CHESTERTOWN, Md. (Story by Kurt Bogerman) — On June 16 & 17, 2023, the kart club at Nicholson Speedway in Chestertown, Maryland welcomed vintage karters from throughout the Northeast and facilitated a very special two days of fun.
What is a weekend of outdoor activity without the fretting over weather? The forecasts for the weekend were not promising. Mid-week reports indicated that there was a strong chance of stormy weather throughout the day on Friday. My own observation upon waking on Friday morning, was that the sky was dim and there was the sleepy sound of rain drizzling outside. However, I had not spent ten hours on Thursday afternoon, into the evening, preparing karts and packing equipment for nothing. Besides, the opportunity to cancel my reservations in Chestertown had come and gone, and I was spending my weekend on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, rain or shine, karting or not, LOL! So, Natalie and I embarked on our journey, departing only 15 minutes later than I had planned, even though the “sleepy sound of rain” had caused me to sleep in a half-hour later than I had intended.
I have made the trip from Harrisburg to Baltimore dozens, if not hundreds of times. It’s 83 miles down Interstate 83, which drops you at the Inner Harbor in an hour-twenty at posted speed limits. Chestertown is approximately 30 miles east of Baltimore. Now, I’ve made the trip to Nicholson Speedway at least twice a year for the past five years. I know that the Chesapeake Bay is a navigational hegemon in the region. However, I am newly surprised every time this trip to Chestertown takes well over 2-1/2 hours, and I never allow myself enough time! There is no highway nor any direct route to Chestertown from Central Pennsylvania. Google Maps has never taken us back nor forth the same way twice, and it’s always via the twistiest cow paths in Lancaster County! And the buggies! For the safety of the Amish and their horses, you must be on guard and recognize such hazards as blind hills and corners, where buggies like to hide. Naturally, if you find yourself caught behind a buggy, there will be no shortage of those same blind corners and hills, as well as legions of oncoming traffic where none had been before. Despite these challenges, our trip went smoothly and actually trended towards bright and sunny as our travel progressed. That is, until we were within a mile of our destination.
As we approached Earl Nicholson Road, I commented “Now that we’re here… So much for the sunny skies!” A few drops of rain drizzled onto the windshield. Moments later, we arrived at the track, where Paul and Ginny Hunter had saved these latecomers a spot. Not having seen many of these faces since last fall, there was the frenzy of greetings, handshakes, and hugs from our vintage karting friends. Several pits were already up and running, and some folks had already engaged in test & tune time. Rolf Hill, for one, had already erected his trademark “Vintage Karting Assn. Kart # 4” canopy over a section of bleachers near the Start/Finish line.
Now, we’d only been parked for about five or ten minutes when the thunder clapped, and the wind kicked in. The scene went from grey and drizzly to torrential downpour faster than it took to type these words. Everyone, or so it seemed, hastily sought refuge in their vehicles, as did Natalie and me. “Phew! Now we wait.”, I said to myself, as the rain and wind pelted our truck. Then I looked in the rear view and saw Rolf and another fellow clinging to the legs of Rolf’s canopy, which was actively attempting to make the trip to OZ. To Natalie’s startlement, I darted out the door and ran to their assistance. Upon reaching this ongoing canopy catastrophe, my eyes were met by those of a terrified, elderly gentleman, clinging dutifully to one leg of the canopy. (Rolf explained later that this man had arrived that morning as a spectator.) The man looked into my soul, shouted “Thank you!!!” and scrambled away, not to be seen again. I like to believe that he made it to his car and found dry clothes at home, somewhere nearby. Meanwhile, Rolf and I clung to the canopy and attempted to collapse it, but the wind and accumulation of water in the slack material worked against us. After some deliberation and a few bright flashes of lightning, Rolf decided to let the dice roll, and we ran for our cars again. Fortunately, the canopy was tied to the bleachers, which ultimately prevented its escape, and the squall was short lived, dying down a short time later.
It has been very dry in the East this year, overall. The effects of the downpour were only temporary, as the grass and asphalt dried surprisingly quickly. The lingering breeze carried the new moisture and humidity away nearly as quickly as it had arrived. At this point, we would be home free as far as precipitation was concerned.
Attendance at Nicholson was suppressed by foreboding weather forecasts, but it also fell prey to other influences, not the least of which was the event’s unintentional juxtaposition with the VKA event in Newcastle, Indiana. Victims of yet another facet of the Northeast’s scheduling nightmares this year, “regulars” at VKA events in the Northeast had a dilemma: Do I go to Newcastle, or do I go to Chestertown? The draw of Newcastle is strong, and it drew away a significant number of drivers who might otherwise have been in attendance. So, we had to make some lemonade, as they say.
There were not enough drivers to fill out normal classes, so we had some decisions to make. How will we group the karts we have? What will the schedule be? Will we do a “3-lap Monte”? We gathered everyone together for an organizational meeting. We decided to form three groups. One would be Historic, one would be “everything else Rear”, and the third would be Sidewinders, with Perry Archer’s fast MC101D DAP scored separately from the Yamahas. Knowing that, with three groups, we’d be able to roll through the program quickly, we decided to schedule all three Heats for Saturday. As a group, we decided to do this “3-Lap Monte” together, and then continue to practice for the rest of Friday afternoon.
There may or may not have been some kind of reward offered to the winner of the 3-lap Monte. This motorsports game, as applied to vintage karting, was apparently the topic of conversations between Sal Palatucci and Kent Windham, as they brainstormed about new activities that could generate fresh energy at vintage events. It goes like this: Each driver has the track to him/herself for 1 warm-up lap, plus three timed laps. The goal is not top speed. The objective is to drive as consistently as possible, to minimize the difference between your fastest and slowest lap times. This allows every driver to compete on equal terms, despite disparate equipment. The contest draws the attention of the other drivers and spectators as each driver navigates the track, uninhibited by traffic. I, for one, really enjoyed this novel competition, and it seemed to be a hit with the others, as well. I remember thinking, while observing each mistake that I made during my first timed lap, “Okay… Now, do I do better on laps 2 and 3, or do I need to replicate my mistakes accurately???”. Others echoed this amusing trend towards self-analysis while at speed.
The results of the 3-lap Monte were surprising. Or were they??? The results ranged from a difference of just over ½ second to just over 1/10th of a second, the winner being none other than the activity’s co-creator, Sal Palatucci, with a variance of .110 seconds. Hmmmmmmm……… Suspicious! All joking aside, Sal had earned his reward, and a fun time was had by all. I would certainly recommend implementing this activity again at future events. The top three: 1) Sal Palatucci, 2) Jim Kauffman, 3) Kurt Bogerman.
The rest of Friday afternoon was earmarked for practice, and we each had our fill. After the engines were shut off for the day, many of us met together at a local restaurant called Harbor Shack, where we enjoyed good food, drinks, and camaraderie, while a local musical duo covered pop songs ranging from the 60s to today. We eventually retired to our various lodgings, in need of rest, yet looking forward to what Saturday would bring.
Saturday, as foretold by the weather prognosticators, was a fair day; Sunny and breezy and not too hot. The first couple of hours were largely spent making changes to gearing, making repairs, etc. You know the drill. We decided, at first, to continue test & tune and practice until lunch time, to give everyone, and especially some new arrivals, a chance to get sorted. We rolled through a couple of fifteen-minute sessions, alternating between Rear Engine Karts and Sidewinders. This is a “best practice”, no pun intended!
By about 11:15 am, practice activity on the track had gone idle, so, after polling the pits, the unanimous opinion was to let the Heats begin. Or… at least Heat 1… followed by lunch… then Heats 2 & 3 thereafter. The Heats were six laps each. The three groups: Rear, Sidewinders, and Historic Rear. We established the starting positions for Heat 1 by pea pick and by finishing position after that.
The Rear Engine group was comprised of karts that basically comply with VKA “Sportsman Rear”. The fiercest competition in this group was mainly between Paul Hunter and me in the second Heat. You know that harmonic sound that oscillates from ear to ear to let you know that someone is running nose to tail and urgently seeking a route around you? For me, that sound was Paul. Our karts were evenly matched – His, a Bug Sprint and mine, a Rupp Grand Prix. Mine, a cobbled together MC91B, and his, a stalwart 91B1, both with 1” Tillotson HLs and Horstman mufflers. Comparing notes later, he was geared 9/68, while my Margay gearbox was churning through a 7.4 gearset. As we approached the finish line, side by side, I was losing ground, but he ran out of racetrack, and I managed to win by a nose! At the end of the Third Heat, the Rear results were 1) Kurt Bogerman, 2) Paul Hunter, and 3) Bill Salvesen.
Our Sidewinder group had been particularly plundered by Newcastle. There were five entries: Four of us in Yamaha powered rigs, and Perry Archer, scored separately with his MC101D powered DAP. Perry, who has frequented Nicholson Speedway throughout his 46-year karting career, was smooth and fast. The rest of us, spaced out behind him, were having a blast driving go karts on a Saturday afternoon. At the end of the day, Perry Archer stood atop the podium in a class of his own. In Yamaha, the results were 1) Kurt Bogerman, 2) Jim Kauffman, and 3) Jonathan Fairoaks.
The Historic group featured closer competition than the other two classes, with less than a second separating the top three karts. I think we, as drivers, really get a kick out of these old karts, as they often seem to punch above their proverbial weight class. Fortunately, as close as we were running together, there were no incidents, and everyone went home in the same condition they arrived in. Except for Scott Kreiser’s WB820 head. That’ll need a Helicoil. The Historic group finished thusly: 1) Bill Salvesen, 2) Jonathan Fairoaks, 3) Kurt Bogerman.
While there wasn’t a formal kart show at this event, there was, however, a Promoter’s Choice Trophy. Chosen by the Nicholson Speedway staff, Ginny Hunter’s 1961, 5-port WB580 powered Fox kart was the Promoter’s Choice winner. Ginny’s Fox is a clean, reliable machine, and it looks great, both on the track and in a show!
As things wrapped up Saturday, we had enjoyed a great weekend of Vintage Karting fun. The staff at Nicholson was top notch as they bent over backwards to make us feel welcome. John Price and his team communicated with us continually and provided the very best experience possible. They want to get the word out that if we show up for a club race, they will accommodate vintage karts into their schedule. If you can ever get a few friends together, make the trip, I would definitely recommend it.
Next NE stop: Genesee Valley Kart Club, Avon, NY, July 27-29. See you there.
Photo credit: Rolf Hill