Mayor's Cup Grand Prix drivers appreciate support from downtown crowds

May 19—ANDERSON — Saturday's Sertoma Mayor's Cup Grand Prix marked Cory Patterson's first appearance in Anderson in nearly a decade.

He doesn't plan to wait nearly as long to return.

"This is one of the two big street races I really look forward to," Patterson said as he worked on his kart following a practice run Saturday morning.

"Anderson's always really neat. To be able to race downtown in a metro area, it really gives you that true street race feel — kind of like you're running Long Beach in IndyCar or Monaco in F1. You just don't get that (feeling) anywhere."

Patterson said commitments to his work in an engine repair shop and other obligations have crowded his schedule for the last several years and prevented him making the trip from his home in Lafayette.

He and other drivers who are part of the Southern Indiana Racing Association's Karting Midwest Championship Series said the unique layout of street course, combined with enthusiastic support from sponsors and spectators, makes Anderson one of their favorite stops during the season, which began in April and runs through October.

"It's a laid-back group here, very laid-back," said Chad King, a driver from LaFontaine. "We don't have any problems. It's a good place to start and go out and see how you measure up."

The Grand Prix is one of the centerpiece events of the Little 500 Festival, which celebrates the area's connections to auto racing and also generates awareness and funding for a host of local charities.

"This is a big deal for us," said Ashley Starr, president of the Anderson Sertoma Club. "All the funds that we raise through this race get put right back into Madison County — we don't keep a penny.

"It goes to other nonprofits that need it more than we do — all those places that are trying to house our folks and help them with mental illness and things that are just really needed in this community. That's why we do it."

Starr noted that while sponsorship dollars and other contributions are needed to pay insurance costs and other necessities, a small army of volunteers enables race day to unfold smoothly.

She said more than 60 volunteers helped transform Central Avenue and other nearby streets into a challenging street course. Their tasks included erecting safety barriers and fencing, running electrical wiring and converting the parking lot adjacent to the Eisenhower Bridge into a pit area.

"We've done it every year, and we know where things need to go," she said. "We get started on Friday evening, and we're ready to roll Saturday morning."

Patterson, who has been racing karts for 22 years, said he and other drivers feed off the energy and enthusiasm of the crowds, which gradually build throughout the day and over the weekend.

"One of the reasons we come here is, there's a general public, a population that comes to watch that we don't get at normal cart tracks," Patterson said.

"It's really cool to be able to run in front of people who wouldn't get this opportunity normally. You can be somebody's hero for a day."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.