Little 600 karting event at GoPro Motorplex puts fun back in racing
The hustle and bustle of race week in Charlotte, N.C. can be a bit overwhelming at times for drivers. Between team meetings, sponsor appearances, testing and events at the track, it can be difficult to find time for fun.
Yet on Tuesday night, stars from the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series spent the evening racing go-karts in front of a horde of fans in the Little 600 at GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, N.C.
The night's festivities kicked off as drivers arrived and signed autographs for fans waiting eagerly with sheet metal, hero cards and even go-kart tires.
First on the track, though, were the 12 women competing in the Lady 600. Experienced kart racer Jody Folice took the win in the 10-lap feature, followed by Anna McAlllister and local racer Amber Colvin.
Up next, the Little 600 field fought for position in a series of qualifying and heat races -- some of which got very heated.
While the event was all in good fun, that didn't mean the tempers didn't come out now and then on the track. Beating and banging throughout the night, drivers such as Gray Gaulding, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr., and others found themselves roughed up on the track and searching for answers afterwards -- only to laugh and smile about it moments later.
The NASCAR stars may have brought the star power to the Little 600, but four-time Chili Bowl winner Kevin Swindell brought his hot shoe. With only one Sprint Cup Series start and 20 Nationwide Series starts to his name, Swindell upset the field by taking a dominant win in the 15-lap feature race.
"I guess the key to winning was I managed to get a good kart," Swindell said. "I was pretty worried those guys were going to get together to gang up on me. It's so cool to be a part of the Little 600 event. I'm pretty sure Larson and myself were first in line when GoPro Motorplex opened up to get karts and a garage out here. So, it's really cool to see this place be successful and grow to put on this large of an event. Thanks to GoPro and everyone involved tonight."
Swindell was followed across the line by Joey Logano, Drew Herring, Ross Chastain, and Ryan Reed to make up the rest of the top five.
"It was a good time, we had a blast," runner-up Logano said. "My teammate Drew he kind of got used up so he wasn't able to push me there at the end. We came up from the back there and had some fun. I wanted one more caution or five or six more laps. Once I lost my pusher, Kevin was too far in front of me and I wasn't able to catch him.
"The two-car tango is still alive here in go-karts," Logano said with a smile. "It may be gone in Cup and Nationwide but it's still alive here at GoPro Motorplex. It's pretty fun. You can hook up with someone and kind of start pushing them and actually draft up to the guy in front of you."
Overall, the night was a success for GoPro Motorplex owners Justin Marks and Michael McDowell.
"For our first annual Little 600, to be a part of everything that happens around the Charlotte area during this week, to tie GoPro Motorplex into all of that was a natural fit for us," McDowell said. "The racing was good, and we had a great turnout for the fans. This is one of the things we'll build on. I think we have a good concept here that we'll be able to build on every year.
Looking around at the gathered crowd watching the podium presentation, McDowell was pleased with his organization's efforts and the atmosphere created for drivers and fans alike.
"This is one of those environments that lets drivers, fans and anybody to come out here and be competitive and race and still do all the stuff we love to do on a competitive level. But, it's not the way we're going to make our living," McDowell said. "Most of us are going to go to work on Monday -- or Sunday -- you can bump, you can rub, somebody spins you out, yeah, whatever. It's not a finish, it's not points, it's not a Chase, there's no sponsor pressure. It just puts the root of racing back into it.
"I love NASCAR, I love what I do, and I'm fortunate to be part of the sport, but at this high level it can sometimes rob the fun out of it. I think everyone enjoyed it," he said.
"It's all about fans," McDowell's partner Justin Marks said. "That was the number one goal here, was to get together a good group of guys and enhance race week as we can, even just a small part of it. I have to thank 600 Festival Association, because Jay Howard Enterprises and everybody at that company did a great thing by including us in the events this week. I'm just glad we have a facility here that could cater to the fan experience.
"The guys did a great job," he said. "All the racing out there was great tonight. It went really smooth. They were great with the fans. I think it was a perfect event and great success."