The Grand Go-Kart (& pizza) Tour 2016 – The Maestro’s Take Pt. 4 – Bushnell Motorsports Park. The Walhalla of Go Karting

As the doc and I left Northern Florida on that Monday morning, truth be told, we were kind of go-karted out at that point. At least I was. But Bushnell Motorsports Park was 1) on the way to where we were going and 2) had graciously let us come in on their day off. Turns out most GoKart tracks in Florida are closed on Mondays. We contacted a number of them, and Bushnell was the only one to get back to us.

So we got to the park, and even the parking lot was the best parking lot we’ve been to. The owners Bret (one T) and Rebecca (sp?) were there and they signed us right up and got us out on the track.

Before we get into the track though, I want to talk about what a class act place this is. Everything from the sign on the door, to the first-time-talk-through, to the quality of the karts, to the damn bathrooms, is first rate. Bret and Rebecca built this place from scratch. It’s clear that Bret’s family has a real love of racing. His dad (Bil?) was there and talked to the Doc about that, so, I’ll let Doc handle that part. But this place was kind of their dream, and everything is done with real attention and care.

Other things that make them unique: They have a froyo place. A FROYO place! I just got to try it the last time I was there, and it was delicious. And it’s a nice thing to have while you’re waiting for your heat to start up, and the place has a nice view of the track.

They have the architectural blueprints for the actual track lovingly displayed on the wall:

IMG_0615

more on this anon.

To the left of this picture is an architectural blueprint for a hypothetical track that (I’m assuming), the father wanted to build in 1979. It is accompanied by a sign that says “This is what we wanted to make happen in 1979.” And the above picture is accompanied by a sign that says “This is what DID happen in 2015.” Kind of a nice story. Also, the 2015 track is a huge improvement on the theoretical 1979 track.

They also have a mascot. Finley!

IMG_0612

Who’s a good go-kart mascot? That’s right. Finley is.

Such a sweet dog. I cannot speak highly enough of this dog.

They have very competent track marshals, Kyle, and Ryan. I hope the Doc has pics of them, because these are some great dudes. They know what’s going on. They pay attention to the track (because it can be damn dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing), and they’re very helpful at giving pointers to first timers.

But most importantly the place has Bret and Rebecca. You can tell this place is their baby, and they’re rightfully proud of it. The prices are reasonable, and the karts are great. You know a place is serious when the pedals are just little metal bars, and there are NO SEAT BELTS, which if you think about it makes sense. A seat belt isn’t gonna really help you if you get in an accident. If it’s a really bad accident (if Maestro mom is reading this, skip to the next paragraph) the car will probably explode into flames, and you’ll need to get out of there as quick as possible. So the no seat belts thing is actually a plus!

They have league nights, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to get out there for that yet.

So let’s talk about the track finally. Here it is:

bushnell overhead

There is a lot to unpack here. Settle in with a nice glass of wine, and let’s get started.

My eye was of course first drawn to the part that I’ve labeled “WTF,” because, seriously WTF, is there like a stop sign or stop light there? How in hell does the track cross over its own self?

“That’s a bridge and an underpass,” Rebecca explained.

MIND BLOWN!

Even the incredible Atlanta track which had over 40 feet of elevation changes didn’t have a bridge and an overpass. In fact, in all my gokarting experience, the only place that I’ve been to that had anything remotely like this was Speedway Indoor Karting in Indianapolis, which is a solid indoor track, but it’s still an indoor track.

Rebecca and Bret claim that this is the only outdoor track in North America that has a bridge and an underpass. Now that in and of itself is kind of cool, but it’s what the bridge sets up that is really incredible.

This is also the track with the most challenging sets of turns that I’ve been on. Most tracks you do and you can figure out that there are 2 maybe 3 turns that are gonna cause you to sweat, and the more you do it, you can narrow it down to 1 turn. This has easily 5 turns that I’m not solid on yet. But I am getting better. So let’s take the turns one by one.

When you first go out on the track you come out by turn # 6, so for our purposes we’ll start there. 6 is easy and you don’t need to take the foot off the gas if you’ve done 5 right. Before you get to #7 you’ll notice what looks like a series of little turns, but which in reality is just a chicane, but it’s a good chicane. You have to slow down at some point coming out of it if you’re going to have a prayer getting around #7.

#7 was and is the bane of my existence. Bret tells me that the secret to the track is “late apexes,” and nowhere is that more true than here and #2. I almost never nail #7, and part of the problem is that I’m so jazzed to be going through the chicane at top speed, that I never slow down enough, and I always turn too early. If you turn too early then you track out and go into the dirt, which a lot of people do.

A lot of this depends on your brakes. Even though I want a kart with really responsive brakes, when I get one, I can’t seem to handle it and usually spend half the race trying to figure out that sweet spot between slowing down and spinning out. When I had a kart with less responsive brakes I actually did better (see below), but with this turn I’ve got to remember to brake earlier (or at least come off the gas earlier), and turn later.

Which sets you up for # 8, which should be an easy turn, but again, you need to turn late. Much later than you think. This is the turn where more people end up in the dirt than any other turn. Even people who’ve clearly been there before. But it’s also the turn where, if you nail it, you can sail past people.

# 9 is no problem and you can sail right through it. # 10 is kind of tricky in that you don’t necessarily have to brake, but you do have to come off the gas, and you have to turn earlier than you think. If you turn too late you are in the dirt (actually this one is sand. I went so far off the track on Sunday and went through so much sand, that I’m still finding it in my shoes), if you turn too early it’s not going to be pleasant for other reasons, and you have to find the courage to really just gun it as soon as you’re coming around that corner.

A word about the curbs. Some places have curbs that you can and should ride on.Dallas Karting Complex comes to mind, as does Anderson Race Park, both of which will be covered in later editions of this pizza blog. What? you didn’t realize this was a blog about pizza?

But the curbs here remind me of the curbs at Gopro Motorplex at North Carolina which, I was warned, will “make your teeth rattle in your head” if you go on them. They are, for lack of a better word, “ribbed.” You know how if you drive just enough off the side of the road on the highway that the road has grooves in it to sort of shake you awake and say “hey buddy, get back on the road?” This is that x 1,000. I still can’t figure out if you’re supposed to drive on them, because it would seem like the right thing to do, you’d be using up more track, but at the same time, the grooves are so aggressive, that I can’t believe you’re not losing time on it. Have to ask Bret next time.

Anyway, I labeled #11 as an actual turn and not just a chicane, because I don’t think you can gun it all the way through. I have to take my foot off the gas just a little as I enter the beginning of the chicane, just to be able to make it through the next part and set up for #12 which is a turn I hate almost as much as I hate #7. I think again, the trick here is a late apex. Because more often than not I track out too far on this one, and there is a little grooved indentation at the end, which on a good day is filled with sand, and on a bad day is filled with water, and if you go off the track you’re either gonna get a fistful of sand or water in your underpants. It’s not pleasant. Also, it’s right before the transponder line (which measures your time), so you really want to nail this corner.

Now for the big boy stuff. You go around # 1 easily enough, and then start going up a damn hill. A HILL! And it’s not a small hill. But the most amazing thing about this hill is that as soon as you reach the top, you start descending and barreling toward what is easily the most scrotum-tightening turn in the whole track, #2. Because not only are you going downhill at full speed, but if you take this turn too easy (which EVERYBODY does) you will go off track into a wall of tires. I’ve seen 5 car pile ups at this turn. In fact, when they do league racing, I’m assuming that everyone lines up at the finish line right before #1, and then when they get the green flag they all take off from that point, which means, you can conceivably have 12 or 13 karts, going tip to tip, as fast as they can up and over the hill and into that turn. I can’t even imagine doing that, with that many other karts around.

This turn I feel like I’ve gotten much better at. You just have to turn late. And you have to turn so late that you feel like you’re going to go into the wall. It’s like a trust fall this damn turn. It’s not the hardest turn on the track, it’s just the most terrifying.

#3 and #4 I can get about 50% of the time. It requires a pretty early turn in on 3, and if you get it right, 4 kind of takes care of itself.

That leaves only #5 which should be pretty easy if you just tap on the brake enough to get you to smoothly go around it into #6. Although, now that I think about it, there is a big curb between #5 and #6, and if one didn’t brake between the two, one could conceivably go onto that cub, and use it as available road. Even though the ribbed grooves there are intense.

 

The first time I was there I got about 71 seconds as my best time. This last weekend I shaved it down to the low 68s, and that was with a kart with almost non-responsive brakes. But the fact that I had to really aggressively go at the brakes made me take the turns a lot more conservatively, which, at the end of the day, is what this is all about. No matter how fun it is to squeal around a turn, every time you do that, you’re losing 10ths of a second. Watching the best racers is so frustrating, because it looks like what they’re doing is boring. They’re smoothly going around the turns. No funny business, no hot dogging or burning rubber. Just business. And they’re damn consistent.

In closing I’ll say that if you are in central Florida, you’ve simply got to hit this track. And if you do, and if you are more courageous than I am and decide to use the curbs, just know that you might lose a filling or two.

 

 

 

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