Chance Skaufel and Kyle Blum picked up pretty much right where they left off two years ago — battling each other lap after lap around the Santa Maria Karting Association (SMKA) race track.

With action resuming Sunday on the course that sits on the grounds of the Santa Maria Public Airport, the track’s nearly two-year closure was officially over.

“It’s good to be back. I’m very glad the track is back in Santa Maria. I get to see — and race against — some of my old friends,” said Skaufel, who is now 13-years old (”I’ll be 14 in October”) and will be a freshman at Pioneer Valley High School in the fall.  The last time Skaufel raced at the Santa Maria track (Aug. 8, 2010), he left a winner.  At that time, he was an 11-year old about to enter the seventh grade at Kunst Junior High. He won what was, at the time, the final race in the track’s 52-year history.

With the track closed down, Skaufel and his fellow racers had to leave town to continue their racing careers.  “Last week I had to go to Fresno to race,” said Skaufel. “We were at the two-cycles (IKF — International Karting Federation) Grand Nationals. Most of the racers were there practicing for a whole week. I could only get there for two days of practice before the races began.”  And yet, competing with that disadvantage, Skaufel managed to earn the fourth place finisher’s trophy.”

“We’ve had to do a lot of traveling to keep racing,” said Chance’s father Kirk Skaufel. “We’ve been competing in the IKF regional races. We’ve been to six or seven regionals — and it’s at least three or four hours to the nearest track.”  Now with the track’s re-opening, Skaufel was one of the first racers to hit the 7/10-mile road course.

In the 23-months since the closing, the SMKA board of directors, Santa Maria Airport Board, airport general manager Chris Hastert and the Federal Aviation Administration worked to find a solution that would allow the Karters (formerly called Go-Karters) to return to the track and resume racing.

“I’m really excited. This makes me feel good,” said SMKA Board of Directors President Scott Grundfor. “We’re having a great first day — a great turnout. It’s great to see the kids back out here. There are a number of old duffers, too — like me.”

With a new three-year lease in hand, the track officially re-opened Sunday for a day of practice and pick-up races.

And it’s where Skaufel and Blum — among many others — were re-united.  Blum is also a veteran Kart racer. He is now 16-years old and will be a sophomore at St. Joseph High in the fall. He’s had many on track battles with his old friend but he hasn’t been hitting the IKF regional circuit.

“I’ve only raced at Apple Valley since this track closed,” said Blum. “It’s nice to be back. I’m looking forward to racing here. This track is really fun.”  Skaufel and Blum then headed out to the track for a practice run in Top Karts — Senior Division racers with 125cc engines that can hit 80 miles per hour down the track’s straight-away.  Just like old times.  Blum took the lead right off the bat.  Skaufel stayed right on Blum’s rear bumper while, at top speed, they both got the feel for the course.  On the fourth lap, Blum passed on the backside. He kept the lead through the 12th lap when Skaufel re-took the lead.

And then it was game-on. Neck-and-neck, one or the other just inches in the lead until a snap, crackle and pop — a bolt holding the radiator mount got loose, a radiator support strut snapped and Bum’s day was over.  He came back to pit row — slowly — and, after Skaufel saw his friend slow and leave the track, he, too, pulled off the course.  “That was fun, until it broke,” said Blum. “Did you see us. We were going close to 80 miles an hour in the straights.”

The boys and all the racers will have to wait for another day.  But now they know there will be another day — and soon — at the SKMA course.

There’s a practice weekend, open top all racers, next weekend — July 7-8.

The IKF is ready to return, scheduling a weekend of IKF Region 7 racing August 3-5.

And the Pro Karters are coming for a weekend of Shifter Kart racing August 17-18.

The SMKA is also partnering with the Santa Maria Airport to hold open racing, presented by the Vintage Karters Club, during this year’s Santa Maria Airport Air Show and plans are under way to resume SKMA club racing in the near future.

The complete schedule and all kinds of information about the club can be found on their website at www.smka.org.

“It’s like a family re-union,” said Grundfor. “It’s really good to see everyone coming back.”

By Elliott Stern / Sports Editor / estern@santamariatimes.com

 

7/2/12