YOLO COUNTY NEWS

Sports

Who knew Blue Max was such a breeding ground?

By March 26, 2011

The track has what’s called Concrete Corner, a hard, three-turn chicane that — if negotiated well — gives the racer a chance to breathe down a long straightaway before a hairpin takes everything a driver has to stay under control …

The likes of Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch have seen their share of failed navigations at this track, dubbed by many as one of the most technical courses in the west.

Also called “a driver’s track that presents a challenge while enhancing driving skills,” this layout has seen Grand Am giant Memo Gidley earn his stripes while other professionals — Scott Pruett and A.J. Almendinger, for instance — have come away shaking their heads.

So, where is it?

Laguna Seca, Infineon Raceway? No, it’s right here, just outside of Davis on County Road 102 — the Blue Max Go-Kart Track. Those big racing names, while competing in Davis as kids in karts, really have been part of the raceway’s history.

“This track has generated numerous racers,” Blue Max secretary Todd Browne explains. “The majority of racers (like Gordon and Labonte) started in karting.”

And, while he may not be on the same fast track as NASCAR legend Gordon, Davis High speedster Sean Winograd has always been a racing and automotive enthusiast.

When he first arrived in Davis (from Manhattan Beach in 2006), Winograd was looking for “auto-type things” to do in town. He discovered the Blue Max track and its racing club.

“I went into karting with little knowledge about the sport and the mechanics of the karts,” the 16-year-old Winograd continues. “But everyone has been very helpful at Blue Max getting me up to speed, literally.

“Everyone is very friendly and the competition is top-notch. It’s great to share laughs with the other drivers off track, and have a great time racing on the track.”

Winograd and his 10-year-old sister Erica have taken quickly to the track. Both are champions (Sean won the 2009 HPV-2 division and Erica won the Challenger Class for new racers in ’09). Their sponsors are Hanlees Auto Group and Davis Auto Care.

The 4.0 DHS student — Hanlees’ Brandon Flood is his pit crew chief — races for Blue Max in today’s Tour de Harity event at Infineon Raceway.

“As you can see, Blue Max has been a wonderful part of our lives here,” Winograd added.

But, like Browne and his son Grayson, Blue Max members and competitors come from all over Northern California to gather at the half-mile test track, which is built on a former dump site and leased from the city of Davis for $1 a year.

Gordon (Vallejo) and Labonte (Roseville) had snap commutes to Blue Max, compared to the trek the Brownes make from San Jose.

Two years ago, Todd and Grayson Browne — after discovering karting while visiting Laguna Seca — took up the sport together.

Seeing Blue Max as one of the top tracks in the west, they were drawn to compete for the Davis club.

“My son and I have developed a tremendous bond since we began this adventure,” Browne says. “Learning and growing (together) … the younger racers learn many life lessons: teamwork, competition, sportsmanship, responsibility, focus and respect being a just a few.”

Father races a little, but Browne says his son is the talent.

The Blue Max family, as Browne calls it, grows on race days as families come to town on weekends for what can make the track parking lot look like a miniature NASCAR outing.

Barbecues are ablaze. A group from Santa Rosa could be mingling with Davis folks while Browne and his entourage might be mixing with Roseville’s Mike von Quilich.

“During the season, it’s not unusual to see several families camping out,” von Quilich says. “(They’ll) have a group campfire, catching up on all the latest racing scuttlebutt and then racing HARD against each other the next day.”

Von Quilich’s son Jack, 9, is the future Jeff Gordon in this household. But Jack’s mom, Heather, and 4-year-old sister, Natalie, always attend race day.

“Natalie is there for moral support for Jack and NEVER fails to give him instruction (or orders) when he’s on the starting grid,” his dad continues. “For our family, racing is a way of life and everyone is involved.”

Karting as a sport began in the early 1950s. A decade later, the old Davis landfill was dedicated to bicycle motocross, but it evolved in 1972 to become the Blue Max Go-Kart Track and Club.

The track is open daily — except Wednesdays — from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for practice (or weekend races).

President Leo Refsland and his board of directors say safety is first, competition second, camaraderie next.

So how does somebody get involved in karting — and what are the costs?

“For a two-stroke kart, one can pick up a complete, used, competitive kart starting around $2,500,” Browne offers. “There are supporting tools, stand and maintenance items one needs as well.”

Browne says new karts and engines can run $9,000, then there is the trailer and all the support equipment. Racers like Winograd are smart — and lucky in some cases — to have sponsors.

Getting involved is easy. Blue Max and other northland race courses have frequent weekend racing. Although the rain washed out Sunday’s slated event — a club “Backwards Race” — Blue Max next presents a Pre-Outlaw Race on Sunday, April 10.

There are periodic open houses and more information about getting involved is available at http://www.bluemaxkartclub.com.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or (530) 747-8047.

Bruce Gallaudet

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