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Beaver Falls, PA 15010


Contact: Mark Bergfelt, Executive Director

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This article appeared in the Summer 2012 American Muscle Kart, Volume 5 Number 2. This article explains that the UAS is an attempt to preserve at least one type of motorsport that is as open as possible.

When I Was a Kid

by Mark Bergfelt, UAS Executive Director

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an Indy Car driver.  That might mostly be because that’s the type of auto racing I first learned about.Thatwas early 1960 something.  No one in my immediate or extended family was any kind of racer.  They had no idea where any race trackswere and if they did they never talked about it and they certainly did not want to listen to me when I began to talk about auto racing.
Everyone I knew growing up in inner-city Pittsburgh got the Pittsburgh Press.  It was once a really huge daily publication that does not exist anymore.  In the sports section it mostly covered the Pittsburgh Pirates, at a time when they were actually good, and the Steelers when they were remarkably bad.  As a kid, like other kids where I lived, I tried to play baseball but made a fool of myself.  I also tried to play touch football in the asphalt supermarket parking lot behind the row of houses where my family lived.  Although it was good exercise, that’s all I ever got.  If the ball was ever thrown to me I was so surprised that I usually dropped it.  I have to admit that I was a skinny geeky kid with really thick glasses at a time when they really were made of glass.

One day the Pittsburgh Press was just lying on the living room floor opened to a page that caught my eye.  It was early May, and I saw pictures and articles about these really cool race cars.  Like a lot of other young kids, I really didn’t care about the news much so for me looking through a newspaper was unusual.  There were stories about a guy named AJ that was switching from cars with the engine in the front to a new design that had the engine in the back.  There was a guy named Smokey that was known for building really unusual cars.  I remember a picture of a really tiny one where the driver sat beside the engine.  At the end of May, those stories pretty much disappeared from the paper although there was an occasional picture taken at another place called Heidelburg, a once storied race track near Pittsburgh that is now the site of a shopping center.

In school, my English class took regular excursions to the school library.  We were required to check out some book that interested us from time to time.  I kind of liked that.  There I discovered some books about the history of the Indianapolis 500.  In the pictures were the very old cars, most which sat up high and were bulky and not very sleek.  Some had bodies, some didn’t.  There were cars with diesel engines, and other engines with any number of cylinders.  The point is, they were all different.  Many were all very imaginative.  That was one of the most important aspects that at that time made the Indy 500 magical and special.  It was not just a race to see who the better driver was; it was an annual test to see who had the best ideas.

The coolest car I remember came a few years later.  It was built by a guy named Andy and driven by a guy with a name that guaranteed he would be a race car driver, Parnelli.  It had a turbine engine on the left side and the driver was seated on the right side. It was cool. I was really disappointed when I read the day after the race that the car dominated the entire event until a simple bearing let go and the car coasted to a stop.

The following year I learned a little about auto racing politics.  I read about how that car was so dominant, and how the other racers, who didn’t have enough imagination to figure out how to beat it, whined enough that the racing powers put some limits on cars with those types of engines.  That didn’t stop Andy.  He built a couple with smaller versions of the engine, stuck the engine in the back and got a guy named Mario to drive them.  I’ll never forget the pictures of Andy kissing Mario on the cheek in victory lane.  The jealous ones whined again and I later read that the racing powers banned, or at least seriously restricted, cars with that kind of engine.  I did not realize it at the time, but that was the beginning of the end of my infatuation with the spectacle known as the Indy 500.  A few years later, I quit cutting out clippings about that event from the Press for my scrap book.  All the cars started looking more and more the same in an effort to make it more “fair”.  What they accomplished for me was to make it BORING.  Fast forward to now, it seems that all of the cars just about have the same engine positioned in the rear of cars that all pretty much come out of the same mold.  I’m not an Indy car fan any more, at all.
Most of those who read this who are over 45 years old probably remember the “blue laws”.  There were actually laws that required businesses to be closed on Sunday.  I loved that.  On summer Sunday afternoons when it was too hot to play ball in that supermarket parking lot, that lot soon became my race track.

 I found another book in my schools library called Midget Motoring and Karting.  In that book there were pictures and diagrams of go-karts that were built from bed angle.  I knew were there was an old bed frame in my Dad’s garage so at the age of 12, armed with an old ¼ inch electric drill, a small bench vise a couple of wrenches, 7/16 and ½ inch in size and a hacksaw with some cheap worn out blades, in a basement work shop lit by a couple of bare light bulbs, I began the task of fabricating my first kart.  My dad, who wanted to reward my diligence, promised me that when I got the kart finished, he would get me an engine and the wheels.  Two years later he made good on that promise when we found someone who had a Briggs & Stratton powered reel type lawnmower that ran pretty good for $20.
I spent a lot of summer Sunday afternoons riding that kart every chance I could in the parking lot “race track”, at least until the police showed up.  I learned to limit the number of laps that I made at one time but all the while I was pretending to be racing at Indy with regular pits stops. 

Fast forward to now.  One of the things I believe that makes the Unlimited All-Stars of today so fascinating for so many people is that like the Indy cars of old, the karts are all so unique and different.  I used to think about what the Indy 500 would be like today if those in power had not banned or so severely limited Andy Granatelli’s turbine powered cars.  I still think about that. It’s a guiding principle for me. It is no accident that I have consistently made attempts to encourage the diversity of engines and karts in the UAS.  It is inspired by trying to avoid what happened to Indy cars, and I want the UAS machines raced today to be as diverse as the Indy cars of long ago.  That is the same spirit that I hoped to achieve in the UAS and what I hope will be maintained long into the future.  I further hope that the UAS Muscle Kart Grand Nationals will someday be the spectacle that draws a large crowd of spectators to not only come to see a race, but to see what kind of wild machines the guys dreamed up this year. 

From time to time, I’ll hear someone mention that what they like about the UAS is that it is a lot like the “old days” of kart racing.  It was as a time when in kart racing that I have heard described as, “If you ain’t got enough to win this week, go home and find yourself some more for next week. The point is, people who lost didn’t whine, so much when they lost.  I hear over and over again that is what many like the most about the UAS.  I’m going to do my best to keep it that way.  I don’t ever want to forget what happened to Indy.