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01/23 2017

Florida’s other 24: Go-kart challenge brings out the best in weekend warriors

Florida's other 24: Go-kart challenge brings out the best in weekend warriors

Detroit Rock City takes the checkered flag.PHOTO BY DREW CATTELL/COURTESY PHOTO

CHEVROLET TECH’S KISS-INSPIRED ENTRY IS THE ONE TO BEAT IN 2017

By Mike Brudenell

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Drew Cattell of Ferndale, Michigan, knows cars and how they perform at high speeds under punishing conditions.

He’s pushed the envelope around the fearsome Nordschleife section of the Nurburgring in Germany, the dauntingly fast and twisty 22-mile course at the legendary motorsports complex, which, on weekends, is open to the public for hot laps, amazingly enough.

In his role as a Chevrolet performance engineer, Cattell has also tested GM products in locations such as the beautiful Cuyamaca Mountains outside of San Diego, where you better get your line right on edges at close to 7,000 feet above sea level.

And to sharpen his reflexes away from the job, Cattell, 30, has also been a regular in the SCCA’s national runoffs in recent years.

Music?

Well, Cattell, who was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, has combined a love of the rock group Kiss and his need for speed neatly into a highly successful racing package that will take him to Florida in February with three mates.

Just as big-screen pals Lex, Trip, Hawk and Jam did in the pursuit of their idols Kiss in the 1999 cult movie “Detroit Rock City,” Cattell will join up with close friends Perry Herndon, Ennis Bragg and Joseph Buffa to feed his passion for racing, an iconic rock film providing motivation.

Calling his group Detroit Rock City after the comedy about the rebellious teens and their adventure to scam their way into a Kiss concert at Cobo Hall in Detroit in 1978, Cattell and the team will compete in the 24 Hours of America, the only outdoor twice-around the clock go-kart race in the country.

 

Kart 1

PHOTO BY DREW CATTELL/COURTESY PHOTO

The race, in its eighth edition, will be held Feb. 18-19 at Bushnell Motorsports Park in Bushnell, Florida, about 50 miles north of Tampa and the same distance west of Orlando, off I-75.

The event is run by Endurance Karting, based in Cumming, Georgia, which conducts endurance kart races of six, 12 and 24 hours around the Midwest, on the East Coast and down South, as well as corporate team-building outings.

Detroit Rock City is defending race champion; in fact, the team is attempting a “four-peat” at Bushnell in a highly competitive pro-am field that includes IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship stars Ricky and Jordan Taylor (Corvette), Indy Lights race winner Zach Veach and Verizon IndyCar Series team president Larry Foyt, who runs day-to-day operations for his famous father A.J.’s Indy Car outfit, AJ Foyt Enterprises.

“The thought of winning four in a row, it’s pretty crazy,” said Cattell, who graduated from Georgia Tech and moved up to work in the Detroit area at 22 years old. “Three in a row is a big deal. But four?”

Endurance karting is no walk in the park, as anyone who has run for 20 minutes at any local karting facility can tell you.

In a Danish-manufactured Dino kart capable of close to 60 mph, on a 15-turn track for 24 hours at Bushnell, it can be sheer agony on hands, arms, legs and ribs.

“It’s tough, no question,” said Cattell. “It’s wheel to wheel. Through the day and night. But it’s extremely fun, and to do it with friends makes it more enjoyable.”

kart 2 - pic 2

PHOTO BY DREW CATTELL/COURTESY PHOTO

Cattell considers his Detroit Rock City teammates as family. They’ve attended each other’s weddings and won the 24 Hours of America at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2013, Daytona International Speedway in 2015 (there was no race in 2014) and at NOLA Motorsports Park near New Orleans in 2016.

“Racing with my three friends is awesome,” said Cattell. “When you are on the track at 3 in the morning and things aren’t going right, you need good people on your team, in the pits.”

Herndon, a patent attorney in Atlanta, agrees with Cattell.

“I’ve raced at Bushnell a couple times in shorter Endurance Karting events,” said Herndon, 42. “It’s a cool track, technical in some sections, fast and flowing in others. But running a 24-hour event? You got to have consistency and confidence in your teammates. Detroit Rock City — we rock together.”

Bragg, 43, a software engineer who also lives in Atlanta and attended Georgia Tech, is a karting veteran who once competed in Formula Ford. He began his racing career as a member of the Georgia Tech Formula SAE team, where students participate in developing a small Formula-type car, which is later judged against other college teams on design, costs, acceleration, skid-pad numbers and autocross times.

But for Bragg, the best part of racing, he said, was running with Detroit Rock City in the 24 Hours of America.

“We have been together since 2008,” said Bragg. “Our friendship and trust means a lot on and off the track. We’ve developed trust, continuity and patience in our racing. That’s paramount in a 24-hour race. We are always there for each other.”

Next month’s “24” at Bushnell, which is also open to novice karters, is the ultimate test of driver and equipment.

Cattell has been working out in the gym in preparation, as well as testing cars for Chevrolet.

“We were horribly unsuccessful when we first began competing in the 24 Hours of America race,” recalled Cattell. “We even ran out of gas in 2012 when we miscalculated a pit stop. But we learned from our mistakes, and we are a lot smarter now.”

Cattell loves racing in the “24” because “you don’t have to pick up a wrench or change a tire,” he said. “The karts are equally prepared — you don’t have to worry about a ‘cheater engine.’ It’s all provided for you in an arrive-and-drive package.”

Cattell has long been a fan of Kiss, who wrote and recorded the song “Detroit Rock City,” which was featured on their 1976 album “Destroyer.”

“I saw myself as one of the characters in the film,” said Cattell. “The kids in the movie were relentless.

“I think our kart team is a bit like that.”