The name McKarns has been synonymous with short track racing in the Upper Midwest dating back to the 1950’s. It started with John McKarns’ involvement with local tracks in his home state of Ohio, and in later years ARTGO, and continues today with son Gregg with the ASA Midwest Tour and several racetracks and events in the region.
A young John McKarns standing in his parent’s kitchen, displaying event posters he created for an upcoming event -Stubby Photo
John McKarns was born in November 1944 and grew up in Northwest Ohio. Racing was a big part of his childhood, which started off as a reward and grew to become what would be his first job in the sport as a teenager.
“My dad and my uncle grew up on a farm just outside of West Unity, OH. When they got their chores done, they were rewarded with getting to go to the races at Bryan Speedway and Montpelier Speedway,” said Gregg McKarns. “As time progressed, they quit carrying results in the local paper so my dad at roughly aged 14 wrote a letter to the paper and they said they needed someone. So my grandpa was driving my dad to the races to do the race recaps and results for the local papers.”
The elder McKarns moved from Ohio to Illinois to attend Northwestern University. While in college, he began working for Gordy Sill at Waukegan Speedway in 1965. He would graduate from the school and work as an engineer for International Harvester, all while working at Waukegan and Grundy County Speedway.
He met Art Frigo in 1975, who was interested in promoting a major Late Model event in the Chicagoland area. The Wayne Carter Classic was hosted on September 7, 1975 at Grundy County Speedway, the inaugural race of what would eventually become the ARTGO Challenge Series.
“My dad was approached by Art Frigo about doing a race at Grundy and so they teamed up and did the first ARTGO shows. They did the ‘75 show that Tom Reffner won at Grundy, and then ARTGO grew from there. My parents bought ARTGO outright from Art Frigo and they ran that through the 1997 season and then it became a part of the NASCAR Elite Tour.
“My parents were the management team at Madison from ‘80-’82 for Fred Neilson, who owned Joe Shear’s cars. Angie and I have owned the track since 2015. It’s pretty cool, I have pictures of me in diapers sitting in the grandstands here, so it’s cool. I’ve pretty much grown up in it.”
Along with ARTGO, McKarns also had a hand at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway, Midwest Motorsports Racers’ Auction, and Capital Super Speedway (now Madison International Speedway).
The younger McKarns has continued the family tradition in short track racing. He currently owns Madison International Speedway and promotes Angell Park Speedway, Midwest Motorsports Racers’ Auction and the Oktoberfest Race Weekend at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway. He purchased the ASA Midwest Tour in late 2014, and helped start the Big 8 Late Model Series before the 2005 season. Other racetrack stops in McKarns’ career path have included Lebanon I-44 Speedway (MO), Elko Speedway (MN), and Rockford Speedway (IL).
His promotional work has not gone unnoticed by the short track racing community. He was named the Auto Racing Promoter of the Year in 2018 by Racing Promotion Monthly (RPM).
I have pictures of me in diapers sitting in the grandstands here, so it’s cool. I’ve pretty much grown up in it.
McKarns had thoughts of other sports growing up, but his involvement in racing ultimately led him away from that. It wasn’t much longer after that when he knew he was going to do in the future.
“I thought I was going to be an NFL Lineman. I did football camps in Colorado and all that stuff, that was about eighth grade or freshman year of high school. I quit playing football after freshman year because it was interfering with my racing schedule. After my sophomore year, I pretty much knew what I would be doing for a living.
“My plan was to take over ARTGO from my parents but in my freshman year of college, NASCAR acquired ARTGO so I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I had been working at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway during the summer since the summer of my sophomore year of high school so I was already inundated with the weekly work schedule and weekly racing and everything that had to offer.”
Having grown up in the sport, he has a lifetime of memories from the racetrack and the traveling that it has consisted of. It’s also given him an extended family that has grown exponentially over the years.
“I remember having frog races on the track after the races at the Dells. We’ve gotten to go go-karting at some of the best karting places in the nation. That was pretty fun. Every racetrack we went to, we knew where the nearest amusement go-karts were.
“While at school they’d ask us to name off our grandparents and I named off about eight sets of grandparents because we had such a huge, extended family in racing. I had my Grandma and Grandpa McKarns and Banks, which was my mom’s side. But then I had a host of other “grandparents” that I grew up with. The racing family’s always been an extended family of ours.
The Joe Shear Classic 200 will mark race two of the inaugural ASA STARS National Tour schedule, set for 2:00PM CT on Sunday, May 7. Advance tickets are available by visiting the track website at misracing.com/tickets, or at the track office during regular business hours. Madison International Speedway is located ten minutes south of Madison, on Sunrise Road off of Highway 51 between Oregon and Stoughton.
The ASA STARS National Tour opened the ten race, six-state schedule at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL on March 11. Georgia racer Casey Roderick won the Sunshine State 200. Roderick is expected to enter the Joe Shear Classic 200, along with the rest of the top Super Late Model drivers in the country.
For the full ASA STARS National Tour schedule, plus Super Late Model rules and other information, please visit the series website at starsnationaltour.com, or be sure to follow the series on social media (Facebook: STARS National Series | Twitter: @racewithstars | IG: @starsnational).
ASA STARS National Tour
The ASA STARS National Tour debuted in March of 2023 for Super Late Model racing in America. Announced last October, many of the best drivers in America will compete in the ten-race national tour with a minimum $100,000 point fund. The championship team will be guaranteed $25,000.
The ASA STARS National Tour is made up of three races from each of the regional pavement Super Late Model Series under the Track Enterprises banner; the ASA CRA Super Series, the ASA Midwest Tour and the ASA Southern Super Series.
The Team Construction Winner’s Circle program has been announced as a part of the ASA STARS National Tour for licensed drivers/teams with perfect attendance. The program provides additional financial incentives to those teams who support the Series, thanks to Team Construction.
Track Enterprises, a Racing Promotions Company based in Illinois, will operate the ASA STARS National Tour. It announced the acquisition of the CRA sanctioning body in January and followed that up with the purchase of the Midwest Tour in July. In October, Track Enterprises President, Bob Sargent announced a partnership with the Southern Super Series which set the table for the formation of the ASA STARS National Tour.
-ASA STARS National Tour Press Release
-Photo credit: Stan Kalwasinski