Gregg McKarns achieved a career goal in February when he received the 43rd Auto Racing Promoter of the Year Award during Racing Promotion Monthly’s annual workshops in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The 40-year-old McKarns was literally born to be a racing promoter.
“My parents (John and Sue McKarns) had the ARTGO Challenge Series. Mom was actually in the hospital having me in February 1979 and that’s when they signed the papers to take full ownership of ARTGO,” McKarns shared with SPEED SPORT. “Dad and Art Frigo started the series in 1975 and my parents took full control in 1979. I grew up knowing nothing other than having a family business that was a touring late model series.
“My earliest memories are of being the kid running around the race track with a bucket of Matchbox cars and playing Matchbox cars with the other kids,” McKarns continued. “Soon, we were distributing flyers for upcoming special events and selling checkered flags, programs and drivers lists.
“Eventually, dad would take me along on his visits to Vercauteren Publishing, where he did all of the ad layouts. He would have me do the layouts for some of the Midwest Enduro Series events,” McKarns added. “Shortly, thereafter, I was allowed to start doing some of the ARTGO races. My youth was spent helping layout the ads for upcoming events, helping promote those events and going on adventures across the Midwest to a variety of tracks to hand out flyers and talk about upcoming events. Then going to those events and doing whatever jobs needed to get done.”
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John and Sue McKarns sold the ARTGO Challenge Series to NASCAR in 1998 and Gregg McKarns turned his attention to short-track racing. He eventually spent a decade as the general manager of both Rockford (Ill.) Speedway and the touring Big 8 Series.
Today, McKarns and his wife, Angie, own and operate Madison Int’l Speedway in Oregon, Wis., along with the nomadic ARCA Midwest Tour for super late models. Featuring both quarter- and half-mile paved ovals, Madison Int’l Speedway hosts a diverse schedule that runs from late April through mid-September, while the ARCA Midwest Tour has 10 races at eight tracks on its schedule.
McKarns also promotes the popular Oktoberfest weekend at LaCrosse (Wis.) Fairgrounds Speedway, organizes a series of Tuesday night street drags at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis., and hosts a handful of racing auctions during the winter.
He expects to have his hand in approximately 70 events this year.
“We bought the Midwest Tour in the fall/winter of 2014 and we always knew there was a chance we were going to end up buying Madison also, and then that came to be in 2015,” McKarns explained. “During my time at Rockford Speedway, we were doing 52 shows a year there and we also had the Big 8 Series, which was eight races total, six of them outside of Rockford. We were doing a lot of events and that got us prepared for what we are doing now.
“The auctions are in the offseason — not that the offseason isn’t busy — but that allows us some time to do those. The rest is just a matter of planning. If you come into my office, there is a huge dry-erase board that’s all decked out with the dates, times, locations and descriptions of all the events we’re doing over the course of a year,” McKarns continued. “It has a bunch of areas for notes for everything from who is singing the national anthem to which sponsor’s doing what and it keeps life on track. I also have a desk calendar that we are able to sit at and plan that this entry blank needs to go out by this time, so I write myself a reminder a week ahead of time. You just keep knocking stuff off the list. We are not winging it by any means, but if you come up with a battle plan and carry it through, you can succeed.”