During the 2005 racing season, Phil Harp of Largo, was racing his go-kart regularly with the Tri City Kart Club at Desoto Super Speedway in Bradenton, Florida on Sunday afternoons.
At each month’s race, Phil would look up at the empty grandstands, and wonder how much fun it might be, to race in front of fans, as part of the Saturday night stock car program.
Then, Phil got an idea. He decided to try and contact a few stock car track promoters, to see if any might schedule a senior champ kart race. Phil entertained them on the idea of a race class that would average 15-20 drivers, have a devoted following, and was deserving of a chance to run as part of the “big show” with the regular Saturday night classes.
On Thanksgiving weekend of 2005, Desoto Super Speedway in Bradenton, Florida gave Phil a race date.
Phil, who is employed as a plumber in the Largo area, worked the phone hard in the weeks leading up to the race, trying to convince every racer he knew to enter. Many in the karting community were skeptical.
“When I drove to the track for that first race, I was nervous. My biggest fear was that no one would show up”, Phil later said. “I decided to get there early, before the pit gate opened. But, when I turned off of Highway 64 onto the track road, I saw a line of trailers lined up at the pit gate. I figured the trailers belonged to the local car racers. However, as I got closer, I realized that they were all karters, patiently waiting for the track to open. You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning if you expect to beat my guys to the track on race day… karters are a passionate group”, Phil chuckled.
Twenty-six champ karts showed up that night, and a series was born.
Since 2005, the South East Champ Kart Series (SECKS) has raced at five stock car tracks in Florida including Desoto Super Speedway, Auburndale Speedway, Punta Gorda Speedway, Orlando Speedworld and Citrus County Speedway. The competitors range in age from 15 years old to 74.
On February 18, the series will make it’s first appearance at Bronson Speedway in Bronson, Florida. “Several of my racers have been wanting to race at Bronson Speedway for several years, but our schedule was always full. Then, when the track closed down a few years ago, I figured it might never happen. However, when the new owners opened the track last year, one of my newest racers, Harold Roberts, contacted them, and we were able to get a race scheduled”, said Phil Harp.
When asked how the South East Champ Kart Series has continued to average nearly 18 entries at each event over the past three seasons, despite the tough economy, Phil paused. “The economy has really hurt most traveling racing divisions, but for us, it probably has helped, as much as hurt. When I started this, I didn’t think that many car racers would be interested in racing with us. However, as the economy has soured, my series has become a relatively inexpensive way for car racers to keep their faces visible at the stock car tracks, while they are waiting to find funding for their cars”, said Phil.
“Another possible reason is that we really try and make our new and part-time racers feel welcomed. When a new racer comes into our series, I always try to encourage them to pit next to me that first night, so that I can make sure they have all the tools, help and encouragement that they need to make as many laps as possible. I can remember going to races in my younger days where the only person who spoke to me was the lady who took my money at the pit gate. That will never happen in my series. I’m sure some of my newer drivers get tired of me visiting their pits at each event”, Phil chuckled.
“The part-time racers are also a big key, I think. In my experience, these racers are often overlooked by promoters. If you can grow your numbers of part-time racers, and give them reasons to dust off their equipment, it makes a difference in your entries. It’s a lot easier for a racer with heavy financial or family commitments to race part-time, than to travel the entire series. One thing we did to encourage the part-timers to race a little more is to establish a “Triple Crown Series”, with four races at four different stock car tracks throughout Florida (with one points drop allowed). The points champion receives a unique glass trophy. This allows a racer who isn’t able to travel the entire series to race the Triple Crown Series. The last race of the Triple Crown Series can get pretty exciting for the guys who are in contention for the Trophy. They all want to win that Glass Trophy bad”, Phil laughed.
The first leg of the 2012 Florida Triple Crown Series will be the February 18 race at Bronson Speedway. The defending Triple Crown Series Champion is Tara Henderson, from Loxahatchee. Tara is Florida’s top “money racer” in the Senior Champ kart division, collecting over $5,000 in cash winnings over the past three seasons, despite only competing with the series on a limited basis.
The series races for a cash purse at each event, and has several loyal sponsors who routinely post additional cash and prizes throughout the season. They include J. Hite Exterminating (Tampa), National Semi-Trailer Corp. (Orlando), and BS Powerhouse Racing Engines (Zephryhills), among others.
“Five of our races during the 2010 and 2011 seasons paid the winner $500 cash, or more, to win. We are proud of that, and those types of payouts are always popular with my guys. However, in our normal races, we try to keep the payout very flat, so that we can give the guy who finishes deeper in the field a little something extra in his pocket at the end of the night. I’ve noticed that some drivers can seem pretty disappointed after a feature, because they didn’t have a good finish. But then, when he finds out that he finished in the money, and that we have some cash waiting for him at the payout table, his mood quickly changes” said Phil.
“When the series began, I didn’t think we would still be doing this, seven years later”, said Phil. “I owe a lot of the credit to my wife Joan. She is a registrar, cashier, scorer, and official all rolled into one. Racers can sometimes get pretty upset after a race, but she always tries to listen to everyone, and treat them with respect when she explains a call. She is a big reason why our guys keep coming back to race with us, even after a bad night. Every racing series needs a Joan Harp”.
“The track promoters and their staff have also been great to the champ kart group, and they always make us feel welcomed. The stock car track staff are always patient with our guys, and make us feel just as important as the car divisions”, remarked Phil.
NEXT RACE: Saturday night, February 18, 2012
Location: Bronson Speedway, Bronson, FL
Track Website: http://bronsonspdwy.com/
Time: Racing starts at 7pm!
SECKS Series Website: www.NewSecksRacing.com