Photos by Julie Watson
Bakersfield’s VKA event is a favorite vintage west coast kart event for a number of reasons. First, there’s the track – the karting equivalent of F1s SPA-Francorchamps with huge elevation changes, and unlike SPA, virtually no straightaways. A large downhill off-chamber sweeper is the straightaway – if you’re brave enough to keep it pegged. The track’s got history too with karts racing on it for more than 40 years. Track owner, Rusty Sanders, resurfaced the track a couple of years ago; it now has excellent grip and a smooth surface. Simply put, Bakersfield is the reason race karts were invented.
Then there are the people – starting with promoters Richard and Joe Swantek. They almost totally bear the financial responsibility of this race including substantial cash show prizes and a great Saturday lunch provided by Teressa Swantek. One of the best parts of Bakersfield is that you get to rub shoulders with karting greats like Howard Combee, Terry Ives. Steve O’Hara, Rocky Buff, Bobby Shiffert and many more. Not all were in attendance this year due to medical and Covid issues, but the low-key atmosphere ensured that some good times were shared.
This year’s event had perfect 70-80-degree weather with a slight layer of smoke from the many California fires. About 30 karts were entered, which was good considering the Covid 19 concerns and heavy smoke warnings. There was nearly unlimited track time on Thursday and Friday for racers to dial-in their karts. Saturday brought on some excellent race exhibitions in four categories: Single and Dual Rear, Yamaha Sidewinder, Single Sidewinder and Dual Sidewinder. The exhibitions were run as a 6-lap heat race and a 6-lap final with a lunch break in between.
Following the laid back atmosphere, Bakersfield’s kart show was unstructured with no pre-determined classes. Instead, the judges simply picked out 5 outstanding karts and awarded them generous cash prizes.
Saturday afternoon rolled around all too soon as karters packed up for the trip home. After lots of track time, bench racing and long lunches at Ethel’s roadside restaurant across the street, everyone looks forward to doing it all again next year. If you haven’t been to a Bakersfield VKA event, you should definitely put it on your schedule!