Cycleland, and Hank "The Tank" Simmons (age six) who named his favorite drivers as Kyle Larson and Brad Sweet.
Lowell Moural and his family are the driving force behind Cycleland Speedway. Moural has been the promoter and track preparer for 34 years. "I was ten years old when they broke ground to start building the racetrack in 1960. The first race was a TT (motorcycle) race. 1965 was the first flat-track race," says Moural with pride. The Moural family home sits on the property.
Moural is a former motocross rider and competitor that now serves as promoter, track preparer, mentor, and racing father-figure to aspiring young racers. "We're all here for the same reason," he says. "What a beautiful place to come and hone your skills. Some of them are planning on going on to NASCAR like Kyle did. Some of us are planning to just enjoy this as long as we possibly can. There's all different levels here."
While many of the kart racers at Cycleland take the sport very seriously, and want to use it as a stepping stone, just as many are simply out to have a fun night of racing. The Sportsman class has drivers over the age of 50 who find that an Outlaw Kart is reasonable to a budget when compared with a full blown sprint car or midget.
The show at Cycleland is well run. Scoring is done by Lowell's wife, Becky Moural and her daughter Carrie Simmons via transponders. Hennig keeps the fans informed and entertained as announcer. The voice of Silver Dollar Speedway is downright informative with his race calls and driver interviews.
A concession stand offers up the normal racetrack goods; hot dogs, nachos, soda, Powerade, etc…
Moural's pit meetings are educational. Regulars at Cycleland know that "Lowell can get off on a tangent," as one kart-owner warned us. "But his heart is in the right place, and he has valuable lessons he's learned in his racing career that can help all these kids and their parents if they are willing to hear him."
Moural preaches to the drivers and their family members about the proper way to handle themselves both on and off the racetrack. His message on this night was straight forward. "Mind your business and have fun. Hone your skill and be as good as you can get. You get that way not by bumping into somebody's bumper or telling them that you are going to 'take them out'. You get that way by studying and honing your skill."
As the "boss" at Cycleland, Moural has seen all of the kids that have come through his racing farm. No single driver has reached the heights of Kyle Larson, who recently earned Rookie of the Year honors in the highest level of American auto racing, the NASCAR Cup series. Moural describes what he saw from not just Kyle but Kyle's entire family. "All you ever saw was an UN-REAL drive for success from the whole family. Study, practice, study. Everything you can do to get to the top."
Recognizable faces and names grace the pits at Cycleland. The Sellers family has another generation behind the wheel. Jeremy Phillips' children are regulars. Mike Henry's son Kalib is a gasser to be reckoned with.
Five-time sprint car champion Mark Hall has both of his kids in action. Bella (11) and Carson Hall (10) are young racers learning everything from how to read a pit board to how to properly buckle up for safety. Mark loves that his kids are showing an interest in racing but he also knows that his children are too young to get caught up in "points racing drama". After hearing of a parent scolding their child for not being aggressive enough, Hall said, "I told Jamie Phillips, 'If you ever see me talk to my kids that way, smack the sh*t out of me'."
Mark Hall won three track championships at Grass Valley, CA. His son and daughter race at Cycleland.
An alternative to Little League
For some, Outlaw Kart racing is an alternative to Little League baseball or club soccer. "The cost for baseball was like $200," said Julie York, wife of racer Jason York, and mom to Drake (age ten) and Dane (age seven). Jason and Julie use racing and the “real life” applications of the sport to teach their sons about money and the choices one makes in spending. Drake does extra chores to help earn money to pay for his own pit pass at each race. He recently delighted in having a new tire on his kart.
Drake happily confessed that he sold some of his toys to help pay for his karting effort. "I sold Thomas the Tank," said Drake. Drake’s brother, Dane made no such deal with his parents. While Drake goes videogame-less, Dane seems oblivious to the racing taking place, occupying himself with a handheld video game.
Drake York is ready for action in a kart designed like his Dad's sprint car.
Many of the karts have art schemes that bring back memories of well known sprint cars. We caught the spirit of Karl Kinser’s #11 on a top wing. Jason York drove an orange #21x that clearly channeled the OFIXCO car wheeled by Hall of Fame driver Ron Shuman. The Gary Stanton #75 turns up in Jodie Robinson’s look. There were Roth Motorsports look alikes, and even a teal #7K that looked like the Tim Kaeding/Terry Cowan car!
Outlaw Karts have to be seen firsthand to be understood in the proper context. Traditionally, Cycleland Speedway opens their schedule in April. Make sure to mark up your 2015 calendar with a run to Cycleland to witness the unbelievable exploits of theses drivers and machines!
Article written by Bobby Gerould.
Special thanks to Rico Abreu, John Craviotto, Jimmy Elledge, Kim Gerould, Troy Hennig, Lowell Moural, Larry Shelton, and Brad Sweet for their help, support, and expertise.