After his preliminary race at the debut Inverness Grand Prix two years ago, Michael Sachs died in front of his best friend.
The 52-year-old suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, where he stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating. His friend thought Sachs was gone.
Emergency medical technicians brought him back to life and rushed him to Citrus Memorial Hospital, where doctors repaired two blockages in his artery.
Two days later, he was released. Months later, Sachs was back to racing go-karts.
“When you’re a racer, it’s in your blood,” he said.
On Saturday, Sachs, from Jacksonville and now 54, finished what he had started by racing at the third-annual Inverness Grand Prix and Motorsports Festival, the first time since the incident.
Once a year, the city of Inverness closes its roads and holds a go-kart street race through its historic downtown, the only event of its kind in Florida.
Although karting didn’t directly cause Sachs’ cardiac arrest, this was the first year the event was certified by the World Karting Association, making it safer and more legitimate.
Certified officials were responsible for overlooking technical aspects of the race, including the go-karts’ weight, timing and safety measures. The new certification also gave drivers more incentive to participate because they could earn points for their series.
Seventy drivers from around the country raced this year, the biggest turnout yet, said city special events director Sharon Skeele-Hogan.
Racers came for the unusual track and to entertain the nearly 2,000 spectators.
Getting more racers and growing the event means more tourism and business for the city, Skeele-Hogan said.
This was also the first year the city managed the event. To keep money in the community, all the profits benefited the Boys and Girls Clubs of Citrus County.
The race is part of a two-day festival, with a concert and car show on Friday and the races on Saturday.
Josh Richardson, owner of The Ice Cream Dr., a family-run ice cream shop in downtown Inverness, came up with the idea of the race.
After becoming friends with drivers of a local go-karting club and driving a go-kart himself, he thought a street race through the town would make an interesting fundraiser.
He approached the city with the idea, and they approved it. The first two years it was only he and his friends orchestrating the race.
Every year they refine the logistics of the event, and this year has been the smoothest, he said.
Now since the city manages the event, Richardson has taken on the role of race director.
“We try to wake up the town for a weekend,” Richardson said.
The racers range in age from 6 to 70 years old.
Their karts can reach top speeds anywhere between 60 and 80 mph.
It was the first Inverness Grand Prix for Davey Hazard, a 16-year-old from Jacksonville.
Hazard has only been racing since January, but the idea of a street race inspired him to register.
He said he practices every other week, but his biggest fear is not being good enough.
“I’d love to make it a career at some point,” he said.
It was also the first Inverness race for Randy Albany, a 22-year-old from Ocala, who has been racing for two years and has participated in more than 30 events.
Though Albany considers himself an experienced racer, the Inverness course was his first street race.
He said the track’s roughness and unevenness made it difficult for inexperienced drivers. Bumps, manhole covers and brick crosswalks on the track were all obstacles capable of causing a driver to lose control.
But the track’s speed made it fun, Albany said.
“Don’t be afraid to go fast and push your cart,” he said. “You just have got to be smart, drive fast and drive smart.”
Ken Wackes traveled from his home in Crystal River to see the races.
“I like to smell the gas,” he said.
It was his first time watching a go-kart race. He said he liked the speed of the go-karts and holding the race in the middle of town for people to watch.
Labeling the event “small town awesome,” Skeele-Hogan said next year the city plans to expand it to three days.
“It’s just absolutely off the hook,” she said.
Erica Hernandez contributing reporting.