ELKHART — The Allards have taken their share of checkered flags.
But winning is not the only attraction for a family of kart drivers.
“I’m 69,” said Merle “Junior” Allard during a break at the 2019 Elkhart Riverwalk Grand Prix sponsored by Thor Industries. “The only reason I don’t stop racing is I want to be with the family. That’s what it’s about.
“It’s not just the race.”
The Allards all work together at ABC Excavating & Landscaping, Inc., near Bristol then race karts on weekends.
“There’s nothing better than your racing friends and family,” said Chase Allard. “It’s the memories along the way — good or bad — that stand out.
“It’s nice to be here (in Elkhart). I’ve got people cheering for me that don’t even know me.”
Junior Allard got into racing when son Troy got involved 30 years ago and took part in the first incarnation of the Elkhart Grand Prix street races (1987-96). The Elkhart Riverwalk Grand Prix debuted in 2017.
“This is a good family event that keeps people out of trouble,” said Troy Allard. “I’ve been racing for 30 years and (the 2019 Elkhart Riverwalk races) are the best I’ve ever seen for track set-up.
“They made track adjustments (to the 6/10-mile, five-turn course along the river) and the night races make it one-of-a-kind. It’s safe and there’s a lot better air at night. The changes are all for the positive.
“Elkhart is an event. The build-up starts on Wednesday and Thursday when they start closing the streets. The (large fan) turnout speaks for itself.”
At the Elkhart Riverwalk Grand Prix, heat races were eight laps with features 15 or 20. Some classes had as many as 24 karts.
Besides racing, there were food booths and live entertainment for the event staged Friday and Saturday.
“There’s not another event like it,” says Troy Allard. “There are big names here, putting on a good show. There’s a photo finish with almost every race.”
The Allards compete in the Southern Indiana Racing Association, which has street races in Anderson, Lebanon, Beech Grove, Whiteland, Ceraland and Yorktown. They also take part in events at Michiana Raceway Park in North Liberty South Bend and other places across the Midwest, including Rock Island, Ill., and Quincy, Ill.
The ABC Excavating Racing Team was represented by four generations with six Elkhart Riverwalk Grand Prix drivers — Troy Allard and Chase Allard in the faster 125cc Shifter class and Junior Allard, Jay Allard and Travis Allard and Justin Johnson in Briggs 206 classes.
Shifters are multi-speed machines with engines that generate about 49 hp and go up to 90 mph.
“(Shifters) stay in the sweet spot — that power band of the engine,” said Troy Allard. “The others have a centrifugal (single-speed) clutch.
“They have to use all of their rpm range in a right corner.”
The 206’s hit speeds up to 60 mph and about 15 hp and have only rear brakes while shifters have ceramic disk brakes.
“You can’t slam on the brakes or you spin out,” said Johnson, who met Chase in high school and came to work and drive with the Allards.
Another difference is cost. USAC Karting Director Mike Burrell says a shifter motor costs about $4,500 while a 206 runs about $600.
Burrell said working on a shifter is like “working on a proper race car.”
“(206 karts) are sealed,” said Johnson. “There’s not much you can change. It all comes down to driving ability and chassis set-up.
“A little adjustment can make a huge difference.”
To level the playing field, lead weights are added to the karts to make the weight of the machine and the driver even across the board.