ON THE ROAD
Chump Car brings cheap thrills to Race City
Race City has been back in the news of late. The fate of the southeast Calgary track doesn’t look good, as the lease runs out on the venue at the end of 2011.
But that hasn’t stopped a rather unique event from booking the track and coming to the city — and that’s a bit of good news. Chump Car World Series has chosen May 21 and 22 as race dates, and enthusiast Anthony Kalcounis is convinced teams from Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest will flock to this Calgary event.
“There are teams out of Vancouver, eight or nine out of Edmonton, a couple out of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, at least one from Seattle and three or four from Spokane,” said Kalcounis.
The 35-year-old Calgarian is involved in vintage sports car competition with his Giant Killer Racing team (www.giantkillerracing.com). They run two well-prepared BMW 2002s in GT racing events in Western Canada.
However, in 2009 Kalcounis was asked by one of his team’s sponsors to partake in the first Chump Car World Series. He debated driving for Autosport Labs, and said he had no interest in “crap can” racing, as the vehicles in the series have been dubbed.
What is a Chump Car? Teams prepare a vehicle worth no more than $500 and make it race worthy with the addition of $2,000 to $3,000 worth of safety gear. Then, they have fun as the car is raced in an endurance event.
Chump Car’s website does a good job of summing it up (www. chumpcar.com): “Welcome to Chump Car — North America’s home for $500 race cars and 24hour endurance road racing. This series is for gear heads; for people who love driving and driving fast. It’s for grassroots race teams and almost-race-ready cars.
“Chump Car is a throwback to the era when racing was fun and cheap . . . when Bondo beat carbon-fibre; when a crescent wrench was the most valuable tool in your box; when homemade engineering made everyone sit up and take notice; and when adding a little theme to your car didn’t get you laughed out of the pit. Those were good times . . . and they’re back.”
Kalcounis changed his mind, and did get involved, and he hasn’t looked back. While he’s not officially connected with organizing the “Calgary Stampede” version of the Chump Car challenge, Kalcounis said he’s been getting two or three calls a week from interested racers — they’re asking him for advice. What kind of car would work well in Calgary? What’s the track like?
He’s happy to answer those questions and more about the grassroots style of racing fostered by the Chump Car challenge.
Kalcounis said a race team from Washington state has won multiple Chump Car events in an old Nissan Sentra. The car features a Star Wars theme, and they’ve mounted an R2D2 head to the roof. “They just don’t break down,” he said of the team’s Sentra.
About the theme part of Chump Car challenge — at last fall’s Portland International Raceway Halloween race, Kalcounis said a local coffee company bolted a cafe table and a chair to the roof of an old Volvo 240.
To the chair they strapped a female mannequin, who was ostensibly sipping a coffee. They raced around the track, and as the breeze rushed past the mannequin, she lost her clothing. But, as Kalcounis said, it was a unique marketing opportunity for the coffee manufacturer.
Calgary’s event will be a 14-hour enduro, with seven hours race time on Saturday, followed by seven on Sunday.
“Cars basically run the equivalent of a full season or more (during a Chump Car event),” Kalcounis said.
Most Chump Car challenges are 24-hour endurance races instead of the 14 hours of the Calgary version.
At past events, Kalcounis has been involved with Autosport Labs and their LabRat1 — an older Mazda Miata suited up with a pink rat tail. But for the Calgary event, he hopes his team can pull together a 1974 BMW 2002 powered by a 1989 BMW 325 engine.
The car, so far, hasn’t cost the team much more than the $200 invested in the purchase of the engine. Everything else has been close to free, including the BMW 2002 body shell.
For those interested in getting involved, a racing licence isn’t required. That means just about anyone who holds an Alberta Class 5 driver’s licence could compete in a Chump Car event.
Registration cut-off for the Calgary race is Feb. 21.
Check www.chumpcar.com for more details.