Wineka column: Millbridge Speedway attracts kids, families who love racing Outlaw Karts on dirt
Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 3, 2014
MILLBRIDGE — If you pay attention, NASCAR names such as Earnhardt, Bodine, Ambrose, Houston, McLaughlin, Hornaday and Kvapil often float through the air at Millbridge Speedway.
But the brief moments of reverence quickly give way to the grit of dirt-track racing where kids and families take center stage each Wednesday night.
The racing community — which in this area gravitates toward Mooresville — knows all about the Millbridge track, operated by Jeremy and Ashly Burnett, and how it’s becoming well known on the East Coast for Outlaw Sprint Karts and the Mini Outlaw Series.
“They say if you can drive an Outlaw Kart, you can drive almost anything,” Jeremy Burnett says.
The majority of trailers bringing carts to race at Millbridge Speedway have some kind of connection to NASCAR — whether its through drivers, mechanics, crew chiefs, pit reporters, body men, tire carriers or sponsors.
That’s why Wednesday nights and the track’s convenient location on N.C. 150 in Rowan County are perfect for the racing families. The latter days of the week are usually consumed and devoted to bigger races somewhere else.
“On any given night, you don’t know who will be out here,” says Bo Beeker, owner of Rowan Home Restoration and a sponsor of four Outlaw Kart drivers.
Travis Kvapil, a Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series driver, helps out with his 11-year-old son Carson’s Outlaw Kart. Carson also drives Bandit cars.
“It’s great for a young driver to learn car control,” Kvapil says of coming to Millbridge Speedway’s dirt track. “He loves being able to slide around a little bit.”
For sheer entertainment value, however, Millbridge Speedway on N.C. 150 remains a well-kept secret to the general public. The Burnetts want to change that.
Ashly Burnett thinks local residents could find bringing their families here as much fun and similar in cost as going to the movies.
“The big thing is family,” Ashly says. “I want families to come try it out. Even if they don’t like racing, they’ll still be entertained.”
Where else might you see Jimmy Elledge racing against his 13-year-old daughter, Karsyn, in the open division of the Mini Outlaw Sprint Karts, which can reach speeds of 70 to 75 mph around the 1/6th-mile oval?
“He races me like everyone else, unfortunately,” complains Karsyn, granddaughter to the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. and niece to Dale Jr. “… I’m just known as the pink car.”
Driving a Nickelodean-sponsored Outlaw Kart, which carries her late grandfather’s famed No. 3, Karsyn undersells herself a little bit.
She is currently third in Open class points at Millbridge, and the rising ninth-grader proved her mettle in the past by lighting up the Box Stock and Intermediate divisions. Karsyn has been approved for driving in the Open division at a younger age than most.
Likewise, Dylan Smith, 14, also is among the younger competitors in the Open division. His mother, Tammie Smith, says the close racing among the Mini Outlaw Karts, the speeds, the sliding and quick maneuverability among racers can be scary for a parent.
But she also thinks the Outlaw Sprint Karts teach the kids a lot about racing. “He loves dirt,” says Tammie, who works in Concord for former Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie’s The Joie of Seating, which makes custom seats for NASCAR rides.
Mike Parkhurst, vice president of sales for Bad Boy Buggies, drives three hours from the company headquarters in Augusta, Ga., with his daughter, Ahnna, and her Ollie’s Bargain Barn-sponsored car.
Parkhurst, whose company sponsors drivers such as Kevin Harvick and Austin and Ty Dillon, says he appreciates the safety built into Outlaw Karts. The wing on top makes the cars grab the track. The cars have roll cages, full-size seats and five-point safety harnesses.
Ahnna Parkhurst likes how quickly you can move and change position on the dirt track.
“It’s fun,” she says. “You can bump around, but if you get a little loose you can keep going.”
Kathi and Brett Bodine are all in with Outlaw Karts, heading the Toro team cars for sons Eli, 8, and Alex, 13.
“We do this as a family,” Brett says. “I can be their racing coach.”
Kathi Bodine says Outlaw Karts are affordable and, for the kids, fun to race. She repeats Jeremy Burnett when she says once you learn to race Outlaw Karts on the dirt, you can drive anything.
“It’s fun, and you get to race against your friends,” Eli Bodine says.
Brett Bodine works for NASCAR’s research and development center in Concord and drives the pace car for the Cup Series. He says he appreciates the hard work the Burnetts have put into the Millbridge Speedway because his father and grandfather started as track promoters in 1949.
Since taking over the Millbridge Speedway in 2011, Jeremy and Ashly Burnett have tried to transform the venue into a premier Mini Outlaw Series track.
They added new lights, walls and billboards, while also reconfiguring the track and stepping up their promotions. Several hundred people are now showing up on a typical race night.
In May, MAV TV’s Speed Sport Challenge broadcast its first Mini Outlaw Karts Open event from Millbridge Speedway and recorded its second highest rated show ever. That event, with 54 entries in the Open division, drew a crowd of more than 1,000 people and required shuttles of spectators to and from Locke Fire Department.
Outlaw Karts and Wednesday nights are the track’s bread and butter, but the Burnetts also have Saturday racing and offer competitions in other categories such as Legend cars, Micros, Lawn Mowers, Mini Cup cars and more.
The Burnetts know their growth potential is through families and making it easy for children to have fun on the track and learn racing from the ground up — everything from flags, passing and cautions to heeding communications from the race tower.
Millbridge Speedway offers racing for 5- to 8-year-olds (Beginner Box Stock and Box Stock), 9 to 14 (Box Stock and Intermediate) and Open, which includes teens and adults. Basically, drivers from 4 to 40 are competing.
Outlaw Karts have a power-to-weight ratio that’s closest to Sprint cars. Again, the wings create a down force that allows drivers to reach higher speeds with more control.
The Open class features carts with the most power — 500cc engines of 80 to 90 horsepower.
Jeremy and Ashly Burnett, who are only 29 and 28, respectively, have put everything into making the track a success. They recently located a new modular home on the 14-acre site and perform all the major duties around the track, except for race days when they hire several people to help, and others volunteer.
The Burnetts also are hosts for a year-end banquet, recognizing the champions in each division. They have help from JR Motorsports in keeping their website (minioutlawseries.com) up to date through the year, and each racing night, they hand out about 18 trophies to top finishers among the classes.
Jeremy has become a quasi meteorologist and has at least five weather apps on his smart phone. Weather updates are posted on the track’s Facebook page.
Ashly conducts the drivers’ meeting before the qualifying heats and races start. During racing, she serves as race director, keeping things flowing and is in one-way communication to all the drivers from the tower.
Jeremy prepares the track and does a lot of troubleshooting throughout the night. Meanwhile, the couple take turns looking after their 5-week-old son, Mason, with a lot of help on race night from friends and family.
“It’s pretty busy,” Ashly says, smiling at the understatement.
Some folks with no connection at all to racing come to Millbridge Speedway regularly just as spectators.
They sit in the bleachers or on their own lawn chairs, watch the swarm of children chase candy dropped from the top of the race tower or stop by the concession stand for chili cheese fries.
“This is a good speedway for the kids — it really, really is,” says Bob Racey, who adds, “Isn’t that a helluva name to have at a racetrack?”
As a retired coach and transplant from central New York, Racey says he likes how the Outlaw Kart racing at the Millbridge track tries to build character and a good attitude among the younger competitors.
“To me, attitude is everything,” he says, “whether it’s in racing or anything else.”
Rick and Connie Goodman of Kannapolis like to sit outside Turn 1, until the end of the night when the speeds from the Open division cars stir up too much dirt.
Rick Goodman says there is some decent racing in some of the Outlaw Kart races, and he should know — Goodman is a racing fanatic.
Since 1971, when he started keeping a record, Goodman has taken in 3,833 different racing events, from go-karts to Sprint Cup.
“This is my 66th race this year and third this week,” Goodman says on this particular night.
Bo Beeker of Rowan Home Restoration describes himself as “just an idiot” who loves racing. One of the young drivers Beeker provides a car for is Blake Cisneros, a 10-year-old Texas driver who is spending the summer here, driving both Outlaw Karts and Bandits.
Though he doesn’t have any children of his own competing, Beeker says he just enjoys being around the sport. He appreciates the family environment and the “great people” involved in this country track.
“No drama,” Beeker says.
Gavan Boschele, 6, and his family are a little unusual at the Millbridge Speedway because their racing team has no connections to NASCAR or ARCA.
That hasn’t kept Gavan, a Mooresville resident, from winning. This past Wednesday night, he won another Beginner Box Stock race. He leads in points, although he’s almost always competing against boys and girls much older than he is.
He actually started racing when he wasn’t quite 4 years old.
“Dad works on the car really hard,” Gavan says, trying to explain why he’s successful. His father, Kris Boschele, gives more of the credit to their friend Rob Cunningham.
After his victory, Gavan carried the checkered flag in his cart for a lap around the track. Then he did some doughnuts in the infield before posing with friends and family for a photograph in Victory Lane.
“You build memories,” his mother, Natalie Boschele, says of coming to a place such as Millbridge Speedway. “They race, and then they go play.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.