Mississippi Karters Association President Jeff Burkhalter (center) stands with racer Kinsly Burlson (left) and USF2000 and St. Louis’ World Racing League Sports Car Driver Evan Stamer (right) at an MKA racing event in Jackson, Miss. Photo courtesy Christy Kendall / Mississippi Karters Association

‘Everyone Is Family’: Mississippi Karters Encourage Young Racers, Prepare for New Season

Sitting in her parents’ lap, 5-year-old Christy Kendall held her hands fast to the steering wheel of the go-kart her family had rented for the day, maneuvering the vehicle at the south Florida track while her parents worked the pedals she was unable to reach. It was 1974, and the girl had discovered a life-long passion.

By the time she was 6, Kendall’s parents had bought a kart of their own after realizing how often they were paying to rent them. Then 6, Kendall learned to drive on her own in a parking lot in Davie, Fla., taking the wheel of a four-stroke 1975 Briggs and Stratton kart. Later the same year, her parents bought her a two-cycle ADC Motors kart, and she participated in her first race.

The Jackson Kart Track at Buddy Butts Park is purpose-built for go-kart racing, including the track’s length, turn radius and asphalt composition. Photo courtesy Christy Kendall / Mississippi Karters Association, Jackson Kart Track and Mississippi Karters Association

“It was exhilarating seeing just how much you have to multitask out there,” Kendall, now the administrator and vice president of the Mississippi Karters Association, told the Mississippi Free Press. “You have to pay attention to the sound of the engine, the workings of the clutch and the gears, and that’s a lot to take in when you’re young. You have to make sure you’re staying in your own lane as you go so you don’t cause an accident.”

Kendall didn’t win that first race when she was 6, though, although she first thought she did. “I remember thinking I’d won because I got to the checkered flag before anyone else,” Kendall said. “What actually happened was that I was a lap behind everyone else, and they had all gone around and passed me. It was a disappointing first experience for me, but it fired me up, and after that I started working hard to make sure I’d never be last again.”

The victories were still ahead.

‘We’ve Been Together Ever Since’

Christy Kendall began driving professionally in 1993 in an open-wheel dirt midget kart, making her debut on an asphalt track at Kil-Kare Raceway in Zennia, Ohio, after her family had moved to Akron. She had to retire from professional driving after falling off a horse and breaking her arm in 1999, but not before meeting her boyfriend Stewart Allen Cox at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Georgia in 1997.

Retired stock car racer and NASCAR driver Lake Speed organized the construction of the Jackson Kart Track in 1973 to support Jackson and local kart racing. Photo courtesy Christy Kendall / Mississippi Karters Association

“At the time, I was driving for Tyer’s Professional Auto Service in Clinton, (Miss.), and I met Allen at the hotel where I was meeting up with my crew,” Kendall said.

“Even though he was competing in a different class at the time, we hit it off and remained friends for years. Then one day in 2019 when he was traveling the country racing, he asked if I’d come and do some mechanic work for him. … Allen became the national karting champion that year, and we’ve been together ever since.”

Cox’s father, Stewart Allen Sr., was one of several Jackson metro residents who founded the Mississippi Karters Association in 1985, along with Pete Tyers, owner of Tyer’s Professional Auto Service in Clinton, Miss. The group came together to support and maintain the Jackson Kart Track at Buddy Butts Park in Jackson.

Lake Speed, a currently retired stock car racer and NASCAR driver who is also the son of former Jackson Mayor Leland Speed, organized the construction of the Jackson Kart Track in 1973 as a way to support and grow the sport in his hometown. Speed later went on to compete in the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile Karting World Championship in Le Mans, France, in 1978, where he became the first American to be named karting world champion.

Speed began his NASCAR career in 1979 and sold the track to the City of Jackson a few years later, leading to the MKA’s founding to maintain the track in his absence.

“When I was racing out there on the track with my dad and his friends back in the ’80s, it was always very hands-on, with everyone in the club doing whatever work needed to be done together,” Cox said. “I got bitten by the karting bug out there, and over the years I’ve seen so many people out there who had racing in their families like I did.”

“Everyone pitched in to keep things in optimal condition, whether it was maintaining the grounds, doing lap times for drivers ourselves, safety inspections or making sure the races were balanced,” he continued. “When you’re racing as part of a club, everyone is family. Even when it comes to national events it’s the same way, only with people from all around rather than locals.”

This graphic reflects the Mississippi Karting Association’s plan to update the Jackson Kart Track, which will feature wider racing lanes and new fencing, among other renovations. Photo courtesy Christy Kendall / Mississippi Karters Association

The track is located in the northeast corner of Buddy Butts Park in South Jackson, situated between Jackson, Clinton and Raymond, off Interstate 20. The track is roughly three-eighths of a mile and is a road-course-style sprint track, which means it is purpose-built for go-kart use down to the radius of the turns, the length of the track and even the asphalt composition.

“Your asphalt has to be agreeable with the specific tires used for go-karts to make sure that drivers can pitch their turns properly during competition,” Kendall said. “If you use an asphalt with a lot of tar or binder in it, it will be slick and adhere to the tires, which can rip them up. You need a composite mixture that’s conducive to racing surfaces so you can keep turns from being too tight while still being challenging. You want to be sure that a driver doesn’t carry too much speed in a turn and cause unsafe driving. We can’t manage all the risks on the track, but we can manage all of it that we can.”

Beth Burkhalter, daughter of Mississippi Karters Association President Jeff Burkhalter, squats near a go-kart to pose for a photo. Photo courtesy Christy Kendall / Mississippi Karters Association

Kendall took up her current position in the organization in 2021, shortly after the death of former MKA Vice President Jonathan Summerlin. As soon as she began, Kendall found herself dealing with an ongoing issue regarding a grant the organization had applied for from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

“They had applied for $68,000, but it quickly became apparent that we were going to need roughly $300,000 for vital maintenance work such as repaving the track surface, fencing the facility and keeping wildlife away from the track,” Kendall said. “I had to get in contact with MDWFP and explain our situation and the need to change what we had applied for. Because this is a paid motorized speedway open to the public, we face a lot of restrictions due to insurance and safety requirements.”

The Mississippi Karters Association is a state-recognized nonprofit that is entirely volunteer-operated. The organization holds annual elections for president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. The organization hosts races at least once per month, and the track is open to members at all times by appointment. Membership is $150 per year, with members getting reduced track entry and pit pass fees, as well as reduced rates for entry into fundraisers and other special events.

MKA hosts an annual barbecue fundraiser, a Memorial Day 30-lap “Mini Indy” event, swap meets at the track and “bring a friend” days where visitors bring covered dishes or donations for local food pantries. The organization is also involved in local cleanup events for the Mississippi River Basin Model in Jackson.

While Mississippi does not host any national go-karting events, MKA hosts its own local racing season, with races taking place at the Jackson Kart Track and at Rebel Raceway in Saltillo, Miss., farther north. MKA will hold this season’s first race on March 19, with 10 additional races to follow through the summer. Kendall and Cox also have plans in the works to expand the track’s operations and to bring national-style events to Jackson.

“Over the next 18 months we want to expand the pit area, put up a new observation deck, install a new scale facility and tech area and make other improvements we need to grow and bring more people here,” Kendall said.

“There aren’t any local dedicated karting tracks around besides us and Rebel Raceway—largely because when these tracks were built, go-karts were smaller and narrower and had shorter wheels. Now, karts are bigger, faster and wider, so we’re going to have to add more width to our track and have it expanded for faster karts. We want to make this into a national-caliber facility so that we can bring national events to our track and bring fresh revenue into Jackson.”

Members of the Jackson karting community gather for a meal. From left: Karen Kral, Martin Owens, Phil Clements, Christy Kendall and Stewart Allen Cox, with additional racers photobombing in the background. Photo courtesy Christy Kendall / Mississippi Karters Association

Due to a shortage of locally available parts for newer go-karts, Kendall and Cox started their own Kart shop called Drive Your Line in August 2021. The shop, which operates out of the Jackson Kart Track, sells chassis, motors, parts, oils, tires, wheels, gears and other karting essentials.

Karting in Jackson: ‘Do Your Homework’

Jeff Burkhalter, president of the Mississippi Karters Association, joined the organization in 2019 at a time when overall participation in karting was low in the state, he said. Since then, he and Kendall have focused on promoting karting for children and teenagers at the track and getting families involved in the sport.

“What people do need to know is that if you’re going to race and be competitive, you need to be devoted, and you need to invest and put in the work,” Burkhalter said. “With the right mechanic and work over the course of a season, tires will be the main thing to focus on for maintenance, as you might need two sets, even racing locally. Of course, you also need to keep things like oil, cleaner and wax in mind as well.”

Go-karts have engines measured in cubic centimeters, or “cc,” which refers to the volume of air and fuel mixture the engine takes in and combusts inside the engine cylinder, which in turn affects how fast the kart can traverse the track. Go-karts range from slower 50cc engines suitable for children up to roughly 125cc engines used in national level events. A used go-kart may sell for roughly $2,500, Burkhalter said, while new karts can range around $6,000.

Even though Mississippi is lacking in national-level events for competitive racers, karting does have its share of major events. National races take place in locations such as Daytona, Fla.; the GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, N.C.; the NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, La.; and the SuperKartsUSA SuperNationals and ProKart Challenge racing series in Las Vegas, Nev.

In honor of former Mississippi Karters Association Vice President Jonathan Summerlin, who passed away in August 2021, Summerlin’s daughter Bekah (left) and mother (right) presented current MKA President Jeff Burkhalter with the “Jonathan Summerlin Memorial Award” for his service to the organization. Photo courtesy Christy Kendall / Mississippi Karters Association

“I’ve been karting since I was 5 years old and am still going strong now even at age 56 with so much going on in my life,” Burkhalter said of his active racing career. “I bought new karts for myself and my daughters and started racing again just last year. Even in the midst of the pandemic we’ve still managed to get people out here, young people with no fear out there on the track and hungry to win.

“What really makes the racing community special, though, is that when everything is packed up and we’re off the track, we’re all friends, and even if you face failure along the way, you just have to go home and do your homework so you can come back and beat them at their own game,” Burkhalter advised.

The Mississippi Karters Association’s season opener will take place on March 19. Drive Your Line is open every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Racing at the Springridge Raceway is available by appointment only. For more information, call 601-667-0770 or visit misskarting.com.

Correction: This article originally erroneously referred to the Springridge Raceway as the “Jackson Kart Track,” which has since been corrected in all instances. The article also mistakenly listed the copyrighted name of the World Karting Association’s races when citing when a source said the MKA would like to host similar races. This mention has been omitted.

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