Feel the Excitement with QRCKarts in Red Bluff
07/20/2016 11:00AM ● Published by Melissa Mendonca
Go, Speed Racer
By Melissa Mendonca
Photo: Manda Reed
Perhaps it was inevitable that when go-kart racers asked to use the flat track popular with motorcycle racers at the Tehama District Fair more than 20 years ago that a new sport would be born. Robert Carrel, son of race promoter Bob Carrel, enjoyed watching the go-karts once they were on the scene.
Like any adrenaline junkie with a need for speed, however, he wondered what it would be like to replace a regular go-kart motor with a motorcycle motor. He got to work in his shop to find the answer. Turns out, the go-karts become twice as fast. A trend started, and go-karts began racing faster than ever with these new motors.
“Eventually, it became popular enough to start a business,” says RJ LaChance,
general manager of QRCKarts, a go-kart manufacturer in Red Bluff founded by the younger Carrel. “They eventually got dangerous enough to need a cage.”
The result is a style of racing called Outlaw Karts, and its popularity has become big enough that there are now three other manufacturers of the karts, all with ties to the North State. “We're the biggest, but we're not the only one,” says LaChance, noting that “QRC started Outlaw Karts. There was no such thing as an Outlaw Kart until QRC created them.”
QRCKarts has a network of distributors in 12 states, from Oregon to Texas to North Carolina. North State tracks – at the Tehama District Fairgrounds and Cycleland Speedway in Chico – still produce some of the strongest races and drivers.
“It's an exciting thing to do if you're behind the wheel,” says LaChance. “It's incredibly exciting. As far as motor-sports is concerned, this is about the best training ground there is.”
LaChance points to the success of popular NASCAR racer Kyle Larson. “He was a kid in Elk Grove that started racing at the Tehama District Fairgrounds and Cycleland Speedway in Chico,” says LaChance. “Those were the two tracks where he learned to race and he did it in one of our go-karts. He was discovered in our go-karts to race sprint cars. He was discovered in sprint cars to eventually end up in NASCAR.”
And lest one think that this sport is just for males, he says, “It's becoming more and more popular with the girls. There's a decent number of them, and they're really good at it.”
Case in point is Karsyn Elledge, daughter of current QRCKarts owner Jimmy Elledge, and granddaughter of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. The elder Elledge was a crew chief for Earnhardt and bought QRCKarts to remain tied to racing. Karsyn is racing competitively sponsored by Nickelodeon and is racking up wins. Her dad travels to Red Bluff from North Carolina once or twice a month to keep up with the business. Originally from Redding, Elledge grew up racing go-karts when QRCKarts started. His father was an engine builder for Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing.
Two other women, Jodie Robinson of Forest Hill and Holly Shelton of Gold River, were just signed to Toyota's development team which looks for talented drivers to move into NASCAR.
LaChance left an enviable job in marketing for the challenge of building QRCKarts, as well as the sport itself, because he's found so much satisfaction there, both as a young man who raced and now as a father who brought twin sons up as racers. “Part of the reason that I took the job is that I love the sport,” he says. “It gave so much to my family and I.”
LaChance has an entrepreneurial spirit and says, “It's a very, very tough business. To get it to the next level will be a huge hurdle and it's one I wanted to take on. There's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be put in place to compete and to grow the sport.”
“We manufacture virtually everything, about 80 percent of the finished product,” says LaChance, who recently signed on as one of two Tehama County businesses with Grow Manufacturing, an effort led by Transfer Flow's Bill Gaines to develop manufacturing in the North State. Although there are challenges to being located in Red Bluff, from shipping and receiving to attracting top talent, he says, “We're all people who are committed to being here. I'm not quite sure that we'd want to be anywhere else.” Machinist Bill Van Tichelt has been with the company for 20 years.
With both Cycleland and the Tehama District Fairgrounds races, he adds, “This is still the best concentration of competition. And this is the best competition.”
As he looks to the future of both the sport and his business, LaChance says, “I hope that someday this is a place that people are waiting in line to work for. We want to be the place that attracts talented people.”
22805 Antelope Blvd., Red Bluff
(530) 527-9199 • qrckarts.com