CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — In the time since South Texas racing icon Lawrence Mikulencak built L87 Raceway, and in the two seasons of Owen Pittman's popular South Texas Arena Racing Series (STARS) program in Robstown, several talented young racers have emerged to make their own mark.
For 21-year-old Karting sensation Kiehl VanBlarcum, these venues have provided an ideal arena in which to hone his skills; talents he'll use later this year as he advances to Pure Stock. VanBlarcum now sits third in Predator division points, with seven top-five finishes in 10 starts this month in Robstown.
“I feel pretty good about this season,” VanBlarcum said. “I feel like I've been lacking a little bit in the Open Predator class, but I've managed to stay in the top five in Predators so I'm happy about that. I'd like to pick up a few more spots, sure, but as long as I can keep it in the top five I'll pleased.
“It really helps to have a strong run in your qualifying heat. The farthest back I've started a feature is ninth. I've been trying to play it smart. I know how most of these guys race, I've been racing with them for a while now. I know they're going to tear some stuff up on the bottom.”
As a student of the sport, VanBlarcum wisely adjusts his driving style accordingly.
“So when I start somewhere between mid-pack and the back, I just go to the high side and let them do their thing. Usually, I end up dropping more spots than I gain, but towards the end of the race is when my stuff comes alive. We tend to make a big charge towards the front late in the feature.”
VanBlarcum is part of a large family of racers, each one bringing lots to the table. Now in his fourth year of driving, Kiehl is demonstrating tremendous potential.
“My Stepdad got me started at L87 back in 2019,” VanBlarcum explained. “I had done a little bit of Kart racing when I was young, but 2019 was when I got into it seriously. I've also raced a little at Brad Dixon's Riverside Kartway, and I ran a couple of races at Shiner Kartway.”
Spend some time watching a STARS event on RaceOnTexas, and you'll quickly notice the talent pool.
“With guys like Vince Louden, his son Chase and other veteran racers, it's tough,” VanBlarcum said. “The STARS deal is something I hope my uncle Owen will continue to expand. I loved the concept when he first created it last year. I'm doing better this season, and we're having lots of fun every week.”
To be certain, Kart racing has come a long way since those basic Go-Karts we all had back in the day.
“Today's Karts are actually pretty advanced and developed just for racing,” VanBlarcum explained. “We have a pair of identical 2021 Karts from Eleanor Railz out of Florida. Chase Fitzgerald builds the best out there, and he's always there for us when we have questions. They're excellent machines.
“My Dad got this chassis I'm driving now back when I had an older Kart. He really liked it and wanted me and my brother to have one. I put some money together with help from sponsors, and we ordered a pair of them. They will run competitively against just about anything out there. We love our Karts.”
Since VanBlarcum is kind of the R&D guy on his family-based three Kart team, he tests all new ideas.
“I like to try new things and really experiment with the setups. My Dad and brother will tell you, I have the skills to where I can adapt if something is wrong. So they let me make any setup changes first, and if it works, they put it under their Karts. Glenn Schul out of San Antonio builds us top-notch motors.”
While Karting may not have the same costs or expenses of full-sized race cars, it does take good people and some financial support to be competitive. VanBlarcum is blessed to have both in place.
“I want to thank all of the kind people and sponsors who make this possible, including Top Hat Signs and Designs; Erika Parks and Gary Pursel at Pro Line Fabrication; James Parks, Kimberly Parks, Elco Auctions, Rodney Appleby, Bill Six, Tryton Temple and Chase Fitzgerald at Eleanor Racing Chassis.
“I also need to thank SOS Racing, Glenn Schul, One 12 Bodies, Chris Dudley, Vince Louden, Chase Louden, Noah VanBlarcum, Jimbo VanBlarcum, Andy VanBlarcum, Steve Grantz, Chuck Perry, Don Betts, Eddie Valdez, Joey Heinaman, Ray Allen Kulhanek and James Starry. I appreciate their support.”
As mentioned earlier, this Spring will see VanBlarcum in a Pure Stock at South Texas Race Ranch. Yet he still has some unfinished business in STARS action to complete before that foray begins in earnest.
“Since by buddies Vince and Chase and I are sitting 1-2-3 in STARS points right now, I kind of want to get Vince behind me in this Saturday's final. If he finishes on my back bumper like I think he will, or in front of me, I'll end up second or third in points. I'm fine with that, since I love those guys from Shiner.
“Vince and Chase are a big part of what's gotten my family so fast in these Karts. They help us out a lot. Seeing them win it wouldn't make me mad at all. As for my Pure Stock, Chuck Perry and Don Betts will be helping me put it together, along with my brother-in-law. We may miss the first race, but plan to be out there by April 15. I'm having a blast in the arena, but really looking forward to this summer.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo by Amanda Stafford Photography