Family fun, screaming karts roar in RI

Originally Posted Online: Sept. 01, 2013, 7:33 pm
Last Updated: Sept. 02, 2013, 12:05 am
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By Jonathan Turner,

ROCK ISLAND -- Sunday's 19th running of the Rock Island Grand Prix in The District of Rock Island was a homecoming of sorts for Andy Poffinbarger.

The 1994 Davenport West High School alum raced behind the wheel of a go-kart before he could even get a driver's license, at age 12, at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds. He won a number of Friday night races and is good friends with Davenport's Michael Dittmer, one of the top Grand Prix drivers.

"It was awesome. I loved it. That's how I learned how to drive," Mr. Poffinbarger said of his racing days, which ended when he was 20, and at Monmouth College. "I think about it all the time."

He never raced in the Rock Island Grand Prix but was a spectator often in its early years. Living in Rockford the past seven years (where he works for a BMW dealer), Mr. Poffinbarger came back to Rock Island Sunday to see the furiously fast races with his parents, his three kids, and a friend from junior high.

"It's better now," he said of the Grand Prix. "There are more people, more karts, cooler equipment. It's all gotten better, like anything else. They advance over time."

"I'm so thrilled to be here," said his father, Terry Poffinbarger, who also lives in Rockford. A former kart racer himself, he said the Grand Prix has improved greatly in safety features and equipment, but he still was amazed at the drivers who tear around the course at speeds of 100 mph.

"If you hit a corner, or a tree, you're dead," Terry Poffinbarger said.

Charles Bolton, father of Grand Prix driver Todd Bolton, of Bowen, Ill., (an eight-time event champion) said his son worked hard during the past eight months to lose 112 pounds and return to the races after a few years off because of his weight.

"It's his dedication in wanting to do this again," Mr. Bolton said, noting that his son (who is in his early 40s) stuck to a diet, regular bicycling and ran 5Ks to shed the pounds. "He wanted to come back here, to prove to these younger guys he can still do this.

"I think it's been good," he said of this year's Grand Prix. "There are a lot of close races today. It's good to get back and see a lot of friends. It's like a racing family."

The crowds of spectators along 20th Street, stretching to 2nd Avenue, included many families who had tailgate and tent parties during the sunny afternoon, with plenty of food and coolers.

One was Don Miller of Milan, whose cousins Travis Porter and Tony Porter of Rock Island were racing. Mr. Miller set up his big green party tent and tables at 4:30 p.m. Friday at his favorite spot -- near the turn at 2nd Avenue -- as he does every year. More than 30 friends and family members came out with him Sunday.

"It's the world's largest street race," Mr. Miller said of why he enjoys the Grand Prix. "I think it would get more recognition because of that."

He speaks from experience, having qualified to race in it in 2011. He owns two karts, and it was on his "bucket list" to race himself.

"It's anxiety like you would never believe," Mr. Miller said. "It's such a rush, I'll never be able to explain it. Just going around, it's as fun as it is scary. You're praying, like on a roller-coaster, that when you turn the wheel, you're going around the turn and you pray you keep going the way you want to go."

It's a lot more relaxing watching the racers under shade, behind protective fencing, he said. "It's pretty cool."

Another Grand Prix fan who secured her "best spot" Sunday was Tammy Kargbo, of Davenport, who attended with her five kids, her sister and her family. They watched from 2nd Avenue and 19th Street, across from the post office. She's come every year for more than 10 years.

"Every year, we get the same spot, because you can see three turns," Ms. Kargbo said. "We get here early." She's not a fan of any other motor sports, but loves the Grand Prix, and being just feet from the roaring karts whizzing past.

"It's the excitement of the race. The closer you are, the better it is," Ms. Kargbo said. "I do like to go on go-karts and race myself. The little kids love it. I don't like NASCAR, but I will watch this all day long. I like the little karts -- you can actually see the people, what they're doing. For the kids, it's just the thrill of them hitting the safety wall."

"I think it's cool," said Donna Oldfather, of New Windsor, attending for the first time, with a visiting niece and her father from Louisiana. "I'm waiting for the wrecks."

The weekend event included a Saturday "Race Against Hunger" charity food drive, a Camaro car show on 18th Street, plaza entertainment, and a Grand Prix Marketplace, including a Family Fun Zone. "What else can you do that's free, good family entertainment?" asked Frank Carlton, of Davenport.

Sunday's spectators also included a family from Colombia. In lawn chairs under a tree sat Hernan Acevedo, visiting his son, Ivan, and his wife, Alejandra. "It's nice," said Ivan Acevedo, who lives in Des Moines and is a racing fan.

The holiday weekend entertainment continues Monday morning with the annual Rock Island Labor Day parade, kicking off at 9:30 a.m. at 18th Avenue and 24th Street.


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 1, the 244th day of 2014. There are 121 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: We are informed by J.H. Hull that the reason the street sprinkler was not at work yesterday settling the dust on the streets, was because one of his horses was injured.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Bonnie McGregor, a fleet-footed stallion owned by S.W. Wheelock of this community, covered himself with glory at Lexington, Ky, when he ran a mile in 2:13 1/2. The horse's value was estimated as at least $50,000.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Troops are pouring into Paris to prepare for defense of the city. The German army is reported to be only 60 miles from the capital of France.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The German army has invaded Poland in undeclared warfare. Poland has appealed to Great Britain and France for aid.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Publication of a plant newspaper, the Farmall Works News, has been launched at the Rock Island IHC factory and replaces a managerial newsletter.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Officials predict Monday's Rock Island Labor Parade will be the biggest and best ever. Last minute work continues on floats and costumes for the parade, which steps off a 9:30 a.m.

(More History)