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Kart racer scores double championship
by Dan McGee
Jan 04, 2009 | 1782 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee - Mark Nason (85Y) gets a bit of curb as he leads Cody McKinney over the top of Turn 5 at Desert Park Raceway. When the season ended, Nason claimed both shifter championships with the Northern Nevada Kart Club.
Tribune/Dan McGee - Mark Nason (85Y) gets a bit of curb as he leads Cody McKinney over the top of Turn 5 at Desert Park Raceway. When the season ended, Nason claimed both shifter championships with the Northern Nevada Kart Club.
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Photo courtesy/Tom Graves - Mark Nason stands in the pits at Infineon Raceway prior to going out during a recent F3000 test he was invited to attend.
Photo courtesy/Tom Graves - Mark Nason stands in the pits at Infineon Raceway prior to going out during a recent F3000 test he was invited to attend.
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Photo courtesy/Tom Graves - Ripping down the straight that leads to Turn 11, Mark Nason handles a F3000 car he was invited to test in at Infineon Raceway this past fall.
Photo courtesy/Tom Graves - Ripping down the straight that leads to Turn 11, Mark Nason handles a F3000 car he was invited to test in at Infineon Raceway this past fall.
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RENO - Mark Nason had one of those years that most racers can only dream about. He not only won one, but also capped the year by taking two class championships with the Northern Nevada Kart Club.

"Yes, 2008 was another great racing year as I competed in 23 various kart races, came away with 10 wins along with podium finishes in all but two," he said.

An operations manager for an Internet bookseller, Reno native Nason graduated from Wooster High School in 1980. While there he wrestled and was on the ski team.

Then, at age 18, switched from riding dirt bikes to racing them while he was a student at UNR.

"I was the Nevada State Champion in the 125 pro class," he said.

Nason also raced at the Virginia City Grand Prix scoring a win in the 125 Expert Class on an amateur day and finishing 5th overall during a pro day.

His efforts in motorsports changed after he bought a Viper sports car.

"After going to a driving school I decided to give four-wheel racing a try," he said. "I went to the Northern Nevada Kart Club and one of the guys let me jump into a kart. That was six years ago in 2002."

Unlike most rookies, who usually start their racing in clutch karts, Nason began his NNKC career competing in a shifter class.

"My motocross background drew me to the power, agility and precision shifters required," he said. "My first race was intimidating because of the closeness of the racing. You're so close to everybody the margin or error is very slim."

In any type of open wheel racing, especially in close quarters, things can happen very fast and all drivers want to prevent any wheel-to-wheel contact as that can launch either a kart or a car into the air.

In his first season Nason only competed in half of the races and admitted to be a mid-pack finisher. Things changed the following year when he ran the full season.

"That first season was for learning and sorting out the equipment but in my second I had a win," he said. "It taught me a lot of patience and my third year I was starting to challenge for the lead in every race and was competitive."

A sponsorship with Red Line Oil allowed him to expand his racing from karts to cars. The result was an invitation to an open wheel driving school for the Formula Mazda cars.

The school had a competition for a scholarship that would give the winning driver a full season ride in one of these cars.

"I competed in the runoffs with at least 90 other drivers and won that first place prize," he said. "It was nerve wracking as you're on the track trying to lay down fast, consistent lap times without spinning out. And you're being judged by group of professionals that included Scott Speed.

"It was my first experience at true racing in a car and my karting experience gave me the basis for that. And in my second year racing with Formula Mazda I won the 2005 national Masters Championship, the highlight of my four-wheel racing career."

Nason also expanded his kart racing beyond the NNKC as he began to compete with the NorCal Kart series. Here he raced at various tracks including Button Willow, Reno-Fernley Raceway, Thunderhill Park, Infineon Raceway and at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.

"We raced on a full road courses, which are wide enough that you can slide around but the speeds were also high," he said, "A 125 shifter goes about 125 mph while the 80cc karts will do about 105 mph down the straights. I won the 2004 125 title with equipment from Chris Bender."

Bender, a former NNKC champion, is an accomplished racer that has driven Formula One cars and once almost got a ride with a F-1 team.

Even though he enjoys racing cars, Nason still comes back to karting.

"It's the most economical form of racing and availability of seat time," he said. "Even Formula One drivers use karting and simulators to stay sharp."

Another attraction is the high level of competition with the shifter classes in NNKC. Here it takes quite an effort to win a championship in these classes.

"We have a real competitive group," he said. "In fact Cody McKinney and Mike Botelho Jr. have won IKF national championship."

Last season, when the club hosted a round of the annual IKF series, which brings some of the best kart races on the west coast to Desert Park Raceway, Nason won one shifter main event and placed second in an other.

Even thought he won two titles with the club, it wasn't a smooth ride. In fact Nason didn't win all of his races, had one bad weekend, yet was able to rally back and take both the 80 Senior and Masters titles.

"I knew it would be a tough season as my competition is so consistent," he said. "I had to finish every race to be in the hunt and didn't know the titles were mine until the final race. There are a lot of variables to consider but better preparation results in better luck."

Another reason Nason enjoys karting is that both competition and sportsmanship go hand-in-hand.

"At one round, after a mechanical failure, it took the help of one of my strongest rivals, Gerry Williams, for me to make to the grid for the final," he said. "That's only one example of the kind of camaraderie this sport enjoys."

Nason expressed appreciation to NNKC's board as well as Mitch Kennedy, a many time shifter champion, for his help preparation the karts and advice. Sometimes both men show up at Desert Park Raceway during the week for test sessions.

Any racer needs help from sponsors and others. In addition to Red Line Oil he gets help from Motor Machine Service and Fastech Racing.

Nason also is thankful for NNKC's board that has provided local racers with a first class facility and series in which to compete.

Thanksgiving weekend found Nason over at Infineon Raceway where he raced in the 25+ Shifter Class, set fast time, and also won the race.

Then a few weeks later he was invited back to the track for a test in a Formula 3000 car owned by the Russell Racing School. One requirement to drive this type of car is to hold a SCCA Pro License, which Nason has.

"The F3000 series is a feeder to the Atlantic series, which feeds drivers into Indy Car Lights," he said. "They are full blown race cars weighing 1,500 pounds with 300 horsepower and a full aero package. This car is capable of road course lapping at a top speed of 150 mph and is equipped with full telemetry systems for driver/car performance analysis and tuning."

He soon found out that the aero package, wings, were a necessary part of getting maximum performance from these racecars. The engineers told him that if a driver goes too slowly through a turn, where the wings can't really help the car, it's likely the driver will slide off the track.

"You need speed to stay on the track and going too slow is dangerous," he said. "Talk about intimidating, you have from 2 and a half to three sustained G's every time you go through a corner. Getting the chance to work with a professional crew in top-notch equipment was very intense, and an experience that I will never forget."

Although the test was good, Nason is sticking with karting. He added that another attraction is how family orientated the sport is where fathers, sons, grandfathers, granddaughters and daughters compete.

One example is TAG Junior champion Chelsi Wagner, whose grandfather Ed Diederich acts a tuner, mechanic and mentor. Her major competitor Christian Scholz's kart is tuned by his mother.

Others are flagman Ed Brandt whose son David is a three-time NNKC champion while the father-son team of Kevin and Trever Listman won their respective class titles this year.

The family ties are strong in the NNKC and this coming season Nason will join the group as he becomes advisor, mentor and tuner for his daughter Heather. She's a sophomore at UNR, a qualified shifter kart racer and is restarting her racing.

"I want to give her a chance to be competitive," he said.

Although he won't defend his titles, Nason does plan to drive in selected events, and if the opportunity presents itself, might even do some formula car racing.

But on Jan. 17, there is another matter to attend to.

That's when the NNKC will hold its awards banquet, where he'll pick up his championship trophies and also get some good-natured ribbing from his fellow competitors.

Then Nason plans to turn his attention to the 2009 season, which begins in mid-April.

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