A LIFE REMEMBERED: McKarns was pioneer at Speedway and beyond

A LIFE REMEMBERED: McKarns was pioneer at Speedway and beyond

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John McKarns spent much of his life looking to his left, but he definitely possessed 360-degree vision when it came to racing.

He often was called a racing visionary by his peers.

McKarns, 65, died Tuesday in Florida after battling cancer for several years.

McKarns, who had lived in Florida since 2001, was able to see all sides of what made a great race, from the drivers to the teams to the promoters to the fans. He used that knowledge and experience to have a highly successful run with what was known as the ARTGO Series.

He was equally successful in his role as president of Motorsports Management Services, which has operated the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway since 1987.

Despite living in Florida, McKarns would make several appearances at the Fairgrounds Speedway during the season and was a regular at the Oktoberfest Race Weekend, an event he helped build into one of the biggest racing events in the Midwest.

"John was a mentor to everyone on our team. It was the respect that he had earned," said Chuck Deery, who has worked as manager of the Fairgrounds Speedway since McKarns and Jody Deery formed Motorsports Management Services in 1987.

"He had an uncommon way of analyzing things to see them as what they are and what they could be."

On a national scale, McKarns was best known as the owner and operator of the ARTGO Challenge Series from 1975 to 1997 before the series was licensed to NASCAR in 1998.

A number of drivers from that popular series went on to compete in national series, including Dick Trickle, formerly of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.

Once NASCAR took over operations of that series (renaming and modifying it), McKarns remained involved in short-track racing - at the Fairgrounds Speedway and nationally.

"He was a true advocate for short-track racing and brought his knowledge and passion to La Crosse as well as other tracks," Deery said. "John, because he had a traveling series, had the opportunity to go to race tracks all over the country and see what they were doing.

"He brought that knowledge to La Crosse. He wasn't afraid to speak his mind. I learned a lot from him and have lost a friend. On the business side, I have lost someone I could ask ‘What if?' or ‘What about this?' "

McKarns, although still involved in the Fairgrounds Speedway, transferred his president's role in Motorsports Management Services to his son, Gregg, two years ago. Gregg McKarns also is the promoter at the Rockford Speedway in Rockford, Ill.

Memorial Services will be held Friday at Rolling Hills Community Church in Zellwood, Fla.

There will be a sunset memorial service at the Fairgrounds Speedway on Saturday, Oct. 9, during the 41st annual Oktoberfest Race Weekend.

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