MONTICELLO, Fla. — Chris Cline has been through some tough times this winter, and the popular Brentwood, Tenn., karter decided a visit with his karting family for the Feb. 4-6 Cup Karts South Rounds 2 and 3 at Monticello Karting would be some good therapy.
Cline, who lost his wife of 25 years, Allison, in November, made a last-minute decision the Wednesday before the race to make the 500-mile drive southeast to Monticello to get back behind the wheel of his No. 01 IONIC Edge Chassis kart. After a quick look inside his race hauler, Cline and his 15-year-old daughter, Jillian, hooked up their truck and embarked on an emotional weekend.
Friday morning, less than 15 minutes from the track, the cords broke on his truck’s new right-front tire, causing a chain reaction that ended up shearing five of the eight lug bolts off the hub. Chris and Jillian were stranded in a rural area with no cell service, and they’d spend the entire day waiting for the service truck to fix the issue.
He’d finally pull into Monticello’s pits at approximately 11pm Friday, missing the entire day of practice at a track he’d never seen. Luckily for Cline, there wasn’t much of an advantage to be gained Friday, short of learning the circuit, as steady rain throughout the day produced a wet track and few went out for practice.
“It actually turned into a beautiful experience,” Cline said of being stranded on the side of the road. “Jillian and I cranked up the generator and watched some movies. The power of being positive and grateful.”
Entered in the Masters class for drivers age 35 and up, Cline would miss practice and qualifying Saturday morning while working to get his Edge ready for competition. Saturday’s heat race marked his first time on the 1-mile circuit, and he’d start last in a 20-kart field and drive through the field for a fine P3 result. Unfortunately for Cline, the finish would not hold up.
“I had to work all Saturday morning to get the kart together,” Cline said. “I hadn’t even looked at the kart since the Grands in the fall. I was able to get it ready and weighed in time for the heat race. It weighed good before the heat, but then I was two pounds light after the race. So I had to start last again for the final.”
In the final, the 48-year-old racer again showed his speed and quick adaptability to a new track. He’d drive up through the pack once again, this time advancing all the way to P1 to score a popular victory.
“It was an outstanding race, completely clean,” Cline said. “I was riding that wave of love, and it was a magical ride. There were no problems with anyone, and I made clean passes to get through the field. If you can’t do it clean, then don’t do it at all. That’s always been philosophy on driving.”
The 2021 Cup Karts South Masters champion was the clear favorite for a sweep of the Masters class Sunday afternoon, but clutch issues and a fast Jesse Samples would deny Cline of back-to-back wins.
“We qualified first and won the pre-final, and Jesse Samples was right there. The clutch was messing up in the final. I could barely spin the back tires when we got off the track. But I won’t take anything away from Jesse. He was good competition and drove me clean. I left some doors open in the late laps and he went through one of those doors. I didn’t realize he had a pack behind him, and we shuffled around a little and that hurt my chances to get back to the lead. Congratulations to Jesse on a fine run.”
Cline would actually cross the finish line P3 in Sunday’s final, but officials put him back to the runner-up spot after penalizing another driver for contact with Cline’s IONIC Edge in the final corners.
“I didn’t fully agree with that call, but that’s what they decided to do. It was good, hard racing in my book,” Cline said.
After what he calls “the darkest days of my life,” Cline, who also has a 21-year-old son, Dylan, added some thoughts on his winning weekend at Monticello and on the karting community as a whole.
“I’m a huge supporter of karting, and it was a beautiful experience to be back around the wonderful family of racing people. I started racing karts at 9 years old and moved to cars, and then quit. I got back into it four years ago after some persuasion from my buddy, Matt Skaggs. I rode his kart at Twin Fountains (Tennessee Karting Association) and I was hooked again. I’m completely revived and at 48 I feel like I’m just starting my racing career. If I have it my way, I’ll be racing till I can’t walk anymore,” he said.
Cline rides a 2019 IONIC Edge kart and calls Twin Fountains his home track. He offered his thoughts on the Kyle Luttrell’s IONIC Edge chassis line and his thoughts on tuning it.
“I love the chassis, and I respect it,” Cline began. “I don’t try to get extreme with it, and I don’t like to go crazy with wholesale changes. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I’ve always like the IONIC Edge brand. Their group is an awesome family to be a part of. Kyle Luttrell works in a different way than most. He pushes boundaries and when you push it, you don’t always win, but I feel like with patience the results come. Kyle pushes us all forward.”
Cline says he’ll likely make the trip east in a few weeks to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the March 4-6 Cup Karts Spring Nationals, one of the biggest races of the year. Last year he finished third in the Masters final and won one of the two heat races. Assuming he does make the trip, he’ll enter as one of the favorites in the Masters division.
Other IONIC Edges in action at Monticello
In addition to Cline, three other drivers — Macon Moore, Elijah Skaggs and Matt Skaggs — entered their IONIC Edge karts at Monticello.
Matt Skaggs came away with a couple of top 10s in the Masters division. The Tennessee veteran would take eighth in Saturday’s final and 10th in Sunday’s main.
Matt’s nephew Elijah Skaggs had a tough weekend with mechanical issues both days in Senior Light. He did finish P6 in Sunday’s final before dropping out early in the main.
Luck wasn’t on Moore’s side in the Senior Heavy division. The Louisiana racer showed good speed all weekend on his No. 511 Edge and was in position for top finishes both days, but was punted off the track in the final on Saturday.
Moore would qualify P2 Sunday and start second in the final. He ran up front until his side pod fell off on lap 5 of the 15-lapper, forcing him to retire early.
Look for Moore and both Skaggs to challenge at the CKNA Spring Nationals next month at Charlotte.