It was “a great day at the track” for racing partners Layton Krauss and Peter Sotropa.
The 10-year-old Krauss, from Pangman, officially set the world record for the fastest time for a junior racer in the 1/8 mile, for a 72-volt electric drag racer, with a time of 9.91 seconds and 9.97 seconds on Sept. 15 at Medicine Hat.
Krauss had to record two times to set the record.
“You have to have the times within one per cent or they figure it was some kind of fluke, that the gods were on your side or something,” said Sotropa, car owner and car builder.
This is the first year that the duo have been racing. Sotropa spotted Krauss racing his motor bike around the Pangman area.
“I saw that he had no fear. I watched him driving around, I thought this kid can drive just about anything. He is nine years old and he is handling this thing like an adult.”
Sotropa and his wife Candice had been considering buying a car from the United States, for a youngster to drive and their grandchildren are too young. So, Sotropa asked Krauss if he would be interested in driving the rolling chassis that they had bought online on the website, raceingjunk.com.
Krauss agreed and said, “I can drive anything.” He asked his mom if it would be okay and she agreed.
Sotropa asked Krauss some important questions. “I asked him if he was good in school, because I didn’t want a dummy driving this car.”
Sotropa said, “Krauss has turned out to be is an excellent kid” and a great driver.
“All he has to do is worry about driving and we worry about getting the car ready,” Sotropa continued. “He likes to help us in the pits and I have to remind him often that he is the driver and I will take care of turning the wrenches.”
Sotropa purchased the drag car from a dealer in Wichita, Kansas, whose son didn’t want to drive it anymore. Sotropa ended up rebuilding the entire car from January to April, changing it from a gas engine to electric.
Sotropa began by taking the car to Pro-metal Regina and getting them to build an entire new frame so it could hold an electric motor and a new battery.
There is only one other electric car in Canada driving at 72 volts and the best time they have run is 10.19. Everyone Krauss races against drives gas or alcohol engines.
There are some electric cars being driven in the United States, but they aren’t being built as well as his, he said.
“In the States they don’t have many juniors as sophisticated as ours. Our controller is built by a friend of ours from California. He is considered one of the gurus of electric vehicles.”
The battery is a lithium battery that was originally supposed to go in a Volvo car. Sotropa adapted it so it would run at 72 volts. “It’s like using 40 laptop batteries,” said Sotropa. “The combination has to be right, you have to have the right battery, you have to have the right motor and the right controller.”
Sotropa doesn’t have the best technology available. There are controllers that cost $10,000, he said. Sotropa doesn’t reveal how much he has spent on this car.
Along with the battery they made a change that no one else driving electric cars has done and it has helped them keep the car’s weight down. They changed to a main drive belt rather than a chain.
“We went to a Gates Poly chain and the engineers told me the belt was lighter and stronger than the metal with one moving part rather than 200 with every link, roller and pin in a chain.”
The car uses 18-10-8 Hoosier tires, which have 10-inch wide, 18-inch diameter and eight-inch rims.
Sotropa’s and Krauss’ car, which they named Light Switch, weighs 275 pounds with the motor. The car when he bought it weighed 235 pounds when it had an alcohol internal combustion engine.
“The gas tanks only will be filled a little because they are only driving 1/8 of a mile. With a battery rather than a gallon of gas, you have to put on some weight.”
The world record race wasn’t even the fastest time that Krauss and Light Switch ran this year.
On July 28 Krauss drove a 9.53 second race and a 9.57 second race; a half second better than his world record time. They reached a speed of nearly 60 miles per hour. However, the times didn’t count because of a technicality; Sotropa did not have a National Electric Drag Racing technical form filed. Therefore, the record never counted.
Then on Sept. 15, the last race of the season, it looked like they wouldn’t be able to break the record which they knew was in reach.
“We knew we were in trouble because we were having trouble with one of our battery connections and I could hear that it was sparking. We got up to the line and the thing died on us. Then we got disqualified for going through the lights,” said Sotropa.
On Sunday, with a last opportunity they pulled off the record race with the help of a Popsicle stick.
“We jimmied things together. Actually we used a Popsicle stick to hold things tight enough so that we can get this connection to hold and we ended up running a 9.91(seconds).”
They then backed it up with a 9.97 race, which was within the one per cent needed for the record. And this time they submitted it with the National Electric Drag Racing Association technical form.
Though it was a half a second slower than they had ran earlier in the season, Sotropa said it was good enough. “It’s good enough to win the turkey.”
Next year Sotropa and Krauss hope to break two more records.
“We will break the record we set this year and we will set a new record for 96 volts.”
This being Krauss’ first season racing, he drove in the 72-volt class, rather than the faster 96-volt class, hoping to ease into things.
Perhaps, Krauss never needed to be eased into it. In May, before Krauss had ever been on a racetrack, Sotropa enrolled Krauss in a drag racing school in Medicine Hat, and after 40 minutes of driving around pylons, out of the dozen kids he was the only one who didn’t hit a pylon the whole time.
“He is an absolute natural,” said Sotropa. Because he went through with the least errors he was able to be the first one to go down the strip.
“He gets up to the line, he had never driven before and they measured his reaction time. It was a beautiful reaction time. It was like, wow, there it is.
“He ran 11.0 and I told him I won’t cut my hair until you run a 10 (seconds in 1/8 mile race),” Sotropa continued. So the third time out he came back with a big grin on his face, “you can cut your hair now”.
Sotropa and Krauss raced nearly every two weeks this summer, racing in Saskatoon, Estevan, Swift Current and Medicine Hat, where they find the competition to be much better.
The National Hot Rod Association National Open was held in Medicine Hat this summer and there were cars from all over North America, from as far as Denver and California.
“Beautiful cars came up. It’s just world class,” said Sotropa.
The challenge for both Sotropa and Krauss is that drivers can get disqualified for driving too fast. For safety reasons they don’t allow cars in their class to run quicker than 8.9 seconds in the 1/8 mile.
Although Krauss set a world record this year in the electric car, he still has room to improve. He finished the year in 9th place in overall points out of 15 drivers.
Their goal was to finish eighth but they missed three races and that hurt their chances to do better.
Sotropa prefers electric cars because he believes in the junior class consistency is key.
“It’s the idea of pioneering. I really believe once it is perfected it will be more consistent.”
It was way back in the 1970s when Sotropa and his wife Candice first thought of getting involved in kids racing. When the two had been racing they realized that there was nothing for their kids to do.
“Between Medicine Hat and Pangman that is enough time, you can do a lot of thinking and a lot of dreaming … On the way back home we thought that is a hell of an idea, having kids ages eight to 17 to have a class where they can actually race.”
The Sotropas have been into racing for decades, but haven’t been driving for years.
“I broke enough things driving. Turning money into noise is expensive … the first time I raced was in 1969 and I broke so many parts it was discouraging.”
Since 1978 Sotropa said he has stuck mainly to fixing cars as a hobby and that it’s the best hobby he has ever had.
Light Switch is torn apart at the moment and is retired for the winter offseason.
Check out http://lightswitchracing.com/ to keep track of Krauss’ and Sotropa’s racing.