Over the past weekend I worked the Fikse Wheels SKUSA Summer Nationals at New Castle Motorsports Park. The track facility is unbelievable and is a stark contrast to where I began in the sport of motorsports. New Castle has garages, a full on diner, suites, more pit area than one could possibly use, and an infinite (that number could be slightly exaggerated) number of track configurations that could be ran. I have to admit watching photo finish after photo finish (the event is going to make for some exciting action on CBS SportsNetwork in a couple weeks) that I wish I was still behind the wheel instead of displaying the flags at start finish but as I thought of this I didn't want to take a lap around New Castle but rather I'd give anything for just one more lap around Widman Park.
I began racing karts in 1995 and the Saint Louis Karting Association had a lease for the Saint Louis County Parks department to use Widman Park ,which had been a motorcycle track for many years, to be used for karting. The land itself is in a frequent flood zone so there wasn't much use for the land to anyone else but for myself it shaped who I am today.
If you look on the internet you can find videos of many karting tracks in use today. With the advent of high quality cameras such as GoPro you can even get a driver's perspective of almost any track, but if you look up Widman and SLKA few hits will come up on Google. One of the leading ones is actually the time I blogged about it. When it comes to images, again, few come up, but I did find this one that a person posted in a Facebook community about the history of karting in Missouri.
With all of the picture capturing devices now kids of today will be able to remember the tracks they raced on. Heck, I take pictures of the tracks I flag at, but there are few images of the place that I spent my weekends racing, growing, and learning all the valuable lesson one learns while competing.
If you drive by the land that the track was on it'll either be flooded or will look like a unkempt field and there will be no trace of the track that was there. Was the track New Castle? Oh, most certainly not! However, I'd give anything to take turns one and two again (the turns in the top right of the track) or turn three, or the horseshoe which in six seasons I always felt I could take it just a bit better.
Memories are an odd thing and are something that will certainly be transformed by the ease of capturing video and pictures. The fact that no one has shared pictures from all the years the SLKA raced there is saddening in a way. When I began the club was getting about 150-200 entries for each club race. Those numbers today would be massive for a club race, and yet there is barely a trace that the track ever existed.
I owe a lot to that place; it's the place I first held a flag while motorized vehicles raced, it's the place I first became a chief starter (at the age of 13!) and it's the place got me through my childhood. Where would I be without this place? I'm not sure. This plot of land gave me a reason to get through the days. I didn't feel isolated in my teens, really, because I was always focused on the next weekend when everyone was socially equal being isolated behind the wheel of their karts zipping around the track.
Many years, 20 actually, have passed since I first took my first laps around Widman and to many that raced there it was probably just a hobby; something to do on the weekends, but to me it was much more. For all the kids that race today I wonder if, in 20 years, they'll think about the track they began at and the smell of the track, the early mornings, the sun rises, and all the dreams of racing stardom when they took that first lap. I can almost assure you one thing though; regardless if any of the drivers I flag today make it to NASCAR, Indycar, or even F1, there will be a time that every driver will think back to the track they began at and will give anything to do one more lap on the track and one more attempt to take that tricky corner just right. They'll want to relive that time that they made a three wide pass, or the time they won there first race. Maybe in 20 years the track they began at will still be there, and then again perhaps it won't, but the memories made are irreplaceably vivid. Sure, newer tracks will be built, but no place can replace the place where it all began. Oh, to be 12 again and take my first green flag!