BOLINGBROOK, Ill. — With the 2021 racing season now half complete, a team on the rise in Briggs LO206 national competition is AEM Karting, led by multi-championship winning driver Mick Gabriel, co-founder Chris Surdenik and their Illinois-based team that offers sales, service and trackside coaching and support for OTK chassis and LO206 racing engines.
‘A team on the rise’ may be an understatement as AEM drivers have posted some of the top performances in the first two rounds of the Cup Karts North America North Division, arguably the most competitive LO206 series in North America. The series opened with a huge crowd at Concept Haulers Motor Speedway the first weekend of May followed by Round 2 at Indiana’s Whiteland Raceway Park May 21-23, and the AEM team was out in full force at each event.
Gabriel was up front in every round of Senior Light and Senior Medium competition at both races, scoring a pair of final wins at Concept Haulers and adding a Senior Light win Sunday at Whiteland.
Cincinnati, Ohio’s James Overbeck joined AEM for the first time at Concept Haulers and quickly solidified himself as one of the top juniors in attendance with a pole award and final win Saturday and a P3 result in Sunday’s final. At Whiteland, Overbeck was on the Junior podium both days and now leads the division’s point standings heading into Round 3 this month at USAir Motorsports.
Sportsman drivers Owen Oehler and Jackson Wolny, juniors Luke Wackerlin and Bacon Zelenka, and seniors Jerry Fandrey, Ismael Irizarry and Jordan Morgan have all joined Gabriel and Overbeck under the AEM tent at Concept Haulers and/or Whiteland and all have raced to successes so far this season.
As the team prepares for Cup Karts North Round 3 July 16-18 at USAir Motorsports in Shawano, Wis., we take a look at their success at the opening rounds of the series this past spring.
Juniors at Concept Haulers
James Overbeck had the best weekend of the 25-plus juniors in attendance at Concept Haulers for the series opener. He nearly swept the division Saturday, winning the pole award and the first heat before finishing P5 in heat two. Overbeck didn’t let heat two’s result distract him from the day’s goal, and he rebounded to wheel his AEM Karting No. 48 to the final win to open the series on the top step of the podium.
Overbeck was looking for a weekend sweep of the Junior finals Sunday in Norway, but he’d come up just short. He’d qualify P2 and go on to win the day’s first heat. He’d finish fifth in heat two and rebound for a P3 result in the final, setting the race’s fastest lap in the process.
Luke Wackerlin and Bacon Zelenka joined Overbeck in the juniors at Concept Haulers and each had a good weekend.
After a 14th-place finish in Saturday’s final, Wackerlin improved a lot Sunday, notching heat finishes of P10 and P11 before racing to a solid top-10 (P10) in the final.
Zelenka was a DNF Saturday but rebounded for a solid day Sunday albeit he ran into problems in the final. Bacon qualified P13 and raced to P14 results in both heat races before a 25th-place result in the final.
Juniors at Whiteland
Zelenka really picked it up a Whiteland where he qualified P2 of 21 entrants in Saturday’s Junior qualifying round. Only Overbeck was faster by just 0.095 seconds to make it an AEM top-two in qualifying. He’d go on to finish P7 in the final for his first top 10 of the Cup Karts North season while Overbeck ran third and Wackerlin was 18th.
On Sunday at Whiteland, again it was Overbeck leading the way for AEM with another P3 result in the final, giving him a podium finish in each of the first four races of the series, the only driver to accomplish that feat.
But Zelenka wasn’t far off of Overbeck on this day; in fact, he’d outrun James in qualifying with a P4 result to Overbeck’s P5. Zelenka would come home sixth in the final of 20 starters and set the race’s fastest lap in the process. Wackerlin qualified a solid P11 and recorded finishes of 14th and 15th in the pre-final and final, respectively.
Heading to USAir, Overbeck leads the Junior standings by a 30-point margin. Zelenka sits 12th and Wackerlin 13th of 33 drivers to score points between Concept Haulers and Whiteland.
Seniors at Concept Haulers
Some of the best senior LO206 fields we’ll see all year raced at Concept Haulers and AEM Karting co-founder Mick Gabriel raced up front throughout the event in the Senior Light and Medium divisions.
Gabriel would wheel his No. 023 EOS chassis to Saturday’s Senior Medium pole award and final win over 23 competitors. Mick cleared the field over nearly 3 tenths of a second in qualifying before finishing P2 and P4 in the heat races and winning the final by a close 0.167-second gap.
The only driver to best Mick in Saturday’s Senior Light qualifying was AEM racer Jerry Fandrey, who won the pole award by 0.052 seconds over Gabriel. The pair would finish 1-2 in the first heat with Gabriel winning over Fandrey; Mick would also win heat two before finishing a close second in the final. Fandrey ran into some issues in the main and settled for a 14th-place result.
Gabriel’s finishes were reversed Sunday as he scored the final win in Senior Light and settled for P2 in Senior Medium. Although he didn’t win the final, Mick won the pole and both heat races in the Medium class Sunday.
In Sunday’s Senior Light final, Gabriel picked up the win and Fandrey redeemed himself from Saturday to finish fifth, giving AEM two finishers in the top five of 27 starters.
Jordan Morgan gave AEM three senior racers in attendance at Concept Haulers. Morgan entered the No. 42 AEM Karting / EOS chassis in Senior Medium and he improved throughout the weekend. He’d finish 14th in Saturday’s Medium final and break the top 10 Sunday with a solid P10 result.
Seniors at Whiteland
After missing the series opener, Ismael Irizarry joined Gabriel, Fandrey and Morgan as AEM Karting senior racers at Whiteland for Round 2 of Cup Karts North.
Irizarry had some good runs in the Senior Medium division with his best result coming Saturday with a P10 finish in the 18-lap final. He’d qualify 11th Sunday and race to a strong 7th-place finish in the pre-final before running into problems in the final, causing a DNF and 14th-place result.
Fandrey and Morgan raced inside the top 10 throughout the weekend with each recording a 10th-place result Sunday after DNFs Saturday (Fandrey in Light and Morgan in Medium). Few were safe in the tight confines of the Whiteland course and Fandrey and Morgan each were involved in accidents that put a damper on their weekends after strong showings at Concept Haulers.
Gabriel was able to keep his EOS chassis at or near the front of the pack in both Light and Medium all weekend. He’d finish in the top five in each of the four finals between Saturday and Sunday with his best race coming in Sunday’s Light final, which saw him score the win by a dominating 5.1-second margin over second place. Also in Light, Mick would win the pole award Saturday and finish second in the final. In Medium, he’d also win the pole Saturday and race to a P3 result in the final; he’d finish fifth in Sunday’s Medium main.
With four of eight race days in the books for 2021, Gabriel leads both Senior Light and Medium point standings. In Light, he’s ahead by a big 130-point gap and the Medium standings show him 40 markers in front.
Morgan currently sits 10th in Senior Medium points while Fandrey is eighth in Senior Light and only 5 points out of fifth.
AEM has had a couple of youngsters test the waters in the competitive Sportsman division so far in 2021. Owen Oehler has run both Concept Haulers and Whiteland while Jackson Wolny entered Concept Haulers.
Each driver has gained experience so far in the highly competitive division, which boasted the largest fields at both races with over 30 entries at Concept Haulers and 28 at Whiteland.
Oehler’s best run so far was a P22 result in Saturday’s final at Concept Haulers, while Wolny raced to a 23rd-place finish in Sunday’s final after a DNF Saturday. Oehler did not race Sunday at Concept Haulers.
At Whiteland, Oehler carried the AEM banner in Sportsman but unfortunately he barely missed qualifying for the feature both days (CKNA limited the final fields to 20 drivers due to track size). Owen finish P9 in both day’s Last Chance Qualifier.
Next up for AEM Karting is Round 3 of Cup Karts North at USAir July 16-18 and the series’ fourth and final round August 13-15 at the East Lansing Kart Track in Michigan. The big 2021 CKNA Grand Nationals 5 will take place Sept. 30 – Oct. 3 at New Castle Motorsports Park.
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.