Santa Maria’s historic Go Kart track is back in business.  After a nearly two-year hiatus, the Santa Maria Karting Association (SMKA) has been given clearance for takeoff by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

SMKA is celebrating the 4th of July a bit early, getting the green light to re-start racing this weekend.  “Re-opening day is Sunday, July 1 and we’re all set,” said SMKA President Scott Grundfor. “The SMKA track is coming back to life and everybody is very excited about getting this back up and running.”

After a 52-year run, the Kart track closed after the International Karting Association’s (IKF) Region 7 championships on Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010. For the record, Chance Skaufel — then an 11-year old student about to enter the 7th grade at Tommie Kunst Junior High — won the final race.

The Kart track sits on the southwest corner of the Santa Maria Public Airport. The FAA oversees the airport and had the airport board end the Kart Association’s lease nearly two years ago.

“It wasn’t the airport so much, the issue had to do with the FAA,” said Grundfor. “The FAA was trying to deal with issues on airport property that would benefit the airport in the future. The Kart Association was something they felt needed to be taken care of.  “Our task was to gather enough support to educate everyone that the track was a unique community treasure and not any detriment to the airport or the FAA rules.” 

Getting everyone to agree took nearly two years.  “It takes a while to get these things done,” said Grundfor. “I had no idea when I got involved in this project that it would take so long to re-open but thanks to the support of the community and airport General Manager Chris Hastert, we were able to get the job done.

“We have always enjoyed the support of the community and the airport board and we just kept at it until we got the support of the FAA. A big part was the support of Congresswoman Lois Capps who intervened with the FAA in Los Angeles and made them aware of our situation. Congresswoman Capps and her staff  were willing to listen to us and go to bat for us. I suspect that was the difference.”

The association has signed a new three-year lease with the airport board. Grundfor says he hopes the association will be able to extend that lease to give the Karts a long lease on life in Santa Maria.

Local Karters will no longer have to leave town to pursue their passion.  “In order to participate in Kart racing, you had to go up to Monterey, or to this Mickey Mouse track in Marina or head south to Riverside to a track that somehow has survived or head over to a track near Bakersfield,” said Grundfor. “This Santa Maria track is a real treasure. Racers all over the country will tell you that this is one of the very best tracks in California and the United States.”

The track regularly hosted IKF national championships in its three main racing divisions — two cycle, four cycle and shifter Karts and Grundfor expects to see IFK title racing here again in the near future.

“We put in a bid for the 2013 Sprint national championship, the biggest Kart championship in the United States,” said Grundfor. “We’ve been accepted as the backup bidder, so there is no guarantee for 2013 but I’ll bet we get it for 2014.”

After Sunday’s opening, there are three regional races coming to the track in August with the possibility of some club racing in between.

It’s shaping up to be a busy day when racing resumes Sunday.  “We’re expecting 100 Karts and will probably run 40 to 60 informal races,” said Grundfor. “We’ll run different classifications from novice to expert. There’ll be something for every racer who wants to come out.”

There’s no charge for admission and the public is encouraged to come out. There is a $20 entry fee for each race Karters want to enter and a $10 fee for pit passes for non-racers.  The gates open at 9 a.m. with racing expected to run until about 5 p.m.

June 27, 2012 12:00 am  •  By Elliott Stern/Sports Editor/estern@santamariatimes.com