|EKN One on One: Alan Rudolph
| The stylish and fast Alan Rudolph|
As a young karter in the late 90s, attracted to the many karting magazines that were circulating every month, there was one name that I typically saw either on the cover or inside the publication for winning a race. That name was Alan Rudolph.
The ageless Rudolph is considered by many as one of the best karters ever in North America. Winning in nearly every type of karting discipline, Rudolph is known to be a cool and calculating driver capable of victory every time he sits in the seat. From the King of the Streets, SKUSA ProMoto Tour, Stars of Karting, or back to his roots at Quincy in the Park and the Elkhart Grand Prix to his experience in car racing programs, Rudolph has amassed an impressive CV that not many others around the world can match.
This past year, Rudolph took a step back from karting on the national scene, focusing on more time with his family, work, and just karting when he wants to. We were able to track him down with some questions regarding his past, the recent years, and just really, "who is Alan Rudolph".
eKartingNews.com: First off, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Alan Rudolph: No problem, it’s my pleasure.
EKN: For those who do not know you, how and when did you get into karting?
AR: I started karting when I was 6 or 7. My first kart was one that my dad had built for fun. My first race kart we got on trade from some guy my dad did work for. Didn't really even know what we were getting except it was a cool kart with a 100cc Yamaha engine. We owned an automotive shop and a guy needed a new engine for his car, but he didn't have any money so he traded this racing go-kart for it. I was nine when I did my first race and by today's standards, that was kind of old. It was at a little asphalt kidney bean oval in Illinois in the Jr. 2-cycle class running a KT-100 Yamaha.
| Rudolph, seen here on the left in a SMC Axle Clutch ad, was very marketable early on in his career|
EKN: What are some of your best memories during your early karting years?
AR: Best memories, that is really tough actually. Growing up racing local dirt tracks, winning twice at Daytona KartWeek on the big track in the sprint sit-up class, street racing with PKA, Quincy Park wins, especially the Miller Mile race were they did a Calcutta and Keith Freber from Margay bid $400 for me and I won the race. The best part is that I wasn't even driving a Margay, so Keith had bid on me over his guys, Scott Evans and Scott Sellergren.
EKN: I hear a lot of stories about Quincy in the Park and the many trees and walls that lined the track. Your first wins there was in 1993 in Yamaha Stock Light and Yamaha Stock Medium. Now, I’m not trying to date yourself, but was that your first year there and what were your first thoughts when you saw the track?
AR: That's some good history fact finding there on your part. I really don't remember what year it was to be honest. What I do remember is going there watching and couldn't wait to be 16 (years old) so I could drive on the circuit. It's funny, as a racer I never really looked at it as scary, just this awesome, crazy ass place I wanted to race. It was truly the most ballsy place ever to race at. I saw more people getting hurt there than anywhere else all put together. But it was this iconic place that you just had to race. I raced there with guys like Scott Pruett, Alex Barron, Mark Dismore, Jamie McMurray, and many others because it was just that one place that as a racer you had to experience. I think when I stopped going there I was third or fourth with the most victory's there behind Terry Traeder, Scott Evans, and Scott Sellergren.
EKN: Well, you ended up tied for 10th in the win standings with a total of five - two in ’03, two in ’04, and then the King of the Streets victory in 1999. That was your first KoS crown, earned after Joe Janowski scored the first in Oklahoma in ‘98. What was it like to win that particular race?
AR: Any win at the Park was a big one. I would argue that winning the Miller Mile there was bigger for sure. That's a race that only past winners could be in so it was the best of the best. That first King of the Streets race really didn't have that many people in it, but Bob Bondurant had come to the race to watch so it made it that much more special.
EKN: Was that the first time you had met Bob Bondurant?
AR: Bob and I met at the Formula C World Championships at Charlotte in 1998.
| His first King of the Streets title came in 1999 at Quincy in the Park Grand Prix|
EKN: Can you explain briefly what your relationship with Bob has done for you as a driver and a person?
AR: As a driver, maybe not so much. Other than this year when I told him I was going to stop racing karts at the level I had been doing it, he suggested not saying anything about retiring because you never know when something will pop up. With regard to our relationship, all I can say is he is more of a friend than a boss. Because of his racing background, Bob has a huge amount of respect for me because of own career history. At the end of the day, Bob is a racer and has a love for racing as much as his love for the school. He has given me a great opportunity here to run the school and basically build it into whatever I can. Because of this, I have become more of a business owner kind of a guy than I ever thought I would be.
EKN: Describe your day-to-day activities at the Bob Bondurant SuperKart School and any special ‘students’ that you have had over the years.
AR: They always say in business that the further up the ladder you go the less you do. Physically, I would say that's true here for me. I used to teach a lot of classes, work with large groups, and help prep karts, if needed. That has now been replaced with meetings. So less physical work, but way more stuff to do. As Vice President and General Manager, it's my responsibility to assure the future of this company. So it's a lot of planning for future business, and how we can grow the company, I call this ‘building new ships’. You always want to be building new ships. Additionally, it's not just the kart school. Basically, there is Bob, President Ken Thom, Vice President Veronica Miller, and myself who run the company. That's everything from the marketing, sales and programs we do, and the growth of the company, whatever that may be. I know that's kind of vague, but at this time I am working on three or four things that insure the future of this company, not the day to day teaching of classes.
Special students of mine? The list is very interesting for sure. For example, actual students have ranged from NASCAR legend Bill Elliott and his son Chase, to skateboarder Bucky Lasik, and Sal Masekela (ESPN X Games host), ABC News host Peter Jennings, and a Victoria Secret model (editors note: WOW!). Then there are guys like Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the entire #48 team that will be here with me next week having some fun, which they have done the last two years and then won the championship. Also, we do special events like the Cadillac Celebrity Grand Prix that I host every year the day before the Super Bowl, were ever that is. So I have met many cool celebs like Ice Cube, Jamie Foxx, Leann Tweeden, Nick Lachey, Paris and Nicky Hilton, Vivica Fox, Fergie, Queen Latifa, Adam Carolla, Jimmy Kimmel and many others. Also I hosted an episode of the Amazing Race. (http://www.bondurantsuperkarts.com/vids/amazingrace_final.wmv) There is no other business like this one were you can do so much.
| His second King of the Streets win came at the Rock Island Grand Prix in 2000, ahead of rising star Bobby Wilson (l) and '99 winner Joe Janowski|
EKN: Getting back to your racing career, some of my first memories of you are seeing coverage of street races such as the Elkhart Grand Prix and Quincy in the Park. Is it being fearless or just very calculated that make you such a great street racer?
AR: Honestly, both! If you ever have fear while racing, you will not be fast. Calculated was and still is the key to finishing and finishing well, because you could be a ‘Bobby Wilson’ and be fast, but then crash half the time.
EKN: During your tenure in gaining multiple wins on the street courses, you ran everything from 4-cycle, 2-cycle and then eventually 125cc shifters. Did starting in the ‘clutch’ karts help the transition to the shifter ranks?
AR: The short answer to your question is 'yes', it definitely helps driving non-shifters first. That is what I preach today; do not start out in shifters. Learn now to be smooth, carry momentum, be on the right line, and race craft in something without power and you will be much better in a shifter.
EKN: Why have you continued to race karts? Is it the passion for the speed or is karting just part of who you are?
AR: Wow, great question. It is who I am, for sure, and my passion as well. I have always done karting because I love it and the fierce competition. No other form of racing that I have done is as intense as karting, both from the physical and mental aspect. Also, karting has always been the means to something else in motorsports. The problem there is if you don't have a rich dad or land a sponsor your chances are much less likely for that to happen. I guess my destiny was to end up at Bondurant and be able to give back to karting through teaching what I do.
| Probably one of the most recognized images of Rudolph after winning his third straight King of the Streets|
EKN: You have open wheel experience, competing in Skip Barber and Star Mazda, along with some sports car seat time. What did you take from competing in those programs?
AR: That is a tough one, what did I take from those programs? Skip Barber, pretty good training series, but for them it's all about two things. One: Volume, getting as many guys through as they can to make money. Which I don't blame them for, we all want to make money. Two: Find the next AJ, or Michael Andretti, so they can say "go where the pros go". And truthfully, those cars are all so different that if your not one of the chosen ones ,then it's hard to win because you won't be in the good car.
Star Mazda ROCKS!! Great series, very competitive and Mazda is one of the few manufacturers that understands motorsport. This is a real place for a young guy to make a mark. What I would say is that it's vital to be with a good team and the best engineer or you will not win. I was also lucky enough to race in the Petit LeMans in LMP2 in 2003 and that was awesome. Today, however, you MUST be with a factory team or you will never win. My ultimate dream would be racing in sports cars of some kind, LMP1 or 2, a Daytona Prototype, or something like that.
EKN: Throughout the years, you’ve raced against some of the best there is in karting, many of which have moved on to the upper echelon of the motorsports ladder. Of those numerous drivers you have raced against in the past, who is your favorite rival/competitor that you smile about each time you hit the track together?
AR: That is a tough question because I think it depends on the year, there has been so many. Back in the day, it was guys like Scott Sellergren, Scott Evens, and the Engle brothers (Jason and Turk). Then you move through the years and the different series and it's guys like Memo Gidley, Darren Elliott, Michael Valiante, Scott and Alex Speed, Jordy Vorrath, David Jurca, Bobby Wilson, and Gary Carlton. All of which I have a high regard for their driving ability. All of these guys were at some point on the top of their game for a couple of years and I had the pleasure of racing with all of them. So I guess to your question, who was my favorite rival? That would depend on who was hot that year because that's who you wanted to beat. If you asked me who I thought was the best karter I have raced with, I would have to say Michael Valiante.
| Rudolph has nearly driven everything, seen here during a NASCAR Truck test with legend Bill Elliott|
EKN: I know your age has been the best kept secret in karting but what is it like racing against basically drivers young enough to be your son, allegedly? (Laughing)
AR: It's awesome, especially when I get done with a race and am in better condition than some of the younger guys. After a long race at a track like Shawano, Moran, Norman, or the toughest ever, Pats Acres, you can tell who is in shape and who is not. What I have said for the last few years is, I have been racing for longer than these kids have been alive, now that is scary.
EKN: One question that ponders many of the people who see you around the track is how you keep your hair looking so damn good all the time? Do you ever have helmet hair?
AR: (Laughing) Now that is a funny question and an industry secret much like my age. Never helmet head, gotta look good for the all the cameras and fans we have at the kart races. (Laughing) It's all in the preparation and what you do right after you take off the helmet when your sweating.
EKN: Speaking of preparation, over the past few years, you have had the privileged of designing temporary tracks, including the SuperNationals track at the Sam Boyd Stadium. Using the many different tracks you have competed on, what does it take to make a good kart track for racing?
AR: Passing zones…most tracks, even permanent ones, don't have enough passing zones, usually four. My tracks have seven or so. Then you need a variety of turns like increasing, decreasing, 90 degree, and 180's. Like a New Castle. And NEVER, NEVER a chicane. No matter how many times I have told the officials they just don't get it. A chicane becomes a crash zone and one lane, and never slows them down like they are trying to do and then it eliminates a passing zone at the next turn.
| It was an emotional victory in 2006 at the RIGP in the final race with RBI and good friend Richard Buxman (l)|
EKN: You mention New Castle as a good track, but what are your top-five tracks of all time?
AR: It's actually an interesting question as I think about this because they are all good for very different reasons. In no particular order:
Shawano - Very technical, lots of elevation, and many passing opportunities
Grand Junction - Very smooth, fast, and many passing opportunities
New Castle - Long, smooth, some elevation, good passing and a great facility
Norman - Very physical, lots of grip, the way the track winds into itself and then unwinds, all of which makes it technical
Quincy Park - This track is like no other, very fast, very dangerous, lots of elevation, need to drive it on the edge, absolutely crazy and not for everyone
EKN: Looking back at your career, you have competed on numerous brands of chassis, the most recent being RBI, First Kart and Tony Kart. Is there a chassis out there you haven’t driven?
EKN: In July, you had an opportunity to race at the Road America Super Nationals aboard a PVP/BRC 250 Twin Cylinder 250cc Superkart. Your best lap time was a 2:14 with Riley Will of BRC quoting to us that you guys had a 2:13 and maybe a 2:12 in it. What is it like to go that fast and what does the future hold for Alan Rudolph in karting?
AR: The 250 is an awesome ride like no other. At Road America, the official time was 2:14:2, but in morning warm-up I went a 2:13:6 on used tires, probably had a 2:12, no problem. To give you an idea, Ben Spies in AMA Superbike was on pole this year with a 2:12, my lap time would have put me like 8th on the grid for super bike.
Future karting for me? That is a great question. I am done racing at the level I have been for so many years, meaning Stars or what ever the next super series is. I am smart enough to know that doing one-off races like the SuperNats would be a disaster if I am not racing at that level all year, and I would not be happy schlepping around in 10th. Oh and a foot note for those who are wondering, I will never race G1, for the record. I have been racing karts for the love of the sport and it has always been the means to something else. And the fact is if you don't have money that something else is very difficult at best to achieve. So the moral to that story is that I am done racing karts at the level I have been doing it. I just want to have some fun now with my family and race a few select races rather it be my 250 or in some other kind of car.
I am planning on working with Phil DeLaO as he progresses up the ladder, which will result in me doing some car racing with him. So you never know were or what I might be racing. Driving is in the blood and that's not something you can just turn off. My son is now three years old, so in a couple years it will start all over again as long as it's something he wants to do and is good at.
| The 2007 RIGP win 'could' be the final time we see Rudolph take the victory lap|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: The G1 issue was my next question, so I’m glad to see you addressed that before I could ask (laughing). Speaking of your family, what are you like away from the racetrack and what does your family do for fun?
AR: Away from the track is exactly that. When I am home, it is game on, 'Super Dad' time. Between the girls doing cheer, gymnastics, and chasing the little man around, that is a full-time deal. The girls, Alyssa and Ashley, are doing something every night of the week, so it's a lot of running around. At this point, Aden ‘little man’ is just turning three, so we are about two years away from having him behind the wheel of a real kart. He does have an electric powered NASCAR and drives the shit out of that already. Living in Phoenix, we have great weather most of the year so we spend a lot of time pool-side, pretty much from April until October. We are a beach kind of family, so at least twice a year we vacation to a beach somewhere and or go back home to the St. Louis area to the Lake of the Ozarks for some water skiing, boating, and fishing. And in a good year, my wife Jessica and I get an adult vacation without kids. This year was Jamaica with my brother and his wife.
EKN: It’s always great to see you and your dad working together, turning wrenches and enjoy time together at the track. What does it mean having your dad with you at the grid each time and the first to congratulate you after a victory?
AR: That's the great thing about this sport, family time. My parents have always been there and I wouldn't have it any other way. My dad gets as much, or more joy out of me winning or doing well as I do. I think he has even shed a tear or two at certain big wins like the last two King of the Streets wins. Those are the times I will remember and share with my son.
Now being a father myself and knowing how big of a sacrifice my parents made it really blows me away. We drove across country in our van and trailer a lot and to this day I really don't know how they paid for it. We would drive all night from like Charlotte, NC to St. Louis to be at school on Monday morning. Once I started racing street races and making some money, I started paying for most everything. I remember a time at Quincy Park we were out to dinner and I bought because of the money I had won. My dad says, “This is great, you buying dinner and all, just think in 18 years we will be even”. I was like 'holy shit 'you have to be kidding. But that really put things into perspective.
| Known for his driving, many are not aware of Rudolph's Hibachi cooking skills|
(Photo: AJ Whisler)
EKN: A final question for you back to karting in general, where do you see karting going and what will be the premier class in 2012?
AR: I have been karting for a long time and other than technology, bigger trailer, and bigger budgets, I don't think it's really changed all that much. Nor do I think it will change over the next 20 years with the exception of technology.
Now that being said, let me explain. You will always have club racing and that will never change, amateur and fun. You will always have a competitive next step like IKF Region 7 or WKA what ever depending on were you live. Then you will have whatever pro level that comes and goes. Such as PKA, WKA Constructors Cup, SKUSA Pro Moto Tour, STARS version 1 and now looking forward, version 2. All these pro series come and go because there has never been anyone who could get corporate sponsors. Sponsors with cash for TV deals and paying the competitor better. Let’s face it, if I could have made a living kart racing I would still be doing it. Example, Stars opening round 2006 or 2007, can't remember, in Norman. There were 70 guys in ICC, I was on pole and ended up finishing third or fourth, my big check was $500 and I had to wait two months to get it. I actually thought they left off a ‘1’ in front of it. As the race series, I would have been embarrassed to write that check.
Karting in America has always been too fragmented and really hard for Average Joe to understand and wrap there arms around. Until the WKA and IKF figure out that they only need 10 classes instead of the 100, then maybe karting will grow. For god sakes, there are 350 something national champions in America every year. So to say you are a national champion to a sponsor really doesn't mean shit unless it's at what we perceive as the highest level.
So if I had all the money in the world, either personally or through sponsors, this is what my series would look like. Picture this year’s Super Nationals (except with spectators OUTSIDE of the karting family) at 10 major markets throughout the year, all in conjunction with Supercross or some other extreme sport. The finals would be part of the X Games. All the races would be televised. And all the venues would have huge purses so the drivers would come, more importantly the good ones would stay. Guys like me, Kyle Martin, Darren Elliott, Gary Carlton, Alex Speed, Jordy Vorrath, and others become household names and we all make money.
Then the sport grows, all the way back to the local kart shop and local kart tracks. eKartingNews has 10,000,000 visitors, so now your selling ads to other sponsors outside of the karting community.
As far as the class in 2012, I have no idea. I would like to think it's a shifter class of some sort, but I really don't know.
EKN: Alan, thank you for you time and its’ been a privilege to talk with you.
AR: You're welcome, David, hope to see you soon.
To discuss the interview, visit the Discussion Thread