U.S. Bank can once again claim bragging rights as the Gold Cup champion at this year’s Junior Achievement Mini Corvette Challenge, but the team’s fourth consecutive victory was not a certainty.
With less than three laps to go, the U.S. Bank car driven by Darren Woodruff overtook the car driven by Ed Mills of Hitcents after contact between the two cars sent Mills’ racer into bales of hay serving as barriers on the track.
Held at the National Corvette Museum, the annual race pitted 21 teams against one another this year, running a series of races on a track in the museum’s parking lot in go-carts with a fiberglass body built to resemble a Corvette and a five-horsepower engine.
Six qualifying heats throughout the day determined the lineups for the cup races, and the seven teams with the fastest times were eligible to compete in the Gold Cup race. The Bronze Cup winner, Modern Woodmen, finished second in the Silver Cup, which was won by Span-Tech.
“It’s a go-cart, but for those of us who have never driven in NASCAR, it’s like NASCAR for big kids,” said Craig Browning, U.S. Bank regional president and another driver on the winning team. “It’s great to raise a lot of money for the kids in Junior Achievement, and to have so much fun doing it is a bonus.”
The Mini Corvette Challenge is one of the main fundraisers for Junior Achievement, providing money to support the nonprofit organization’s educational programs about business, economics and entrepreneurship for young students.
Cars achieved top speeds of about 30 mph, and aggressive driving resulted in some battered Mini Corvettes by the end of the day. The Gold Cup race had to be restarted twice because of equipment failures in the first lap.
“It was pretty intense, there was a lot of bumping and grinding out there,” Mills said after his team won its first qualifying heat. “I didn’t think I was going to make it out there, but I had to hold my spot ... when you get out there, the adrenaline starts pumping, especially when you’re next to someone and they’re getting ready to dump you in the hay.”
After an overnight thunderstorm, the weather cooperated throughout the day, as races were run under sunny skies, much to the relief of Junior Achievement President Heather Rogers.
“All of my prayers were answered,” said Rogers, adding that she was hopeful that this year’s event would raise nearly $30,000.
Area elementary schools are paired with teams ahead of the challenge, with team members visiting schools and students from those schools supporting their teams at the race, Rogers said.
The challenge ended up taking place on the same day as the Kentucky Derby, which Rogers said was a coincidence.
“We always try to do it around this time of the year, but we hate to compete with the Derby,” Rogers said. “We should be out in time for folks to watch the Derby.”