Go-kart teams will compete wheel to wheel Saturday at the 22nd Jacksonville Grand Prix to benefit Spina Bifida of Jacksonville. | Spina Bifida of JacksonvilleGo-kart teams will compete wheel to wheel Saturday at the 22nd Jacksonville Grand Prix to benefit Spina Bifida of Jacksonville. | Spina Bifida of Jacksonville
Go-kart teams will compete wheel to wheel Saturday at the 22nd Jacksonville Grand Prix to benefit Spina Bifida of Jacksonville. | Spina Bifida of Jacksonville

Wheel-to-wheel go-kart racing helps longtime charity

Published on April 4, 2024 at 3:33 pm

When the flag falls at noon Saturday at Jacksonville’s 103rd Street Sports Complex, 27 teams will pilot knee-high go-karts around the winding Westside track in the annual Jacksonville Grand Prix at speeds over 50 mph.

And as fans watch the action — complete with bumps and spins — the money the racers raise will benefit Spina Bifida of Jacksonville.

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Founded 51 years ago, Spina Bifida of Jacksonville helps 85 families with children and young adults who have the birth defect, supporting them with education, counseling and events. One of its biggest fundraisers is battled every April at the city-owned track at 10244 103rd St.

“We have friends from many years that not only want the thrill of getting out on the track, but are fully backing us as well and we couldn’t ask for more. It is a true blessing,” executive director Demery Webber said. “You will have everyone from first-time drivers out there to seasoned, longtime racers. It makes for a very interesting day.”

A drivers-eye view of the Jacksonville Grand Prix at the 103rd Street go-kart track. | Jacksonville Grand Prix

Spina Bifida is one of the most common permanently disabling birth defects in the U.S.. It happens when a baby’s spine fails to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. The defect can cause paralysis because of damage to the spinal cord.

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Spina Bifida of Jacksonville assists with doctors visits and medical reimbursements, plus referrals, research and vocational development as well as monthly events supporting clients and families. The organization also has donated specially equipped vans for two families in the past year.

The idea for Saturday’s go-kart race came from racing fan Rick Mansfield, who first proposed it as a way to help the agency since its clients include a friend’s granddaughter with the defect. Now run by Endurance Karting, the racers have ranged from championship-winning professionals to first-time fans who will compete in one of seven classes in 10 horsep;ower racing karts provided by Endurance Karting. Each weighs 285 pounds without the driver and can do more than 50 mph.

“The fact that we have made it to 22 years, much less 51 years for the organization, is pretty mind-blowing,” Webber said. “We started out as a pretty small event, and it was in honor of Lindsey, my daughter, who is 24 — also hard to believe. It has grown to be a sellout every year. We have amazing teams that return every year to support us, and we bring new ones in every year, also very exciting.”

Teams competing Saturday include the University of North Florida’s Osprey Racing, plus dealership teams from Porsche Jacksonville and Jaguar-Land Rover and the Three Cheese Cutters team from Wisconsin. Each team paid $1,850 to race, with three to six drivers each. They get helmets, safety gear and racing gloves.

Go-kart racers come off the banking at the 103rd Street track during a recent Jacksonville Grand Prix for Spina Bifida of Jacksonville. | Endurance Karting

Saturday’s race is expected to raise an estimated $10,000 in proceeds for Spina Bifida of Jacksonville. Camaraderie among team members, sponsors and fans can generate more donations, Webber said. Charity auctions held as part of events during The Amelia concours d’elegance in early March resulted in another estimated $100,000 in donations, Webber said. All that makes their agency’s services more accessible, she said.

“It also shows what is possible when people come together and bring awareness and funds to a birth defect that is so very challenging, like spina bifida can be,” Webber said.

Spectators can watch the action for free from trackside grandstands at the city park.

“Anyone is welcome to come out trackside and watch the events,” Webber said. “We will have food to purchase. We encourage anyone to come out, whether they enjoy racing or have an interest in trying it out.”

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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