CONCORD, N.C. — AEM posts three podiums, heat wins, pole awards and top-10 results at Charlotte
Story and photos by Keith Shampine / Kart Lounge
A hungry group of 11 racers from across the North America filled the AEM Karting pit area the first weekend of March at the second annual Cup Karts North America Spring Nationals for Briggs LO206 CIK sprint karts at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Team co-owner Mick Gabriel led the charge for the OTK-backed Bolingbrook, Ill.-based team, nearly capturing a pair of national feature wins Sunday afternoon in the Senior Light and Senior Medium finals, but ultimately settling for finishes of P2 in Medium and P3 in Light.
Jakab Nyiri joined Gabriel on the podium with a fine P5 result in the Masters final. Randy Raridon and Gabe Sessler added top-10 finishes in the Legends and Senior Heavy features, respectively, while Jerry Fandrey, Blade Fountain, Will Lowther, Ryan Otterman, Daniel Seaman, Jake Sessler and Matt Winfrey all showed speed and produced many respectable finishes competing at CKNA’s Charlotte round, easily one of the toughest LO206 races that will take place all year.
Here’s a look each AEM driver’s weekends at the 0.65-mile Charlotte kart track.
Jerry Fandrey of Illinois ran Senior Light and Medium and was strong all weekend. After solid qualifying results of 11th in Light and 17th in Medium, he’d finish top 10 in all four of his heat races with a P5 in Senior Medium’s first odd-group heat his best. Fandrey would also finish P6 and P8 twice in his other heats.
Sunday’s finals were up-and-down for Fandrey. In Light he got caught up in an early-race accident that bent the steering shaft on his EOS and possibly tweaked the chassis. After a red flag he’d restart last and drive back to P24 before the checkers waved.
In the Medium final Fandrey would drive a solid race for a P12 finish of 36 starters. The weekend marked Fandrey’s first race in five months.
Blade Fountain had a terrific qualifying run in Senior Medium, timing 14th of 46 entrants. He’d go on to finish P12 and P22 in the Medium heats before not starting Sunday’s final.
In Light, Fountain timed P24 and drove to results of 11th and 12th in Saturday’s heats. He’d move up several spots in the final before a track incident pushed him back in the field; he’d finish 21st.
Mick Gabriel was one of the top racers in attendance and proved it with his results. After a Friday practice day that didn’t produce top lap times throughout the sessions, Mick and his dad, Mike, worked at the track until about midnight Friday night trying to produce more speed out of their OTK EOS chassis.
The hard work paid off as Gabriel promptly qualified P1 of 46 entrants in Senior Light and P3 of 46 in Senior Medium Saturday morning. He’d go on to win both of his odd-group Medium heat races and place P4 and P2 in the odd-group Light heats.
Gabriel and several others battled hard in the lead pack in Sunday morning’s Light final. Mick rode in third behind Tristan Farber and James Overbeck for much of the 16-lap race until the final lap, when Overbeck and Gabriel both overtook Farber for P1 and P2. Overbeck would block the bottom throughout the final corners and Mick wasn’t able to find a way past. On the exit of turn 14 and coming to the checkered, Colin Warren was able to make it by for second, relegating Mick to a P3 finish at the line.
Still searching for his first Spring Nationals feature win, Gabriel started P1 in the Senior Medium final and proceeded to lead 15-1/2 of the 16 laps. With Overbeck in tow, the pair raced away from the rest of the 36-kart field to settle the win amongst themselves. On the last lap, Overbeck made an inside move on the backstretch to take the lead. He’d block the bottom in the remaining corners and squeeze out another close Spring Nationals win with Gabriel having to settle for second.
“It was a good race; I knew I was a sitting duck there at the end,” Mick said after the Medium final. “Overbeck and I work together well, and I knew if I was going to block we were going to back up and get everyone else in the mix. I decided not to block and run my line and ended up second. We’ll take it; it was a good day and good weekend. I want to thank OTK, AEM, Chris Sudernik, my dad and everyone who helps with this program.”
William Lowther of Prince Edward Island, Canada, was back in the seat of a kart for the first time in a while, racing an AEM entry in the Senior Heavy division. Lowther ran just outside the top 20 of 34 entrants during most rounds of competition before a DNF in the final marked a disappointing end. Lowther’s best run was a P25 result in heat one.
Jakab Nyiri proved again he’s a force in the Masters division at CKNA national events. After finishing an outstanding P3 at the CKNA Grand Nationals 5 at New Castle in October, Nyiri raced the Charlotte kart track for the first time and came away with another podium, this time a P5 result in the 40-kart Masters final.
Nyiri, a Budapest, Hungary, native now residing in Chicago, was solid all weekend. He qualified P6 Saturday morning before recording finishes of fifth and 12th in the heats. He’d start seventh in the feature and drive a consistent race to round out the top five.
Ryan Otterman of Cedar Lake, Ind., joined Nyiri in the Masters division in his first race riding an OTK chassis. After qualifying 25th, he’d improve a couple spots in the heat races, finishing just outside the top 20. Otterman saved his best race for Sunday, which saw him drive to a nice P18 result in the 16-lap final.
Randy Raridon was AEM’s only entrant in the 21-kart Legends class for drivers age 50 and up. After missing last year’s inaugural Spring Nationals, Raridon came to Charlotte with a goal to finish inside the top 10. Mission accomplished! Raridon finished top 10 in every round of competition including a seventh-place qualifying effort, a seventh in both heat races and a P8 result in the main event. The race marked Raridon’s second drive with AEM after he finished 12th at the Jacksonville CKNA Winter Nationals in January.
Daniel Seaman of Streamwood, Ill., raced with AEM at Charlotte and finished 22nd in the Senior Heavy feature. Seaman’s better runs came in Saturday’s preliminaries which saw him record finishes of 15th and 16th in the heat races and qualify 16th of 34 drivers to take time in the competitive Heavy division.
Three West Coast racers joined the AEM attack in North Carolina with Washington state brothers Gabe and Jake Sessler and California’s Matt Winfrey all competing in the senior divisions.
Gabe switched from Senior Light to the Senior Heavy division and it worked out for him. He’d have an outstanding qualifying session, timing second of 34 before racing his No. 50 EOS to results of fourth and seventh in the heats. In the final, Sessler would race inside the top five for much of the 16-lapper and finish P6 in the final rundown, barely missing the podium in his first race at Charlotte. He’d add a P14 result in the Senior Medium final and finished top 10 in both Medium odd-group heats.
Jake Sessler ran Light and Medium and unfortunately DNF’d in both finals. In Light, he started 17th and moved up to P8 in the early stages of the race before getting involved in a wreck.
In Medium, Jake was light at the scales in qualifying, putting him behind the eight ball. He passed a number of karts in the even-group heat races to finish P11 in heat one and a solid P8 in heat two and avoid having to run the Sunday morning LCQ. Similar to his Light final, Jake was involved in an accident in the Medium main which took him out of the action.
Winfrey continues to show good speed in East Coast LO206 nationals and Charlotte was no exception. While feature finishes of 14th in Light and 17th in Medium weren’t what Winfrey was looking for, he was impressive in Saturday’s qualifying rounds, timing seventh fastest of 46 in Medium and 12th quickest of 46 in Light.
Winfrey finished top five in three of his four heat races with a best being a P3 result in Sr Light’s even-group heat two.
AEM Karting has announced their next events will be April 8-10 at New Castle Motorsports Park for the Route 66 Sprint Series opener and April 22-24 at G&J Kartway in Camden, Ohio, for the Cup Karts North Division opener.
Arrive-and-drive packages, pit space, tent support and engine rentals are currently available for both events. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 630-863-7898.
AEM Karting is based in Bolingbrook, Ill., and is an official authorized OTK distributor, offering sales and support for OTK products, Briggs & Stratton LO206 racing engines, and many other karting brands and products that make a successful team. Led by championship-winning kart racer Mick Gabriel, AEM offers at-track coaching, tuning and support, arrive-and-drive packages and more. For more information, visit the team’s official website at aemkarting.com and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.