Our View: Modesto and motorsports belong together

07/31/2014 5:40 PM

07/31/2014 5:41 PM

Some people believe the first two letters in Mo-desto stand for “motorsports.”

That’s because the town has an incredibly rich history of racing, riding and going fast. They even made a motorsports movie about this place – “American Graffiti.” Some people believe it was about music, sock hops and teen love. But at its heart, it was about fast cars and street racing. After all, the movie’s tough-guy hero, John Milner, was also the fastest guy around.

So it’s fitting that this weekend, street racing will reach a new level in Modesto. Knee level.

We are delighted to be hosting the SuperKarts! USA 2014 Pro Tour Summernationals – aka, Modesto Grand Prix – on our city streets. What the cars lack in height, they make up for in excitement.

Downtown Modesto has been transformed since Wednesday evening. Streets have been blocked off, a race course marked out on I Street; tents, booths and pavilions are set up, and a huge metal bridge has been erected in front of the Gallo Center. People have been scooting about town on four-wheelers, bicycles and motorized skateboards checking locations, testing equipment and setting up cameras.

The fun starts at 2 p.m. today with practice; racing goes from noon to 10:20 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15.

That gets you close to some of the fastest, most competitive little vehicles in all of racing. They weigh less than the typical man (165 pounds) and they’re powered by four-stroke engines that can unleash 48 horsepower.

That much power pushing that little weight means they can hit 100 mph in a straight – though there’s not much of that on the course. Going in a straight line is not what makes this exciting; their maneuverability is what sets go-karts apart. When drivers power them through a turn, a corner of the kart actually lifts off the ground. That means the driver is sliding through the turn as much as steering through. With other karts doing the same, it can get dicey.

Karts have had their share of racing greats through the years, including Jeff and Rick Belletto, sons of local stock-car legend Harry Belletto of Modesto. Each won national kart titles before moving on to bigger buggies. They’re a small part of our area’s racing legacy, which includes the world’s greatest motorcycle racer, Kenny Roberts; stock-car legend Jack McCoy, who founded McCoy Tires and raced in the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash; a host of drivers at 99 Speedway (Ken Boyd of Ceres, Dan Reed of Riverbank, Eric Holmes of Escalon) and sports-car racers like Chuck Billington and Tom Foster. Ernie Irvan, who won the Daytona 500 and 14 other top-tier NASCAR races, cut his teeth on go-karts then moved to Stanislaus County at age 15 to race at Stockton 99 Speedway.

There are too many racing greats to name here. Great racers and great racing have long been associated with Modesto. We hope the Modesto Grand Prix will just add to the list.

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