BATESVILLE, MS — Steering Wheel Nation/NIKC Photos — The 31st Annual O’Reilly Auto Parts National Indoor Kart Championship (ONIKC) gets the green flag Friday, November 26th at the Batesville Civic Center in the Mid-South’s Mississippi Delta region.
The National Indoor Kart Championship is the largest event the arena holds each year. A few thousand people converge on the grounds. Considering that the entire population of Batesville is less than 8,000, the race is a significant boost to the local economy.
ONIKC competitors have one single mission – to win a prized “slot”, the short name for the unique bronzed slot-machine replica trophy that is awarded to all race winners.
Many drivers have raced the ONIKC on their way up the ladder to major series. 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champ Ben Rhodes, Cup Series racer Ricky Stenhouse, Ty Majeski and Trevor Bayne, along with Kevin Swindell, Kraig Kinser, A.J. Foyt IV and even World of Outlaws legends Sammy Swindell and Donny Schatz have taken part in this event.
SETTING UP THE TRACK
This is not an ordinary go kart race. It takes a staff of over 40 people to put on this show. Preparations begin months in advance. JAM Promotions, headed up by event founder Lanier James along with son Shane and Scotty Reed, brings in highly-skilled staff members from across the country to work the event.
The ONIKC track crew brings in dirt to lay atop the arena floor, which then carefully forms and prepares the racing surface, complete with safety barriers against the outside wall. This event was the first indoor event to utilize the reflexive barriers, which “give” when struck and in many cases allow the kart to just bounce off and back into action.
All of the operations equipment including the safer barriers, scoring equipment, audio/video equipment, trailers/tents for race control and registration equipment are brought in from JAM’s home base in Memphis, TN. Much of the equipment comes in a giant 53 foot tractor trailer.
Watching the “load-in” is a bit like watching a rock concert’s “road crew” set up. It takes a lot of man hours and a passion for “the event” to get the track, the grid and the grounds ready for the racers to arrive on Thanksgiving day.
The “grid” is another unique feature due to the way the building is laid out. Racers line up under a giant tent outside on the grid, and then
when it’s their turn to race, they turn to their right, go down a ramp into the building (track area) and enter the track in turn four. They leave the track at the end of the back straightaway and go up the ramp to get back outside and return to their pit area.
THE ONIKC DIFFERENCE
Every racer gets a “gift bag” when they arrive at registration, filled with information and event souvenirs. Each day at the driver’s meeting, over $5000 in prizes are given to the competitors through lucky number drawings – kart chassis, tires, microwaves, tool sets, and bicycles are just a few of the many things a racer can win at these legendary meetings.
No other event does this.
Adding to the convenience for race teams is a set of 20 RV parking spots with electric and water hookups located right on the grounds. These come complete with picnic tables and grills for racers who wish to avoid hotel costs. Under-roof parking is also available, though limited, and sells out quickly each year.
Qualifying is difficult in many classes at Batesville, because only 10 karts are taken out of each of the two rounds to comprise a 20-kart starting lineup in each class. Often, racers find themselves being “bumped” out of the main event by just thousandths of a second!
Each race has a time limit, and those limits are strictly adhered to in order to keep the show moving for the spectators. It is up to the racers to race each other with respect and walk the racer’s edge as they do what it takes to win. Often times the line gets blurred in the closing laps as “racers have at it” reigns supreme and wheel-to-wheel action gets messy with the checkered flag in sight.
This race is the only kart race to have been shown on national television, gracing such networks as ESPN2, SpeedTV (now Fox Sports 1), and Versus among others, during its’storied 28-year history. The first NIKC was run in Memphis, TN, where it remained for many years until moving to a state-of-the-art arena in Tunica, MS in 2001.
That’s when I joined the traveling band of racing gypsies, and it was exciting to see us hit our first peak in the mid-2000’s at over 1500 entries. Eventually, the race moved to our current home in Batesville, Mississippi. It has continued to set the curve for kart race promotion to this day. Last year once again saw 1500+ entries fill the grounds.
For those who cannot make it to Batesville to see the National Indoor Kart Championship in person, a pay-per-view livestream webcast is available both days courtesy of Speed Sport TV and produced by Pit Row Media. Those wishing to watch can visit Pit Row’s website at www.pitrow.tv to purchase the stream. Pit row also produces a one-hour showcase of the event that airs on MAVtv the following spring courtesy of Speed Sport TV.
RACE DAYS ARE FULL
Practice starts at 8am central each day and two rounds are done by class. The driver’s meeting follows practice, usually around noon.
Qualifying gets underway within minutes of the driver’s meeting being completed, and then a short break for track preparation before the pre-race festivities.
Spectators and race teams can hear all the action on any FM radio on the grounds, as a low power FM transmitter is used to broadcast the PA system outside the arena. This helps keep the race teams apprised of which class is on-track and which ones are being called to the grid.
Race teams roll in on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, and parking in their assigned pit spots takes place on Thursday as the audio/video crew sets up their equipment in a 10×10 popup inside the arena preparing for the next day’s livestream broadcast.
Again, this is not your ordinary kart race.
The O’Reilly National Indoor Kart Championships is the longest running indoor kart race in the nation for dirt track kart racers. It’s more than a race. It is truly an “event”.
No other event gives back so much to the racers. No other event spends more time marketing and promoting itself inside and outside the industry. That’s why it’s the only major event in kart racing with an outside-the-industry title sponsor.
O’ Reilly Auto Parts knows that the kart racers are, quite literally, their customers. These are people who will go to the store and buy parts to fix their own cars. They also can buy their pit passes for this race at a discounted price by going into their local O’Reilly’s store. This saves them money and helps them avoid a line when they arrive!
Why do racers nationwide support this particular Thanksgiving event each year?
Let us count the reasons:
-42 classes gives racers lots of choices including several at $1000+ to win
-Pay-Per-View livestream both days and MAVtv national showcase after the event
-Gift bags given upon arrival
-Prize trailer at each day’s driver’s meeting with over $4000 in giveaways to racers
-Guaranteed rain or shine racing
-Fun kids activities on Thanksgiving, which have included dodgeball and cornhole
Racers also love the ONIKC each year because the track is a bit different every year and changes drastically at times from day to day, keeping the challenge intact to set up the kart correctly and drive it to track conditions.
If you’re a racer looking for the ultimate challenge, the O’Reilly Auto Parts National Indoor Kart Championship is all of that and more.
I am humbled and excited to once again be behind the microphone for the 21st straight year, talking until I basically can’t any more. I couldn’t think of a more exciting or enjoyable way to spend Thanksgiving weekend. Let’s go racing!