Go Kart Go!

Ballston Spa Speedway is a training ground for racers

BY BARBARA COOK
barbara@theballstonjournal.com

Could the next Jeff Gordon or Danica Patrick be driving a go-cart at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds? The idea is not as far-fetched as it may sound.

Adirondack Karting Association was founded in 1981. In the 1990s the Ballston Spa Speedway was born, when a 1/8-mile oval asphalt track was built in front of the fairgrounds grandstand that year. The club now hosts 14-16 races a year, according to President Matt Sargen.

Racers from the Adirondack Karting Association had warm ups and heat races Saturday morning. Photo by Barbara Cook

“The Saratoga County Fairgrounds has been great,” said Sargen. “They work with us, they make us feel at home, so that’s been awesome.”

Racers range in age from five to 60 years old. Sargen’s son, Cody, began racing when he was 10. Now an adult, last year he raced open-wheel modifieds at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, and this year he’ll be driving at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Vermont. Alex Bell, another former kart racer, is also racing at Devil’s Bowl, a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanctioned track.

Other Adirondack Karting members have gone on to the local dirt track circuit, and several are involved at various levels in NASCAR as crew chiefs and other positions, Sargen said.

“This track is a technical track and they learn how to drive here and the skills just continue and they’re kind of naturals from there wherever else they go,” he explained.

The organization is very family-oriented. Not only are entire families involved in the racing, but the group looks out for each other like a family. Carol Kilinski, who mans the admission booth, said when new racers join the club the other members will work with them and stay late to practice with them on the track.

Sargen said one nice thing about the sport is that parents can dictate the level of competition their children reach. “If they want to relax and have a good time, they can relax and have a good time,” he explained. “If they want to go out and go for a national title, they can do that also. But it really allows the parent to be the coach, to be involved.”

Kart racing is relatively inexpensive to get into. “You don’t have to go out and spend a million dollars to see if you enjoy a sport or not,” said Sargen.

He said an initial investment of $1,000 to $1,500 would put someone on the track in safe equipment. Kilinski pointed out that used equipment is available on the club website. Sargen said some people race out of the back of a pickup truck, while others have enclosed trailers.

Gabrielle O'Rourke won the Junior One Rookie Flathead division on Saturday. Photo provided

For those who just want to watch, admission to the spectator area is free and pit passes are $10. “By today’s standard it is an affordable family-oriented sport,” Sargen said.

And family doesn’t just mean dads and sons. Sargen said some of the better drivers are girls, and over the years some girls have won championships. “We do have some girls who are really phenomenal out there,” he said.

One of those girls is 11-year-old Renee Banagan of Gansevoort. Banagan began racing when she was seven years old, after her father saw a kart display at the mall. “He picked up a brochure and ever since then we’ve been racing,” she explained.

The first point show for 2012 was held April 21, but was rained out after the first two races. April 28 will include double features for the divisions that didn’t run.

Damian Ward won the Junior One Rookie division before Saturday's rainstorm. Photo provided

In addition to the races, the fairgrounds will host the Saratoga National Expo car show and swap meet, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the expo is $5 for adults and free for those under 12.

For more information about Adirondack Karting Association visit www.adirondackkarting.com.

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