MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Audio, photo and recap by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online –
Bragging rights were handed down, a driver scored his first-ever victory in the United States and one champion (who wasn’t even born when Danny Sullivan spun and won the 1985 Indianapoils 500) used a similar “spin and win” tactic to take home the biggest trophy during Wednesday afternoon’s Media and Champions Karting Challenge at GoPro Motorplex.
After a one-year hiatus, the race featuring all seven NASCAR touring series champions and the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion returned to the karting facility in Mooresville, North Carolina with two trophies – the Media and Champions Challenge and the Champions Karting Challenge – on the line.
First up was the 25-minute Media and Champions Challenge, set in relay-style with selected media members running the first 12-and-a-half minute stint, coming in for a pit stop, and turning the wheel over to the champion driver they were paired with for the second stint.
The grid was lined up in reverse practice speed order, and within the opening laps, it was Motor Racing Network’s Kyle Rickey who grabbed the lead – holding it to the pit stop when his teammate, 2014 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion Anthony Kumpen, jumped behind the wheel and led the rest of the way.
For Rickey, it was his second win in the event after capturing top honors in 2012 while for Kumpen, it was a historic victory on American soil.
“It was a lot of fun but the main thing was it was my first (race) victory in the U.S.,” said Kumpen. “I had to wait until the last weekend of the season in Europe to win a race and I won here my first time out. It’s incredible. I will have to come back and race more in the States.”
“Anthony was a great teammate, and this is just a fun deal for all of us in the media,” added Rickey. “We come out here to have fun and it’s definitely fun to get the win – that drive was definitely fun. This facility is great and the atmosphere here [at GoPro] is unlike anything we get to experience during the regular season.”
Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion Andy Seuss and FOX Sports’ Jay Pennell combined to finish second in the relay event, while K&N Pro Series East titlist Ben Rhodes completed the podium with his partner, Speed51.com’s Elgin Traylor.
For Rhodes however, that just wasn’t good enough. It apparently wasn’t spectacular enough either.
Starting the Champions Karting Challenge from the sixth position – the titlists were inverted based on their finish in the relay – Rhodes quickly made his way to the front to do battle with early race leader Doug Coby.
Coby subsequently sent Rhodes spinning off into the dirt at Turn Nine.
“Yeah, I spun him – it was a modified move,” Coby joked after the race. “I knew he was probably going to win it, so I at least had to make him work for it. There’s no hard feelings and I’m sure he was laughing about it no more it happened.”
Sure enough, Rhodes came charging back through the field from last – going from seventh to pass relay winner Kumpen for the lead coming to the white flag of the 15-minute, 16-lap race. Rhodes then held off Kumpen over the final lap to collect the victory, his first win of any kind since his most-recent K&N Pro Series East triumph in June at Langley Speedway.
“It’s been a long time since I have been in Victory Lane so this is nice and a lot of fun,” Rhodes said. “I thought I was out of it early, but that was special to come back the way we did and I never thought (a win) would happen. I was just riding and then I was able to move back up and eventually pass for the lead. I didn’t plan on timing it the way I did, it kind of just happened that way.”
The GoPro Motorplex is also the first place Rhodes learned that team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was interested in hiring him at JR Motorsports. Rhodes will contest ten races with the team in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015.
“I have had some practice here at this track,” Rhodes smiled. “It’s a pretty special place for me, not just because of today – this only adds to it.”
Kumpen finished second in the Champions’ race, followed by NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion L.P. Dumoulin, who rounded out the podium. NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series titlist Abraham Calderon finished fourth after leading more than half of the 16 laps, and Coby capped off the top five.
Anthony Anders (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series) and Seuss were the last two karts in the run-down, with NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Greg Pursley electing to uphold his moniker of “newly retired” and choosing not to compete in the kart races.
“It’s sure fun to watch though,” Pursley laughed.
For Rhodes, though he has a lot to look forward to in 2015 – he couldn’t help but bubble about the entire afternoon following the event.
“I feel like I just won the lottery or something, even though I’m not old enough,” Rhodes laughed. “Maybe I should just say I’m in Disney World or something, I don’t know. I’m speechless. This is great.”
For the eight champions, their focus now turns from an afternoon of fun to two nights of celebrating their stellar 2014 campaigns.
Ander will be formally honored as the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion during their awards ceremony on Friday night, while the champions from the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1, NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series and NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will be honored during the NASCAR Touring Series Awards on Saturday night.
Audio with Champions Karting Challenge winner Ben Rhodes:
Audio with Media & Champions Relay Challenge Winners Anthony Kumpen and Kyle Rickey: