Karting reached a milestone in 1974 when the first professional race was held. The race took place after much promoting and organizing by experienced karters such as Lake Speed and Lynn Haddock. They felt that karting had to advance beyond its amateur status in order to provide better competition for the best drivers in the sport. A pro class would set the drivers who saw karting as a daily activity apart from those who raced karts as a weekend hobby. Speed and other advocates of professional karting believed that a pro class would also benefit karters with little competitive experience. Without a pro class, the same people would win almost every race, and new drivers would become frustrated by having to compete against the “hot shoes,” or top drivers. In the long run, this would not be good for karting, as drivers would become discouraged and eventually leave the sport.
So the pro class was born. Quickly, it developed its own set of rules, as well as another name — the Expert class. Professional karting was set up as an open class with only a few restrictions. Engines were required to have a 6.1 cubic-inch displacement, and kart and driver were required to weigh at least 300 pounds at the end of the race. A few years after the first rules were set, restrictions were placed on the drivers. Drivers who won three grand national titles in their classes in amateur racing were to be considered experts, and drivers who won money in pro events would not be permitted to race in amateur competition.
Dave Knapp won the first pro race, earning most of the $1,000 purse that the Memphis, Tennessee, track offered. The following year, Lynn Haddock was acclaimed Pro Champion by winning the $3,000 First Annual Pro Race of Champions, run at the TNT Kartways in Quincy, Illinois. In 1977, Kyle Adkins became the first driver to win two pro races in succession when he defeated the best in karting at the U.S. Open in Barnesville, Georgia, and at the Second Annual Pro Race of Champions at Quincy, Illinois.
Five years after the first professional kart race, the Professional Karting Association (PKA) was formed by Terry Traeder of Quincy, Illinois, and Jim Reed of Edison, California. Its goal was to promote the pro class and to serve as a membership body for the best drivers in karting. In 1979, the PKA, with the Bridgestone Tire Company as sponsor, organized the first professional series. It was called the PKA Bridgestone National Pro Series. The series consisted of three events. Lynn Haddock won the first, held at Quincy, Illinois. And he also won the second, run in Jacksonville, Florida. Each race earned Lynn $2,500. The final event of the 1979 pro series took place in Medford, Oregon, with Rick Gifford of Norco, California, driving his way to victory and $2,500. The Professional Karting Association national high-point champion, or the driver with the best overall performance in the three races, was Haddock. As PKA national high-point champion, he received $3,000.
Professional karting is the fastest growing of all karting classes, and with its growth more and richer Professional Karting Association events will surely follow.