BATESVILLE, MS — RaceChaser/NIKC Photos — The 28th Annual O’Reilly Auto Parts National Indoor Kart Championship gets the green flag Friday, November 23rd for two days of racing at the Batesville Civic Center in the Mid-South’s Delta region. uniting hundreds of racers aged 7 and up from across the USA in one single mission – to win a prized “slot”, the short name for the unique bronzed slot-machine replica trophy that is awarded to all winners at the event.
The NIKC is the largest event the arena holds each year, with a few thousand people converging on the grounds during the race week.
Many drivers have raced the ONIKC on their way up the ladder to major series. NASCAR racers Ben Rhodes, Ricky Stenhouse Ty Majeski and Trevor Bayne, along with Kevin Swindell, Kraig Kinser, A.J. Foyt IV and even Sammy Swindell have taken part in this event.
Twenty one different classes per day will take to the tight indoor dirt oval, built over the course of a week’s time by bringing in dirt to lay atop the arena floor, which then allows the NIKC’s track staff to form and prepare the racing surface, complete with safety barriers against the outside wall (this event was the first indoor event to utilize the reflexive barriers, which “give” when struck and in many cases allow the kart to just bounce off and back into action.
This is not an ordinary go kart race. It takes a staff of over 40 people to put on this show.
Preparations begin months in advance. JAM Promotions, headed up by Lanier James, brings in highly-skilled staff members from across the country to work the week at the event.
All of the operations equipment including the safer barriers, scoring equipment, audio/video equipment, trailers/tents for race control, a food room for staff, apparel trailer and registration/tech are brought in from JAM’s home base in Memphis, TN. Much of the equipment comes in a giant 53 foot tractor trailer.
Watching the “load-in” is a bit like watching a rock concert’s “road crew” set up. It takes a lot of man hours and a passion for “the event” to get the track, the grid and the grounds ready for the racers to arrive on Thanksgiving day.
The “grid” is another unique feature due to the way the building is laid out. Racers line up under a giant tent outside on the grid, and then
when it’s their turn to race, they turn to their right, go down a ramp into the building (track area) and enter the track in turn four. They leave the track at the end of the back straightaway and go up the ramp to get back outside and return to their pit area.
Every racer gets a “gift bag” when they arrive at registration, filled with information and event souvenirs. Each day at the driver’s meeting, over $5000 in prizes are given to the competitors through lucky number drawings – kart chassis, tires, microwaves, tool sets, and bicycles are just a few of the many things a racer can win at these legendary meetings. No other event does this.
Spectators get in on the prize act once the pre-race starts. Every feature race starter has a Frisbee with a lucky number ticket on the back. As pre-race ends, all 400 feature entrants toss those frisbees up into the crowd. Lucky numbers are called out between feature races and anyone with a winning lucky number wins a prize as well as getting to keep the frisbee!
Adding to the convenience for race teams is a set of 20 RV parking spots with electric and water hookups located right on the grounds,
complete with picnic tables and grills for racers who wish to avoid hotel costs. Under-roof parking is also available, though limited, and sells out quickly each year.
Qualifying is difficult in many classes at Batesville, because only 10 karts are taken out of each of the two rounds to comprise a 20-kart starting lineup in each class. Often, racers find themselves being “bumped” out of the main event by just thousandths of a second!
Each race has a time limit, and those limits are strictly adhered to in order to keep the show moving for the spectators. It is up to the racers to race each other with respect and walk the racer’s edge as they do what it takes to win, and often times the line gets blurred in the closing laps as “racers have at it” reigns supreme and wheel-to-wheel action gets messy with the checkered flag in sight.
This race is the only kart race to have been shown on national television, gracing such networks as ESPN2, SpeedTV (now Fox Sports 1), and Versus among others, during its’storied 28-year history. The first NIKC was run in Memphis, TN, where it remained for many years until moving to a state-of-the-art arena in Tunica, MS in 2001.
That’s when I joined the traveling band of racing gypsies, and it was exciting to see us hit our peak in the mid-2000’s when we had over 1500 entries. Eventually, the race moved to our current home in Batesville, MS, and has continued to set the curve for kart race promotion to this day.
A free live webcast runs from morning to race conclusion Friday and Saturday, attracting viewers worldwide each year. This becomes a tremendous opportunity for JAM Promotions to give back, affording aspiring young videographers attending film school at nearby Memphis University the chance to get some “real world” experience as “shooters” manning cameras for the broadcast.
Race days are, well, full. Practice starts at 8am sharp each day and is done by class. Once the two rounds of warmups are over, it’s time for
the driver’s meeting (usually around noon).
Qualifying gets underway within minutes of the driver’s meeting being completed, and then a short break for track preparation before the pre-race festivities.
Spectators and race teams can hear all the action on any FM radio on the grounds, as a low power FM transmitter is used to broadcast the PA system outside the arena. This year, an even higher pole is being used to ensure that the signal gets out over the top of the ever-taller transporters used by the teams as race control makes an effort to increase the efficiency of this system.
Race teams roll in on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, and parking in their assigned pit spots takes place on Thursday as the audio/video crew sets up for a Thursday afternoon marathon of live driver interviews on their internet stream, giving those who wish to get to know some of the competitors from afar the chance to do so before everything cranks up Friday on-track.
Again, this is not your ordinary kart race.
The O’Reilly National Indoor Kart Championships is the longest running kart indoor race in the nation for dirt track karters, and it’s truly an “event”. No other event gives back so much to the racers, and no other event spends more time marketing and promoting itself inside and outside the industry. That’s why it’s the only major event in kart racing with an outside-the-industry title sponsor.
O’ Reilly Auto Parts knows that the kart racers are, quite literally, their customers. These are people who will go to the store and buy parts to fix their own cars. They also can buy their pit passes for this race at a discounted price by going into their local O’Reilly’s store, saving them money and helping them avoid a line when they arrive!
Over 800 entries, 41 different classes, live video stream both days, two “no entry fee” classes to give racers an additional bonus class if they’re already running paid divisions, gift bags, the prize trailer at each day’s driver’s meeting, fun activities for the kids on Thanksgiving Day (Dodgeball and Cornhole Tournaments) and guaranteed rain or shine racing are all reasons why racers support this particular Thanksgiving event each year.
Those are all reasons why this race is unique and a blast to watch from home on the live stream or in person. Racers love it because the track is a bit different every year and changes drastically at times from day to day, keeping the challenge intact to set up the kart and drive it to track conditions.
If you’re a racer looking for the ultimate challenge, come out, run with us and test your skills against the tight indoor dirt track.
I am thankful that I will once again be the man on the microphone for the 18th straight year, talking until I just can’t talk any more. That’s my personal challenge each year, and I couldn’t think of a more exciting or enjoyable way to spend Thanksgiving weekend!