During my short time in Las Vegas something struck me as I spent more and more time wandering the neon maze of slot machines and poker tables. The unhealthy pallor of the casino players closely resembled the expression of a zombie rather than an individual having the time of their lives. Exhaustion was painted across their faces, but the despondent expressions transformed into joyous looks when entering the paddock of the US Open Championship Finale in the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino parking lot. Drivers and teams were smiling, younger drivers were running and playing with each other and mechanics were all enjoying the luxury of seeing old friends from distant countries. The casinos had a cloud of despair hovering over the patrons, while the racetrack showcased the happiness and joy that I came to expect from the city that never sleeps.
This expression on the driver’s faces was no anomaly though. Creating this enjoyable atmosphere and bringing the ‘fun’ back into the sport was the main goal for everyone involved with MAXSpeed Entertainment. The strong inaugural year of the series was reflective of the effort put forth by the administration team, and drivers were pleased with the level of organization at every event. The cultivation of this praise came down to the organization and dedication put into the program, and the drive of one such individual who has been pushing for a change when the US Open was nothing more than a thought.
Hailing from Montreal, Quebec, MAXSpeed Entertainment and US Open President Richard Boisclair has been committed to the Rotax Max program since early 2011. His primary mission; to grow the Rotax Max program in North America and fill a need that existed with the Rotax drivers of America. His origins begin in 1993, when Richard and brother Michel attended a club race in Grand Mere, Quebec. While Michel left the race with a strong motivation to expand the scene into Montreal, Richard followed suit and two years later, they opened SRA karting with partners Luc Sauriol and Christian Bergeron to grow their business and begin expanding into the Montreal market.
However, in 1996, Richard had found that the business in the karting industry became too much to handle, both from a business and an emotional perspective. He pulled out of the operation to return to his previous career, but supported Michel over the years as a race announcer.
Over a decade went by until Michel brought up the idea once again to Richard to become involved in the business side of the sport. Initially, Richard was hesitant in returning, he enjoyed the sport and the drivers but was only interested in a support role during his free time. After some discussions with Michel, the duo along with American Gary Lobough founded The MAXSpeed Group in 2011 with the hopes to make a positive aspect on the industry through the Rotax program.
The mission for MAXSpeed was simple. Leave their mark in the industry and give drivers a fun and enjoyable program to race in. First, they looked at the Florida Winter Tour and dissected what made it so successful. They discovered that even though the series was hugely popular, they felt that they could improve on some of the aspects and make it more successful than it already was.
MAXSpeed purchased the Florida Winter Tour in 2014 and began operating it in time for the first race in January of 2015. Building on the platform proved challenging, but one such common complaint had resonated with Richard. Rotax Drivers only had a handful of events to look forward after the Florida Winter Tour had concluded.
“After the Florida Winter Tour, and Challenge of the Americas, there was nothing to look forward to until US Rotax Grand Nationals in August and then it was all over,” Richard explains about the American Rotax schedule.
“So drivers were looking for a nationally travelling series from MAXSpeed but instead they had to support our competitors because we had nothing happening.”
Richard had stumbled into an opportunity to give the drivers something to look forward to. An American Rotax championship that travels across the country, held at some of the nations top circuits. Through a successful 2015 Florida Winter Tour, the US Open held its first event at Dallas Karting Complex on May fourteenth, and its second at Grand Junction, Colorado on June twenty-fifth.
Organizing the events proved challenging. Huge investments were made to ensure that the entire operation was running smoothly and that any issue could be alleviated in a timely manner. Open communication and an experienced staff helped make the series a hit among drivers and mechanics alike, and the successful Florida Winter Tour championship format of a race weekend helped keep everything familiar and exciting for drivers arriving internationally.
But there was a distinctive vibe that surrounded the events that made them popular among teams and families. When attending the events, the organization and smoothness of it all let everyone become registered in a timely manner, let any penalties or issues be communicated immediately and clearly, and followed a strict schedule that was accurate to the minute. All of this boosted the moods of everyone attending the event, and helped keep everyone on time and satisfied at the conclusion of the race.
For Richard, the races became much more than an investment of his time and resources, they became a personal mission to help ensure these drivers leave with a feeling of fulfillment. Around the paddock and grid, drivers are laughing and working with one another, mechanics are smiling and almost everyone asserted a look of vindication and concentration, rather than frustration and dissatisfaction. The politeness of every employee helped raise the moods of disappointed drivers and keep the philosophy of MAXSpeed alive.
For Richard though, this comes as no surprise. His mission was clear from the beginning and the praise that has been received so far is the end result of his plan. Bringing this series together though was only possible after overcoming some major challenges, both before the season started and during the events themselves. The first race in Dallas saw some major flooding occur and prompted Richard and his team to overcome the problem. Grand Junction saw some minor issues within the administration take place leading up to the event, and finally, the finale at the Rio in Las Vegas saw enormous preparation costs and organization challenges to overcome to make the event possible.
“We planned, for months and months and months.” Richard explains about Racing at the Rio. “I think for our first try, we made a few mistakes but we were very well structured. We had excellent help and focused on sticking to a tight ‘to-do’ list.”
As Richard and I both stare over the balcony of the presidential suite in the Rio Hotel and look down at the 1.3km long temporary circuit, he finishes his answer with a simple statement, “looking over at the track right now, I’m extremely pleased.”
Building upon this success is the future plan for Richard and MAXSpeed. He notes that he isn’t looking to re-invent the wheel; he wants to build on the platform that he has created and make it a strong, long lasting, competitive series. As the series organizes more events, they ultimately gain more experience on how to approach challenges and continually improve things.
The future is bright for the US Open. New officiating equipment and investments in some key assets will give the series the most modern tools in the industry to help keep the results fair and accurate. Heading to NOLA Motorsports Park (host of the 2013 Rotax Grand Finals) in April and Utah Motorsports Campus in June will take the series to new locations before heading back to the Rio Hotel & Casino for the finale in November.
Streamlining communication from the race officials to the driver have always been a personal goal for Richard but maintaining a fun environment will remain the central mission for MAXSpeed, and it is wholly dedicated to ensuring that everyone leaves the weekend with a smile on their face.
Constructing this series isn’t only beneficial for the American population; having the US OPEN series find success opens new venues for drivers to compete and enjoy. Richard is an enormous supporter of the Canadian Rotax program with brother Michel and having an industry leading partnership between Canadians and Americans provides both countries with opportunities to grow the sport together. For Canadians, we gained a valuable new opportunity to experience racing in new environments. And for Americans, they benefit from having more chances to race against competitive drivers from neighboring nations and have a consistent schedule to look forward too.
Creating new opportunities for kart racers to excel are what keep Richard and his team motivated in the industry. However, like all great organizations, having a strong and passionate team is what solidifies the foundation for the entire operation. Garrett Potter’s experience in operating NOLA Motorsports Park has proven to be an invaluable source of expertise for MAXSpeed, and the latest addition of Toronto’s own Andrew Campbell will give MAXSpeed and the US Open a local and friendly face while supplying his own knowledge to move the series into new territories.
As I flew back to Toronto, I reflected back on my experience competing in the US Open. Having witnessed the commitment first hand, and conversed with the key people who run the entire operation, I feel confident that the US Open can continue to build on its successful formula and continue to evolve the Rotax program for everyone involved. Now with the generous backing of Sofina Foods, MAXSpeed and the US Open series looks to be solidifying their foothold, and continue to grow into popular and long lasting series.