Written By Tim Benz | Wednesday, July 24, 2019 6:15 a.m.
It could’ve been really bad.
A blow to the face after a Little League game. Right around the eye. He got knocked out.
“I was walking home, drinking my apple juice,” said Franklin Park’s Luca Mars, describing the worst injury of his life. “And a girl on the swings with cleats hit me right in the eye.”
The 13-year-old kart-racing champ lists that as his biggest mishap. Not one of his three racing-related ambulance trips, including the time he flew out of his car at high speed on the final turn and skidded across the pavement.
“I don’t know if my dad freaked out,” Mars said of his parents’ reactions to the spill. “My mom wasn’t there. But another time I crashed when my mom was there, and she flipped out.
Mars wasn’t rattled by the wreck. He was just mad he didn’t finish the race.
Cleated girls on swing sets at Little League fields? Different story
“So I guess that’s the justification,” laughed Brett Mars, Luca’s father.
Justifying — or embracing — the inherent dangers connected with auto racing is what has made Mars one of the fast-rising stars of the sport.
About to enter the eighth grade at Ingomar Middle School, Mars is making a name for himself in the racing community.
He won the 2017 Florida Winter Tour (Mini ROK), both the ROK and the SKUSA (Super Kart USA) Winter Series titles this February and the 2019 Florida Winter Tour Championship in Ocala last March.
Mars drives for Speed Concepts Racing. Mike Speed — whose son, Scott, raced on the Formula 1 circuit — formed the group. And he could tell Mars’ talent was special.
“A lot of these kids with talent, they are born with it,” Speed said. “He was one that you could tell. We just provide him with really good solid equipment and let him learn what he needs to do.”
Mars will race in the Rotax “Stars and Stripes Open” Aug. 2-4 at Wampum’s Pittsburgh International Race Complex.
“If he’s not one of the guys to beat, then we are doing something wrong with the equipment,” Speed said. “I do believe he is going to be one of the guys up front.”
If Mars’ car wins there, a ticket will be punched for him to participate in the ROK Cup Superfinal in October in Italy.
Mars finished sixth in that event last year in Brazil.
“I’ve been testing the car lately. I’ve been doing really good laps. I’ve learned a lot,” Mars said.
Mars’ father — who raced competitively as an adult — says his son’s consistency is what has allowed him to climb through the junior ranks.
“He finished in the top 3 about 88% of the time,” Brett Mars said. “It’s not about winning races. It’s about being consistent and not tearing up cars. So that’s the focus we put on. And it’s starting to reward.”
Mars has been driving since he was 6. He won the first race he entered. So he had some polish heading into the kart junior division, which is for 13- to 15-year-olds.
Having not yet hit his 14th birthday, Mars is already making waves against older drivers. And that hasn’t gone over so well. At times, he says, some older kids may have tried to wreck him out of spite.
“It doesn’t go over too well,” Mars said. “My first junior race, I was winning, and I got crashed.”
It’s not all track wars, trophies and globetrotting to exotic destinations for Mars. He admits missing up to 50 days of school isn’t as much fun as it sounds.
He’s relegated to playing a lot of catch-up for his assignments online and not getting to hang out with his friends as much as most 13-year-olds.
That balance could be even more difficult to strike as he moves up into the senior division, which corresponds with a more demanding high school course load.
Brett Mars says Luca’s career arc and the ability to mesh that with North Allegheny’s educational requirements will dictate whether he stays in the public school system. Or, he could go the private-school or home-school route.
But, pfft! C’mon! Details, details.
He gets to win money (sometimes) while driving 75 mph without a harness in 320-pound speed machines.
At 13 years old.
That’s three years before he can even approach 45 mph on McKnight Road as a regular licensed driver. That has to result in lots of street cred with your friends, right?
“It’s really cool, really fun,” Mars admitted.
A victory in Wampum in two weeks will give him bragging rights well beyond the halls of Ingomar Middle School.
He could boast all the way to Italy.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at email@example.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.
Luca Mars and his team on their practice sessions that took place Monday for the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Brazil!
November 26, 2018 ·
So finally we get to the action today! We rolled through the gates at 6:30 (easy to do here with a 4:30 sunrise!) for three rounds of practice - 15 minute recon session followed by two 8 minute sessions. Not a lot of time to learn a brand new track and a new kart plus get back in touch with an engine package that Luca hasn’t driven since summer - but we were ready for the challenge!
The initial session was very good with Luca starting in the back of the pack and picking off 15 or so racers and looking really comfortable & aggressive. Our tactics rarely change and giving Luca the green light to hunt is always the best way to gauge his comfort level and pace. He was solidly in the top five most of the session but the last few laps had him cutting through traffic so we never really got a flier once the track came in.
A few twists were thrown at us as the day wore on including wildly varying weather where it ranged from sprinkles to raging sunshine (I swear you can touch the sun from here if you jump high enough...) to deluges to cloudy/windy. You really never knew what you were going to get when you pushed off for grid and Mother Nature rarely skipped surprises. We had a light rain as we were sitting on grid for round two and then a downpour two groups before ours for round three. Shockingly the track dried amazingly fast both times and within a few laps the drivers were at full speed.
The second session saw Luca finish P9 and looking really solid but the third session we dropped way down the charts after trying something outside the box on the kart. As we always say - when testing it doesn’t matter if your changes work or not, only that you learn something from it. We learned that change kinda stunk...
A few interesting technical tidbits from the day - the first of which is rain tires and the fact that you only get one set of a very soft tire for the entire week of practice and racing. Definitely an exercise in judgement as we weighed the what-ifs and decided to run full dry setups with dry tires regardless of the circumstances so Luca could experience the track as the rain changed the surface or the surface dried during a race.
The other curveball was that the technical regulations changed on us midday. After testing and then preparing a kart utilizing all the awesome tuning tools that Praga gives you, we were told we were unable to change steering column & spindle pick up points or front & rear ride heights. Certainly not the end of the world but it did require a change of plan & direction on the fly.
These twists and turns are the hook that keeps us coming back for more though and we have a solid plan for tomorrow after some time with Andy’s nose in the laptop! We’ll be ready for three more rounds of practice starting at 8:00 tomorrow - remember, we are two hours ahead if you are following on Live Timing.
Sorry for the lack of travel/culture notes today but in the end this is what we came to do. No matter if it’s in the middle of an Indiana cornfield or a continent away a few steps from the sun, once we are on track it becomes a bit all consuming!
If you’d like to see Luca’s perspective on the event follow the Pittsburgh International Race Complex Instagram feed where they’ve allowed Luca to stage a takeover of their account! Thanks to the staff at our home town track for their support of Luca - very cool.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TRAFFORD, Pa -- Despite the disappointment of missing several races, the John Walko Racing team is preparing for the season's last three weekends, actively developing new drivers and supplementing the workload by getting back their roots consulting club teams and preparing vintage race cars.
But their main focus is on the 2009 Star Mazda Series Championship presented by Goodyear.
Current activities are centered on the rigorous testing, training and development, on and off the track, of the Filipino sister/brother team of Michele and Mark Bumgarner.
Michele Bumgarner, coined the "Asian Queen of Karting," currently fields the #43 Spectrum-OSO Asia, Petron Star Mazda and has won numerous Karting Championships, "Driver of the Year" awards and racing scholarships. At 18, her racing accomplishments earned her the acknowledgement as being one of the 7 most respected women in the Philippines.
"Michele is a real joy to work with, just because she really enjoys driving the racecar, and she gets quicker every time out and her results have shown it," John Walko said.
Her younger brother Mark, a rookie this year and recent podium-finisher in the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Championship Series presented by Mazda, plans to test and race with his sister, making a Star Mazda championship run in 2009.
Walko said Mark might race in a Star Mazda event by year's end, noting "he's shown a really good pace in the Skip Barber Series so far, and I think he'll be really easy to work with like Michele is."
Michele and Mark current: The Bumgarners have recently been in Indianapolis developing their racing careers with new manager Charlie Patterson, learning more about their off-track responsibilities by meeting with Indy Racing League teams and Firestone Indy Lights Series teams.
"I'm here with my brother and our new manager Charlie Patterson, just trying to get our names out there," said Michele.
"Charlie has been a really recognized face around Indy for over 40 years and he knows a lot of people," Michele said. "That's one thing about racing, who you know, and we're meeting them from Charlie, and it's going really well."
Additionally Michele and Mark are actively pursuing new sponsorship opportunities, "anywhere we can find different people for different things," said Michele.
"We're trying to take advantage of me being a female in Motorsports, and we're getting a lot of positive feedback, especially in the United States."
A female driver in a traditionally male-dominated sport offers JWR several new opportunities, but to have Michele work with female engineer Kate Gundlach could be the key to the team's success. "The relationship between her and her engineer has been building and getting stronger," Walko said.
JWR's main focus is on the Bumgarners, but the next few weeks will be dedicated to testing and developing other drivers. Currently there is another car being prepared for the New Jersey weekend, keeping the team focused and excited to be in the hunt for a win.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The start of each racing season typically offers several variables and unknowns. However for Trent Walko, the 2008 season opener was quite the opposite as for the first time since joining the WKA Manufacturer's Cup Series, he was returning to a track he knew and racing in a team setting that he was familiar with.
The combination of confidence, comfort level and maturity paid off for the North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania driver as he scored his first National win in the Cadet Junior Sportsman class on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway then followed up with two sixth place runs in Cadet and HPV Junior Sportsman on Sunday.
The weekend started well with a solid qualifying effort which put the young driver comfortably in the field of fifty-three entries.
"It was a little more comfortable knowing that I had been there and I knew the track. I qualified second which was good but the first turn at Daytona can be difficult to start from the outside and I lost a few spots at the beginning."
Walko's growing on-track maturity showed though as he never lost the lead draft and watched the heated battle at the front until the closing lap for his chance to move forward.
"The leaders were being pretty aggressive so I waited for a chance to take advantage of a mistake. They hit each other on the last lap and I was able to bump draft the third place kart by them and then get under the leader in the last turn. I had a good exit from the last turn and had them covered to the checkered flag."
Despite being eight hundred miles from home, the win turned out to be a popular one for the young driver who was one of twenty drivers in Daytona from his BeaveRun, his home track.
"It was a lot of fun; I was completely crowded after the race with all of the BeaveRun racers, all the guys from MRP and all my Nationals friends too. It was exciting!"
According to Trent's father John, this race was not only their most successful National event to date, it was one of the easiest. "I didn't have to do a lot to the kart; it was good from the start; tire pressure adjustments and slight rear width changes were about it. It was fast from the time we got there. I think finally with being our third year in nationals we are seeing tracks for the second time now since the series moves around so much. I think that was the big difference I saw, he was confident and remembered everything. "
While Saturday's win was obviously the highlight of the weekend, Sunday's results were also impressive, showing a new level of determination and perseverance.
"In the Sunday Cadet race he got bumped off at the start but gathered it back up and still managed a sixth place finish which should put him near the top of the Championship standings. By the time the HPV race was ready to start he had some pretty sore ribs that were making it hard to breath to the point where he wasn't sure if he could start. To tough it out and end up finishing sixth, even running as high as third at one point, showed a lot of determination."
After starting the Manufacturer's Cup season in such strong fashion, Trent was very appreciative of the help of many important people.
"I want to thank my dad, everyone at MRP, Chris & Tim Lobaugh especially, and Marc & John Zartarian from Hi-Rev Engineering. This was our best Nationals race yet thanks to all of these people. We had a lot of power and the engines were really perfect by the time the finals came around. Working closer with Chris this year helped our kart set-up. After the sessions we'd talk about the kart and they would come up with some new ideas we hadn't tried before. Those little things really helped the kart work good."
Trent's win on Saturday not only was a victory on the track but off the track as well. As a winner of one of four Junior class races on Saturday at Daytona, Trent earned the opportunity through Kids Racing for Kids to have $1000 donated in his name to Pat's Place, a child advocacy center in Charlotte, NC. Kids Racing for Kids was created to help abused children across the United States while instilling charitable values in young racers.
For more information on Pat's Place, or how you can help this cause, please visit www.patsplacecac.org.
Chris Lobaugh, MRP Engineer
"It's rare that you see a father/son, mechanic/driver relationship that works so well as with Trent and John Walko. They are totally focused on getting the chassis right, looking at the data, and improving Trent's racecraft which results in winning races. John and Trent are fierce competitors yet will gladly give the shirts off their backs in order to help someone either under the tent or on the grid. They are true sportsmen. Trent had an up and down year in 2007 where he showed speed at every event yet struggled a bit with some bad racing luck. I know that what we saw at the first round in Daytona is only the beginning of what Trent has in store for us in 2008 and look forward to the next WKA race in Charlotte, NC."
NORTH VERSAILLES, Pa., Oct. 28 - As part of its association with BeaveRun Motorsports Complex, Andersen Walko Racing conducted a two-day test at the track last week of two drivers who regularly compete in BeaveRun's karting series.
The pair, 28-year-old Brian McHattie of Poland, Ohio and 18-year-old Jennifer Williams of West Middlesex, Pa., drove one of Andersen Walko Racing's Formula SCCA cars.
Team co-owner John Walko said both completed 100 miles and both did very well. Although both are accomplished karters, it was the first time either had driven a formula race car.
It was also the first time the pair worked with engineers and had the advantage of information generated from a data acquisition system. AWR uses the Pi system exclusively.
"It was awesome," said Williams, a senior at West Middlesex Senior High School who raced karts on a dirt oval for eight years before switching to BeaveRun's asphalt track last year. "The handling was a lot better than my kart and it was a lot faster. It was easier to drive and to just go for it!"
When asked what was the biggest thing she learned, she said it was how to take advice from Walko and the other engineers. "I tried to do exactly what he told me to do to go faster, and it worked!" she said.
Williams added that she'd love to advance to car racing with AWR. "My dad raced go-karts when he was younger, and my mom used to race powder puff cars," she added.
McHattie, a sign maker by trade with Sign Pro in Borden, Ohio, has been racing go-karts since BeaveRun started its program a few years ago.
"Running the formula car was wonderful; the whole experience was great," McHattie said. "To be able to drive something with that much power and handling capacity was phenomenal."
McHattie said the biggest thing he noticed between the two different classes was the high level of concentration that the formula car demands. "You have to be more aware of what's around you, and not be complacent," he said.
McHattie said that he'd love to pursue car racing in the future, but a lack of finances holds him back. "I would give anything to be able to drive one of these things for even one race," he said of the FSCCA machine. "It would be phenomenal."
Walko said both drivers did a terrific job. "The track and our team try to pick the winners of the test objectively, and we try to choose people who have the potential to move up into cars if they can find the funding," he said. "It's a way to help the track's karting series, which is excellent. I think both Brian and Jennifer learned a lot about working with engineers and with a data acquisition system. They were able to experience what it's like to come in, make some changes to the car, and then go back out and feel those changes."
BeaveRun is primarily used as a motorsport training facility as well as a testing center for race cars, street cars, automotive components, karts, motorcycles and people's driving skills. The 384-acre facility features one of America's top asphalt sprint tracks, and it is considered to be one of the country's top-three karting centers. The facility was designed by Alan Wilson, an international motorsports designer and experienced racer.
The complex is less than three miles north of the Beaver Valley exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, only 40 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and less than 30 minutes from Pittsburgh International Airport.
It is also very close to AWR's shop in North Versailles, Pa. The team's administrative office is in Fairfield, N.J.
For more information on BeaveRun, please see www.beaveRun. com. For more information on Andersen Walko Racing, which will field multiple cars in Star Mazda and SCCA national and club events next year, please see www.andersenwalko.com
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