The seventh annual Champions Karting Challenge took place at GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville Thursday afternoon. The event pitted the seven NASCAR touring series champions and the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion against not only one another, but also a host of gathered media members.
The field was split in two, with media members partnered with the champion drivers. After their stint, the field performed pit stops to swap drivers and the champions headed out onto the track.
Eventually, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion William Byron would find himself out front, but NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Chris Eggleston was right on his back bumper.
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The two raced hard around the 11-turn, 0.7-mile track and on the final lap Eggleston saw his opportunity. Headed into the sharp left-hander, Eggleston made a move under Byron and used a little muscle to take the lead and score the win for him and his media partner, FOXSports.com's Samuel Reiman.
"What a great event; it's so much fun to come out here," Eggleston told FOXSports.com. "It's really cool to have all of these champions from not only here in the United States, but from all of the world. It's pretty cool the two K&N Pro Series drivers, me and Byron, were duking it out. I had a blast. I like doing things like this because it often reminds you of why we race and brings the true value of fun back to it."
Despite the hard racing and ultimate door-slam to take the win, Eggleston said every time he looked over at Byron, he was smiling in the kart.
"He drove it in there," Byron said of Eggleston's last-lap move. "I saw him two [kart lengths] back and said, 'OK, I'm just going to get through this corner and get a good drive off.' I guess I should have just drove to the bottom and kind of guarded it, but I probably would've done the same thing honestly. It was fun. I tried to get to him there in the last corner but I could get there. It was awesome, though."
The media kicked things off, with Motor Racing Network's Kyle Rickey moving from the rear of the field to first by the first corner.
Per the modified rules for this year's event, Rickey and I were forced to start at the rear of the field, partnered with the two slowest champions from practice. We have the most karting experience of the media, and more than some of the touring series champions.
With Rickey out front, the fight was on for second.
FOXSports.com's Reiman, who handles the majority of the website's motor coverage, spun early in the going but was able to fight back through the field to fourth. With Reiman spinning off course, that opened the door for myself and Harrison Hamlet, sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin, to battle it out for the second spot before handing it over to the professionals.
Much like Eggleston and Byron's battle would be later, our race saw some fierce side-by-side racing and multiple passes each lap. Eventually, Hamlet took second as we were forced to pit to swap drivers.
After the media-champion race, the professionals hit the track again for another race, this time champion versus champion. The field lined up in reverse order, with the fastest in the rear.
This time, the field stayed much closer together, with Byron, Eggleston and NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion Ander Vilarino fighting it out for the top spot.
Vilarino showed the way for much of the event, but on the final lap Eggleston made a big pass through a right-hander that sent the Spanish driver back to third. The race was not over yet, however. Coming off the final corner, Byron was able to make a move under Eggleston and get the advantage coming to the checkered.
It was another hard-fought race, which ended with a last-lap pass and lots of smiles afterward. For these eight champions, Thursday's event was truly about having fun, getting to know one another and celebrating the year's accomplishments.
"This is the week that everything sinks in that you did all year," NASCAR All-American Series champion told FOXSports.com. "We had a lot of fun today. We didn't get any trophies, but we've got to lose some weight first. We had a lot of fun. Every time NASCAR brings us here to GoPro, everyone has a blast. We really enjoy it."
For Byron, Thursday's event required a day off from high school, but allowed him to get to know some of the racers he grew up watching.
"It's really cool. Guys like Lee Pulliam, Doug Colby [NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion], those are guys I look up to and have watched on the short tracks," said Byron. "It's pretty cool to see those guys and race with them a little bit. They've got a lot expertise, so just asking them a lot of questions is awesome, too."