A tradition was born amidst the roar of lawnmower engines at Purdue University on May 17, 1958. The Purdue Grand Prix was born after a dream inspired by a few enthusiastic students’ late night bull session became a reality. The students wanted a way for engineering students at Purdue to exercise their skills, knowledge, and enthusiasm. Since its beginning, Grand Prix has matured into a successful and well-run organization that concentrates its fundraising efforts to provide scholarships to students. The Foundation centers on its motto of “students helping students.”
The first race was run on North Intramural Field and an adjacent parking lot. Each kart was built from scratch, had a lawnmower engine, and could barely exceed 30 m.p.h. After 144 laps or 60 miles and an average speed of 22.6 m.p.h., James Moneyhun of Gable Courts, now Terry Courts, became the first winner of the Purdue Grand Prix. Each team’s kart is built from scratch at the average cost of $5,000. The money is partially raised from a team sponsor such as local businesses, housing units, or private individuals. All karts race with a Yamaha KT-100 engine.
The Purdue Auto Club was the original sponsor and governing body of the Purdue Grand Prix. However, upon the disbandment of the Purdue Auto Club, the longevity of the Grand Prix race was threatened. The student body wanted the Grand Prix to continue and so it was decided that a new organization needed to be formed to manage the race. The final draft of the Grand Prix Foundation’s constitution was approved on November 9, 1965 and the Grand Prix Foundation has been the sanctioning body of the race since.
The Grand Prix Foundation consists of a President, an 11 member Senior Board, a Junior Board consisting of over 30 members, track workers, and safety and security workers. The foundation is a university sponsored student organization that is run by students, for students. The primary purpose of the foundation is to raise around $10,000 in annual funds for student scholarships. Besides focusing primarily on scholarships, the Grand Prix Student Ambassadors Program selects individuals from the student body to represent the spirit of Grand Prix throughout the school year in the local community.
Today, the race is run on a track carefully modeled after the World Kart Championship Track in Japan. The “old” track, located on the northeast comer of campus near Ross-Ade Stadium, was built in 1968 and was completed in time for the 11th running of the Purdue Grand Prix in 1969. Known as “The Greatest Spectacle in College Racing,” the Grand Prix race consists of 33 drivers and teams that participate in the 160-lap or 50 mile race each spring at the conclusion of what was known as “Gala Week.” In 1995, Ian Smith set a record as being the first student to win the race three times in a row.
The “new” track is located at the corner of McCormick Road and Cherry Lane and is the second of Purdue’s athletic facilities to move to this location. The track is similar in design to the old track, however, the new one is wider and safer for both kart teams and track workers. The new facility cost over $1,000,000 and is one of the premier karting facilities in the country. As more of the phases of the new athletic complex are completed, more permanent structures will be completed in this area. The new track allowed for a new scoring system to be installed, and is one of the most advanced computer scoring systems anywhere in the world of kart racing. This system allows up-to-date information to be presented to the kart crews, the public, and the media. The track was completed in time for the 52nd annual race and opened on April 25, 2009.