Organizers are gearing up for the American Red Cross 17th annual Susquehanna 500 Mini-Indy go-kart race in Brandon Park Saturday and Sunday - by far the organization's "No. 1 fundraiser," said Joe Hutchinson, chairman of the event.
"In the previous 16 races, we have raised over $400,000 for the Red Cross, and the money comes directly from entry fees that sponsors pay to have their car or cars in the race," he said.
Qualifying heats begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and run until around 4 p.m. when there will be entertainment in the park, Hutchinson said.
"A driver on one of our teams has a band, Strawberry Alley, that will be performing in the band shell," he said. "They play classic rock, blues and contemporary music and everyone is invited."
Sunday's feature races begin at 9:30 a.m., running until around 2:30 p.m., when there will be an awards ceremony.
Vendors will be on hand both days to provide food for spectators and racers, and there will be a break for lunch at noon both days.
Hutchinson said he races every year and his car's entry fee is paid by his team, sponsored by Blaise Alexander Ford.
"For new teams it costs $500 and that has remained the same for 17 years," he said.
Returning teams pay $800. For multiple cars, such as two or three, the entry fee is reduced by $100.
The event, featuring 22 cars representing 18 teams racing in five races over the weekend, is open to the public to come and watch free of charge.
"You have to be 18 years old with a valid drivers license or permit and a lot of the teams provide their own drivers," he said.
As an example, Hutchinson explained that his team is a mix.
"I am sponsored by Blaise Alexander Ford, and two of my drivers are from them and two of them are from the body shop that is putting my car back together again after last year's race," he said.
There are a couple teams that actually do their own sponsoring.
"The teams will race in two divisions, seven team's cars in stock division, and five in the modified division. There are very few differences between the car, they are mostly technical differences," he said.
To qualify for the main races on Sunday, cars race around the park and the fastest qualify in 20-lap races, he said.
"A lap around the park is .65 miles so it is 13 miles, and there are two of them, and the fastest cars go into the championship race on Sunday afternoon," Hutchinson said.
There are five 20 lap races, in each one, each car must pit twice for driver changes, he said.
"Not for fuel or tires like in NASCAR, but to try to even it out, we make each car pit twice to change drivers so each team has to have three drivers," he said.
There is one race Saturday afternoon, two Sunday morning and two Sunday afternoon.
Trophies are awarded to the first, second and third place teams, in the following categories: stock, modified, consolation and hard luck.
Hutchinson said the event is the result of a city wide effort each year.
"Many companies will sponsor a car and return year after year as a faithful participant to help fund the Red Cross budget. A lot of companies will get a car, and their employees will race in the race. There are other companies that will buy a car and enter it in the race. It is a great way to foster camaraderie among their employees by participating in a team," he said.
Organizing the race each year takes months of preparation, he added.
"We have to get permits to close Packer Street that runs right through the park, the city sweeps the street for us, and we have people who volunteer to stay in the park overnight to watch the cars," he said.
The Sportscar Club of America officials volunteer their services to officiate the race each year, an enormous contribution, McCormick explained.
"They are in Watkins Glen every week for pro races all year, but they come to Williamsport each year at no charge and officiate our race," he said.
Susquehanna Health provides an ambulance and emergency medical staff for the race and someone else pays for garbage pick up and clean up in the park. Another pays for the Porta Potties, he added.
Volunteers to help set up and tear down the course at Brandon Park are still needed, according to McCormick, including another person to volunteer as the track announcer so spectators know what is going on.
"Volunteers are always needed to pick up trash or serve meals, but the most important is in the setting down of tires to line the track to keep cars in safety areas, as we prepare the race track on Friday afternoon, and the collecting of tires after the race is completed, " he said.
A minimum of 30-40 people are needed to do the "huge task," of unloading three tractor trailer loads of tightly packed tires, and then reloading them when the event is over, McCormick added. "Sometimes we get that many, but if we only get half that many, it takes more than twice as long," he said.
McCormick said the strongest volunteers are put into the truck trailers to toss the tires out onto the ground for volunteers to grab and place along the track.
The volunteers are directed by someone from the Mini-Indy organizing committee to show them where the tires are to go.
For anyone wanting to help, McCormick said they try to start laying down the tires around 12 or 12:30 pm Friday and then pick them up starting around 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
"The Wayne Township and Clinton County Landfill stores a trailer load of tires for use each year and Lycoming County Landfill stores two loads for us," he said.
For more information about the race and ways to volunteer contact Bill Van Campen at 329-4746 or Joe Hutchinson at 916-4755.
2013 Tentative Race Schedule
7 a.m. - Cars and teams arrive. Registration
8 a.m. - Final team meeting with race official volunteers
8:45 a.m. - Practice runs begin
Group 1 Stock
Group 2 Stock
Single car qualifying
1 p.m. - Lunch
2 p.m. - Racing Heats Begin
Stock Division Heat 1 to 20 Laps
Stock Division Heat 2 to 20 Laps
Modified 20 Laps
8 a.m. - Open warm-ups by group
9:30 a.m. - Feature Races
Stock Feature 1 to 20 Laps
Stock Feature 2 to 20 Laps
Modified Feature 20 Laps
11:30 p.m. - Lunch
Noon - Final races
2:30 p.m. - Award ceremony