Gilbert Kart Champion and Bondurant Instructor to Take on the World

Gilbert Kart Champion and Bondurant Instructor to Take on the World

Gilbert’s Alan Rudolph is fast, world-class fast.

This December, the father of three will compete for the world karting championship in Portimao, on the southern coast of Portugal. If he wins, he would become this country’s first world karting champion since 1978, when Lake Speed won that racing laurel.

Professional karting is similar to amateur go-karting, but the race vehicles are much faster — up to 100 mph with the most powerful engines — handle much firmer with tight suspensions and the global competition is extremely demanding.

For most of his time, Rudolph is the vice president and general manager of the Bob Bondurant SuperKart School at the world-famous school at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix. There, instructors at the 44-year old world-destination have taught more than 400,000 students — professional drivers, teens, chauffeurs, amateur enthusiasts and karters — how to be safer and more efficient behind any wheel.

In March, with firsts and accumulated points won during the national karting tour, Rudolph was awarded the Florida Winter Tour Rotax DD2 Master Championship in karting and, because of that, a ticket to the 2012 Rotax Grand Finals in Portugal as a member of Team USA. Most recently, this past August, he won again at the US Rotax Grand Nationals at Michiana Raceway Park facility in South Bend, Ind. — a tune-up for the championship.

For the last 13 years, Rudolph has handled the day-to-day karting operations at the Bondurant School, while also expanding its programs. He also teaches entry-level shifter kart courses and advanced classes at PKRA, the Valley’s kart track, and also coordinates the school’s racing series in Formula Mazdas and the Bondurant Rotax Max Challenge.

As one of the world’s shifter-kart luminaries, he is a multi-time national champion; the only five-time SKUSA “King of the Street” champion; a WKA National and Grand National champion; and holds, among a number of records, the 250 cc SuperKarts all-time lap record at Road America. He has appeared on television, radio and on the covers of magazines such as Shifter Kart Illustrated and Kart Sport.

“I began racing at the age of 9, so I have pretty much always done that,” says Rudolph, who was born and raised in St. Charles, Mo., just outside St. Louis. “My parents owned an auto shop, and my dad did a trade with someone to work on his car in trade for this ‘racing go-kart.’ We had no idea what it was, but after the first time to the track we were hooked, and the rest is history.”

After his schooling and while racing, he entered the printing business through a racer friend. He spent 10 years working in the pre-press side of that industry and even did sales for a couple of years.

Then in October 1998, he met Bob Bondurant, the world champion driver and founder of the Bondurant School, at the CIK World Championships in Charlotte, N.C., the first time the event had been held in the United States.

Bondurant, meanwhile, had been speaking with Michael Schumacher, the multi-world-championship Formula-1 driver. “Michael told Bob that he did karts regularly because no other form of driving gave him such a similar experience to his F-1 cars,” Rudolph says. And Bob thought, ‘If it’s good for Michael Schumacher, it’s good for the Bondurant School and our students.”

Rudolph and Bondurant chatted at the racetrack a few times that weekend. “It wasn’t two weeks after that event that I received a letter from Bob asking if I was interested in moving to Phoenix to run his newly opened karting school,” he recalls. He flew out for a visit to the world-famous school and moved to Phoenix in March 1999. Today, with wife Jessica, they are raising daughters Alyssa and Ashley and son Aden.

For a while, Rudolph stopped racing, with the demands of work at Bondurant, family life and the fact he was already 40-plus. But, last November at the PRI show in Orlando. Fla., he jumped into a kart again and did well in the Red Bull Street Fight All Stars Race.

That race was sponsored by Rotax, and the Rotax importer said to Alan, “America needs a World Champion: Have you considered running Rotax in the DD2 Masters class?”

“The more I thought about it, the more it intrigued me to try and achieve this goal,” he recalls. So, he decided to run this year’s Florida Winter Tour with the PSL Atlantic team owned by Mike Dobbelsteyn.

And, now he’s on to the world championship in Portugal.

“Alan is a fierce competitor and wants to win each and every time out,” Dobbelsteyn says. “He is a great driver and perfect role model for up-and-coming drivers and should be a great asset to Team USA."

Says Rudolph:  “I am very excited and honored to represent Team USA in Portugal. I have heard so much about the event — all great things — and I would like to attain the opportunity to help Team USA win its first Rotax Grand Finals Championship.”

Until then, he will be guiding drivers at the Bob Bondurant SuperKart School. “We do everything from beginner ‘experiential-type’ courses to advanced courses,” he explains. “What most people don’t know is that many of the same techniques apply to both cars and karts — like trail breaking, weight transfer and line technique.”

At whatever level, karting is fun, instructive and demanding for everyone in the family: “I love professional karting because it’s one of the purest forms of racing,” Rudolph says. “The wheel-to-wheel battles are second to none, and the physical aspect is more demanding than anything I have ever driven.”

David M. Brown

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