|November 22, 2012
|EKN Exclusive: 2012 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals - Team USA Profile - DD2 Masters
eKartingNews.com, the official online media partner of the United States Rotax Max Challenge, is proud to present the profiles of each member of Team USA, set to represent the Red, White, and Blue at the Kartodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao, Portugal on November 28-December 1. Expectations are high with 19 drivers competing in the four categories this year, a record high for Team USA. In addition, the MAXSpeed Group - the distributor of all Rotax karting products through the United States and Caribbean - has offered up a $10,000 bounty to the first driver to secure a Rotax Grand Finals title.
Over the next four days, with the help of Ken Johnson at Studio52.us and GoRotax.com, we will look at each of the 19 drivers that make up the 2012 Team USA for the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals. Full coverage can be found at the EKN EVENT PAGE.
The DD2 Masters roster for Team USA is the largest of the four groups with six carrying the Red, White, and Blue colors. While five of the six are making their first Rotax Grand Finals start, all have vast experience in the sport with numerous victories and championships from across the country. While this is only the third year the DD2 Masters category is competing as a single class, Curtis Cooksey was awarded the second place trophy for the category in 2008 when it ran within the DD2 division.
| Johnny Blair|
Hometown: Puyallup, WA
Johnny Blair qualified for Team USA this year by winning the Rotax Masters class at the 2012 United States Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals. As a driver in the Masters class, he has limited experience in the two-speed DD2 kart. However, through the help of his teammates and the help brought in from Europe at the Team USA test, Johnny was quickly up-to-speed in the regulation Haase chassis.
Johnny raced from the age of 12 but gave it up for many years while dedicating himself to his family flooring business. A few years ago he made the decision, with his wife’s blessing, to come back. Although he has had much success in his return to racing, he rates his win at the Grand Nationals and going to the Grand Finals as the best experiences so far.
Johnny has a huge support network back home. When his friends found out he had the opportunity to go to Portugal, but not a full budget to make the trip, they sprang into action to help out their friend. “I owe a huge thank you to my friends back home. Especially Greg Murphy who catered a BBQ for free to help raise money for me to travel to Portugal. I cannot let those people down,” he said.
| John Crow|
Hometown: Long Beach, CA
When asked what his goals were in racing, DD2 Masters competitor John Crow simply said, “This is it, to be on Team USA! I have achieved my goal.” He then added, “I can’t imagine a higher honor than to represent your country in a world championship.” Coming from someone who’s also won TaG Master championships at the SKUSA SuperNationals and Daytona KartWeek, that’s saying a lot. Crow earned his ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals with a fourth place finish at the US Rotax Grand Nationals back in August, competing there thanks to his championship at the Gatorz Challenge of the Americas.
Although he’s only been racing in the Rotax Max Challenge since 2006, John admits he’s raced “Whatever I can get my hands on” since he was 20-years-old. His resume includes many types of karts, late model stock cars and dirt modifieds, which he still competes in. When asked what draws him to the Rotax Max Challenge, he says he appreciates the level playing field and a formula that puts more emphasis on driver ability to win races. When not competing John stays active in the industry working at his father’s racing safety gear company, Crow Safety Gear.
John will be traveling to Portugal with long-time racing friend Brian Robson who he met years ago when they both worked for Simpson Safety Equipment. John credits Brian for convincing him to try to qualify for Team USA. He says he’s very grateful for the encouragement and that the two plan on going to Europe early to take in some other racing venues to truly make his Rotax Grand Finals experience a “trip of a lifetime”.
| Mike Jones|
Hometown: Sachse, TX
Mike Jones has been racing karts of all kinds for 35 years, and racing in Rotax Max competition since 2001. At this year’s Grand Finals, the 40-year-old from Sachse, TX is competing in DD2 Masters after having earned that right by winning the Rotax Pan American Challenge.
You cannot be involved in karting for over three decades without having a true passion for the sport. And Mike's passion recently led him to start his own kart shop and race track with his racing partner, Kevin Adds, in Caddo Mills, Texas (Dallas Karting Complex). It was there that Mike says he has his fondest memory from his years in karting, "I'll never forget the first time I saw a dozen kid karts competing at our track. To see these young kids with their enthusiasm for the sport we all love was very special."
This year’s Grand Finals will be Mike’s first experience as a member of Team USA and he’s looking forward to the challenge. “Going to the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals in Portugal is like a dream-come-true,” said the Texan. He added, “I’ve worked so hard for this opportunity, I really want to make the most of it for myself and those I’ve worked alongside who have supported my racing efforts.”
| Bill Lester|
Hometown: Windermere, FL
Bill Lester is making the trip with Team USA to Portugal this year to compete in his first Rotax Grand Finals. When he was eight years old, Bill’s father took him to see a race and his passion for motor sports was born. He has been around racing a long time, but, unlike most, his time in karting has come at the end of his driving career instead of the beginning.
At the age of 22, he started racing sports cars in the SCCA GT3 class. From there he worked his way up the ladder and eventually made a name for himself racing several classes in NASCAR competition. His racing resume includes the Nationwide Series, the Camping World Truck Series, and in 2006, he became only the third African American to compete in the Sprint Cup Series. In recent years, Bill has applied his talents behind the wheel of Daytona Prototype sports cars.
When asked what brought him to Rotax Max Challenge competition, he credited Ocala Gran Prix’s Jorge Arellano for the opportunity. Although his career path may have developed in a different fashion than most, Bill has gotten a lot out of his karting experience and agrees it has the most ‘bang for the buck’ of any motor sports opportunity. After showing he has the skills to compete at any level of competition through the years, and placing third at this year’s US Rotax Grand Nationals, Lester will definitely be one to watch at this year’s Grand Finals.
| Rene Martinelli|
Hometown: Tampa FL
Rene Martinelli has been racing karts since 1994 and is making his third trip to the Grand Finals. Rene was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and actually made his Rotax Grand Finals debut for Mexico in Egypt in 2009. However, after winning the Florida Winter Tour DD2 Masters title in 2011 he decided Team USA was a better fit for him because of its emphasis on teamwork. Now after placing second at this year’s US Rotax Grand Nationals, he’s back with Team USA.
When Rene was a teenager, he wanted to race moto cross, but broke his leg and was unable to ride. His father saw his passion for racing and thought a kart would be a safer bet. So, he bought Rene a Kali (CRG) kart with a Yamaha engine and from that moment on Rene has credited karting with much of his success in life. “I love racing. It motivates me to keep fit and takes away the stress of work,” says Rene.
These days Rene prefers to compete in the Rotax Max Challenge because, as he says, “It’s the only class in karting where you can directly measure yourself against the best in the world.” Rene is quick to point out he cold not have had the level of success without the support of his wife of eleven years, Gaby.
| Alan Rudolph|
Hometown: Gilbert, AZ
Alan Rudolph has been in karting for over 30 years. During that time he’s seen and raced everything from junior-class karts to fire-breathing 250cc superkarts. His resume is stacked with multiple championships, highlighted with five King of the Streets titles at the Rock Island Grand Prix, one of those aboard a kart of his own design (RBI). The Arizona driver earned his ticket to his first Rotax Grand Finals with the championship at the Florida Winter Tour.
During the Team USA test weekend at Ocala Gran Prix, Alan was named team captain and the choice couldn’t have been any better. The vast majority of young karters say they want to have a career in motor sports. In that respect, Alan is a great role model for the younger drivers since that’s exactly what he’s been doing in his own life. Currently he’s the General Manager and VP at the Bob Bondurant Racing School. He says it was there that he got interested in the Rotax Max Challenge. As Alan puts it, “To be honest, in the beginning I didn’t really pay much attention to Rotax. But, we’ve been using the motors in our school and they’ve performed flawlessly.” He added, “On the competition side, Rotax has a platform that is affordable, fair and extremely competitive. What more could you ask for in a formula?”
In his personal life, Alan has been married for 11 years. He and his wife are the proud parents of two girls and one son. So far the Rudolph children have yet to have the opportunity to watch Daddy race in person. But, hopefully that will change soon.