As 400-plus drivers put MG rubber to concrete this morning in Las Vegas at the 19th edition of the SKUSA SuperNationals, all attention will undoubtedly be on lap times and chassis handling, but behind the barriers are those that ensure those lap times are legitimately earned. Moving around the circuit in their blue shirts are the unsung heroes, making difficult decisions and keeping safety the top priority.
Gina French stands among them today. For the past four seasons, French has served as the Race Director for Texas Pro Kart Challenge, the regional SKUSA series in the Lone Star State, and has been involved in karting since 2004. This week French will step into the role of Assistant to the National Race Director during the SuperNationals, as she has at all Pro Tour stops the past two seasons.
However, when she’s not making on-track calls or doing her best to keep drivers’ safe, French and her husband Mark raise their two children, Jake and Morgan, in Sachse, Texas. As part of a racing family, French works as an official while Mark works as a mechanic for Jake at many karting events across the country and world. Jake is a top level USA driver and recently finished eighth in the DD2 category of the Rotax World Finals in Portugal. They are expected to compete in S1 this weekend. In addition to being a fulltime mother for the past twenty years, French has been a part-time manager of Anytime Fitness for the past four years.
French has a passion for karting and an appreciation for the drivers behind the wheel. When asked what her favorite thing about karting is, French said, “Specifically, I’d have to say my interaction with the drivers. I love getting past the kart number and the paint scheme of their helmet and getting to know them.”
Yet being on the other side of the flag comes with its own particular set of challenges. French recognizes the importance of clean racing at every level of karting competition and that tough calls are a necessary part of the gig. “I don’t want to sound cliché but, for me, all calls are tough,” French says. “To know that I have placed an obstacle in a driver’s path to their goal is difficult. But, I look at each ‘official decision’ I make as an opportunity for the driver, their crew and myself to learn something. After all, Regionals are the bridge to the Nationals.”
French also acknowledges some key differences between her roles at the SuperNationals and regional racing events. “There’s less pressure in some respects,” French remarks, “No driver’s meetings to prepare for; no scheduling responsibilities; staff, etc.” However, the underlying pulse of karting beats the same at every level of competition. “The stress and adrenaline rush are the same,” says French. “Maintaining a steady focus on your area requires concentration, quick thinking and immediate reaction. Each driver’s safety is most important so I have to be ready for anything.”
It’s undeniable that the competition at SuperNationals will be fierce this week. With so much on the line and the added excitement of a new venue and circuit layout, drivers will have to work hard to best their competition. However, while the drivers may experience some difficulty with the new track changes, French is confident that the officiating crew will be able to run a high quality event. “I don't foresee any new challenges for the SKUSA ‘A’ team going into this week of racing. The staff is top notch and will adapt quickly,” she says. “Now the racers on the other hand…”