Feature Story Saturday, March 29, 2014
Rookies to Racers
Drivers from around North America came to Chilliwack for the kart season opener at Greg Moore Raceway
Driving phenom Stingray Robb, 13, came all the way from Boise, Idaho with his dad to get some laps in at Greg Moore Raceway last weekend.
ast weekend, a familiar scene played itself out on the tarmac at Greg Moore Raceway—the race crowd came back.
Finally, Kart drivers from around BC and the US had a chance to blow the dust off their machines Saturday and Sunday in Chilliwack.
Like wagons out on the trail, motor homes ease in and spread out next to the track. Karts and tools are unloaded. Friendships renewed.
Karting has come a long way since the backyard go-kart tracks of the 70s and 80s. The sport has now evolved into a huge worldwide sport with high-tech machines and jet-setting drivers.
Top guns travel around the world to race in places like Italy, Spain and Portugal.
Age has no bearing on a driver’s ability to tear up the track either. Some aren’t even old enough to hold a driver’s licence, others are in their 60s.
Clear skies today make up for a soggy Saturday and it was a good turnout with 25 Karts on the track.
Track supervisor Steve Hames, took a moment to speak with the Voice on Sunday.
Dorothy Choquer and her son Bryce were at the track for the first races of the season last Saturday.
“This is just a 5 minute practice. The juniors will be up next and they'll do a 5 minute qualifying round and after that, the seniors go out in their class and do the same thing,” explained Hames as Karts screamed by behind him.
“Then we have the pre-finals which would be 10-laps for certain classes and juniors up to 14 laps. Then the seniors do the same thing up to about 16 laps.”
Later, winners pick up their hardware at the podium.
At only 16, Bryce Choquer is racking up the big wins. Four years ago, he finished 6th and was the youngest Rotax Max driver at the World Championships at La Conca Italy.
Track racing is never without a few speed bumps and the young man has learned to take the good with the bad, such as at a race in Portugal two years ago.
“I went back to the Worlds in 2012,” he said. “I was unfortunate and I crashed and finished 40th.”
Racing has always coursed through the Choquer family’s veins. You can’t keep them away from the track.
Mom Dorothy Choquer, reflects on life at the track over the decades.
“We just had a baby, and bang, we were here. As a family for us, we've been involved with this for 20 solid years. We all come, my husband is involved with the club, I volunteer in registration, and my boy is very actively racing and driver training,” she said.
“Last year, we did the Rotax Max Florida Winner's Series and came first. We've had lots of great success. His brother was the one who watched him, timed him and critiqued him,” she said.
Rotax makes the engines and sets the standard in Kart racing. For instance, the engines have seals so they can’t be “punched-out” or otherwise tampered with to make them go faster.
Choquer describes the Rotax Max circuit as very competitive and the big races at Greg Moore Raceway, such as the Can Ams and the Westerns, always draw the best drivers.
Dave Bittner and his son Dawson come from Victoria several times a year. They were happy to get the new season underway last week at the raceway.
“We had a junior Rotax driver who raced here many times before, Parker Thompson, from Calgary. He came third in the Worlds in 2013 in Portugal. Another junior Rotax driver is Zack Sinclair, who travelled to Chilliwack from Edmonton Alberta for the weekend,” she explained.
Then there’s Stingray Robb.
When other kids got pedal cars at 6-years-old, he got a race car. Now, at 13, the hot driver out of beautiful Boise Idaho is on the A-circuit with an impressive list of victories under his belt.
He’s big on the Chilliwack track too.
“He comes to our track to do major driver training/testing and he's now on his way down to Sonoma California for the Challenge of America, the third event,” said Choquer.
"He and his dad drove up here and he driver-trained all day yesterday in the rain because you can't just be a fair weather driver," she said laughing. "They did a little bit of driver-testing this morning and now they're packing up and drive back to Boise and then leave next week for Sonoma, California.”
Dave Bittner, and his son Dawson, are another father-son team. They drove in from Victoria to race. It’s their third season doing it.
Bittner never taught his son how to drive. That only comes from being hands-on with the karts.
“You’re self taught,” said Bittner. “You just get on and out there with it and all the other guys.”
Bittner calls the Greg Moore Raceway their sanctuary. Even though there’s a track in Duncan just a half an hour drive away from home, he says that one isn’t as safe as Greg Moore Raceway.
“If you spin out here, you hit the lawn,” he said. “Over there, if you spinout, you bend or break something and you've got to buy some parts. So, this is a really, really nice setup.”
Dana Cave from Kelowna is a favourite at the track. His big trailer is always fully stocked with supplies and kart parts.
There are however, plans to open a new track in Duncan and that has the drivers excited.
"I hear more about it in Chilliwack than I do there," he said. "Everybody's champing at the bit. If that one fires up, Dawson will have a head-start on everybody.”
Bittner describes himself as a recovering hockey parent. Eventually, he got fed up with the cliques and spending hundreds of dollars on equipment and registration fees, just to see his boy unhappy and sitting on the bench.
"In Junior A hockey you can make the team and then they sit you,” he says. “You can sit the whole game and not play, and you're 9-years-old, so what fun is that?"
When you think race cars, you think buckets of money. But to Bittner it’s all relative.
“A hockey stick is $300 and a guy could come along and break it on the first practice. Skates are $800. To me, racing’s not an expensive sport. But it can be. It's all how you want to spend it,” he said.
“I paid $2000 for this motor, a used one too, and that was a steal of a deal," he said pointing to the shiny red kart emblazoned with No. 68.
When it comes to repairs and parts, Dana Cave from Kelowna, is the go-to guy at the raceway.
Inside his trailer is every kind of gewgaw imaginable: axels, sprockets, tires, suits, gloves helmets and even kart bags. Drivers could blow an engine in the morning and be back driving with a brand new engine in the morning.
Bittner holds up a tire not much bigger than a some doughnuts and describes how people are always picking Cave's brains.
Bryce Choquer winds out his car on a lap last Sunday.
“You come here when something breaks, and he forces you to do it yourself and you have to look. He's right there absolutely helping everybody. He's turning his money back into money, and he's very generous. Then he weans you off and now you've got to start doing it yourself,” explains Bittner.
Cave is retired now, but when he raced they called him the Alpha Kart King. On race days, you’ll find him tethered to his big parts trailer.
He's a tall, gangly man. A big white moustache frames a Chuck Conners jaw.
He scratches an ear with a big, grease-stained hand.
“I'm not making a living at it. I'm pretty much semi-retarded and this keeps me busy. If it doesn't become fun any more, I'll be gone."
"I’ve been doing this since 1994. It's a little more than a hobby – it's a business. Sometimes there’s a lineup of people and I'm under welding a cart with grease up to here," Cave says pointing to his neck.
Even though he’s busy, it’s always a struggle to just to break even.
“Coming from Kelowna, there's some cost involved. So just to cover that cost, I've got to sell $1000 worth of stuff just to cover my weekend and you don't always get $1000, and if you do, now you're back at flat even,” he said.
“A bunch of us got together and came up with a saying; if you want to make a million dollars in the karting business – spend two million.”
Kart engines are compact and not much larger than a chainsaw. For example, two or four-stroke Briggs L0206 models range in size from the 9-20 horsepower. They don’t have starters. Crews plug one in to fire up them up.
“Even though I'm a dealer, I'm not even allowed to work on them,” says Cave. “They're so damn good that there isn't any warranty and some guys only have to put gas and oil into them for years.”
At the end of the day, they all relax and enjoy some camaraderie back at their RVs.
“We have a blast with barbeques and we might have a beer and joke. We're trying to get more families and people to come down here. There are people in Chilliwack a mile from here that don't know about this place and we try to get the word out, word-of-mouth is what gets it around,” he said.
The next races are April 12-13. There’s no charge to watch and cheer on the drivers and there's plenty of room in bleachers. A food truck on-site has the best onion rings money can buy.
See more photos below.
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Thanks for looking. Good luck to racers and families this season!