By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
ALEXANDRIA — Years ago, when Tony Weiske was just kart racing, he watched a fellow racer hit a sign post and suffer a serious injury.
With the man's livelihood in danger, another kart racer, whom the man didn't know, offered to pay the man's bills and provide for his family until he recovered.
Since that day, Weiske has known he's in the right place.
"We're like a big family," he said.
Weiske is the vice president of Southern Indiana Racing Association, or SIRA, in the Midwest Championship Series of karting. The organization is holding its second Alexandria Grand Prix this weekend. Saturday, the league welcomed 82 karts from 16 divisions. Thirteen practice runs and heats were held in preparation of the 15-lap feature races to be held today.
Several hundred spectators showed up to watch as the downtown area of Alexandria was transformed into a street track. Vendors selling fair food lined outside of the track. It's the second SIRA event in Madison County this year, after the Anderson Mayor's Cup in May, and it's the eighth race of a 10-venue series in 2012.
Weiske, who was on his feet directing and flag-waving from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., said he enjoys visiting the small towns for the same reason he enjoys kart racing: the family mentality.
"It's a real family atmosphere and it's entertaining. It's good-natured and a lot of fun, and for anyone like myself who's an adrenaline junkie, it's addicting," he said.
The small karts are loud, fast and low to the ground. Racers can feel every crack, every pebble. Suspension is basically nonexistent. The drivers rely on their weight and balance as much as their acumen to win races. In the Sunday races in Alexandria, the cars might reach as fast as 75 mph on the straightaways. But on larger tracks, the karts can crank up to over 130 mph.
One of the most successful racers on the circuit is Mike Hornyak, who races two karts in two different classes. He agreed that SIRA and karting in general is like a huge family of support, and he's been drawn to it since he was young.
One of Hornyak's karts is in a restricted division, with more stipulations put on the engine. He's currently first in the SIRA standings in that division and placed third in Saturday's heats. Several racers said the hobby is exciting, but quite expensive. Hornyak disagreed.
Despite having decade-old chassis and frugally obtaining parts, Hornyak has compiled a very successful career. The Ohio native and Columbus, Ind., resident is an engineer at Cummins, and said he relies on his knowledge and ability over money to get the job done.
"I love racing and going fast. Simple as that. I enjoy coming to small towns like this and performing in front of a crowd. I pride myself on putting on a show for someone. A lot of people like to race like NASCAR and do a lot of bumping. I'm not like that," he said.
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Sunday schedule Downtown Alexandria Races from 1 to 5 p.m.