Purdue senior Dustin Weisner said competing in this year’s Purdue Grand Prix doesn’t compare to anything he has done on the West Lafayette campus, including being a member of last year’s homecoming court.
The Columbus North graduate, who did five years with the Marine Corps before enrolling at Purdue, will race for the Purdue Student Veteran Organization. Weisner has been with the Student Veteran Organization since his freshman year and was a crew member for last year’s team.
He will compete as a driver this year in the school’s 60th annual race, which gets the green flag at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s hard to put into words because it’s super special to be able to have this opportunity,” Weisner said. “I have grown up loving auto racing and going to races — Indy 500, Daytona and all these other races. So to actually be a part of the race as a driver is something really special.”
Weisner and his race team have had three weeks of late nights practicing and working on the kart to prepare for this weekend. Most kart races are no more than 120 laps, but the Grand Prix is 160. The extra 40 laps makes it more difficult for Weisner and the crew members to keep up the maintenance on the kart.
“We’re going way further than these parts were engineered to do,” Weisner said. “So it’s really a test of not only your endurance as a driver, but your team’s ability to adapt to an ever-changing situation.”
Anybody who has had their driving license for a lengthy period of time will still have problems racing these carts. Weisner said it took some time trying to figure out when and how to break while driving with two feet instead of one.
In the go-kart, the brake pedal is on the left, and the gas pedal is on the right, so drivers have to work both pedals simultaneously to get the kart to work the way they want.
Weisner knows he is not the best at driving the cart, but he was good enough to qualify. He said he has learned something new about cart racing every day since he’s been practicing.
“It’s open air. You hear everything and feel all the wind and you’re about to make a 70 degree turn at high speed,” Weisner said. “The first time that happens, you’re like, ‘Oh goodness, I am a little over my head here.’ It takes some real getting used to.”
The race track is just over a quarter-mile long with an estimated 12 left and right turns. Weisner has been able to get his cart up to 36 mph on the track, while some of the fastest racers can get up to around 39 mph. The kart’s top speed is much faster Weisner said, but the track distance limits the speeds.
The Student Veterans Organization has been prone to have mechanical issues during races in the past. Last year, the team was disqualified when the kart’s roll cage broke. A team is not allowed to continue with a broken roll cage.
Members put their own money into financing the cart, so one of Weisner’s main goals on Saturday will be not to create a financial setback for the team by breaking the kart. He still will be looking to place as one of the top teams out of the 33 racers going into the race.
“I feel honored to have this experience to represent our team and organization,” Weisner said. “While my name is the one that’s associated with it, I get to be more of the face of the organization because there is more than just me to this team. It’s a lot of pressure because I don’t want to let them down, but it’s a good pressure.”
What: Purdue Grand Prix
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Purdue University
Who: 33 Purdue students, including Dustin Weisner, a senior from Columbus North driving for Purdue Student Veteran Organization