EKN Industry Insider: Greg Bell – Leading Edge Motorsports
Passion continues to drive this NorCal karting figure toward victories and championships
Many who take part the sport of karting have their own motivation. They may love spending hours out in the garage tinkering away, experiencing new regions of their country while logging road miles heading to the next race, or even the sleepless nights under the lights making sure everything is ready for race day. There is a little piece within us all that craves the feeling of laying down the perfect lap, extending a lead, and reaching the checkered flag before the rest of the field. It’s passion for the sport. One person who exemplifies this enthusiasm and never-ending search for success is Leading Edge Motorsports’ Greg Bell.
Bell has been in the sport of karting for roughly two decades now, and his resume speaks volumes. Early on, his Lodi, California operation molded some of the top talent in the sport, as Bell worked with drivers like Bobby Wilson, Trevor McAlister, Tom Dyer, Michael McDowell, Jason LaPoint, Ron White and Jordy Vorrath. The list goes on and on, and is filled with familiar names from many different parts of North America. No matter what type of kart you’re talking about, whether it’s a 2-cycle, 4-cycle, TaG or shifterkart; from regional to national and now international racing, Bell has developed deep knowledge and experience, which he now uses to help guide drivers to the pinnacle of the sport. Bell’s Leading Edge Motorsports program has twice earned the eKartingNews.com Team of the Year honors, with Bell himself has been recognized as the Tuner of the Year for his efforts on the wrenches for a pro driver.
Our sport sees a great deal of turnover, both customer related and within the industry itself. So what keeps someone like Greg Bell in the sport?
“Honestly, it’s the passion to go racing with my loyal customers. I enjoy it. My passion is fueled by staying at the front and helping a driver realize that it’s not a magic wand motion to be fast. You have to put your time and effort in to be competitive. I’ve always sold that to my customers, and provided the product they need to be able to run at the front of the pack.”
“I’ve been through so many different trends in the industry. I’ve recently gone through old proposals from my early days, and we were providing a strong customer support program for the sport. We formed the business around selling 150 karts a year, making profit off the sales, and providing support for basically nothing. Now we are hardly selling product and basing the business around customer support. The industry continues to evolve and thankfully we’ve been able to adapt as the different trends come and go. Still, our business is 24/7; we never stop providing product and services for our customers. Thankfully, the racing part of the sport gives me four to five days away from the shop to do what I do best, which is tune and promote new drivers. Then I can come back to the shop refreshed and recharged to continue to strive for better results.”
During the evolution of these different trends, the Leading Edge Motorsports storefront has remained open for Northern California area racers. In year’s past, California was a hot bed for karting and many big names and prominent industry members were based in of the state. Now with the recent trend, the industry is shrinking and entry numbers in the area are dwindling when compared to the early days. Bell sees this happening and like all shops, he needs to make adjustments to his program.
“Economy and geography have a big impact on revenue for karting. Today, if you have a full service facility with a track, rental fleet, sales, kart shop and race team – you have a highest level of profitability, but it’s also the highest cost factor in order to facilitate. On the flip side are the Internet companies that I can’t compete with and refuse to. I’m not going to sell product at 15% over cost and shipping. It’s not my business model. For us, product sales in Northern California are down and shops are closing left and right. We are one of four shops that have survived the economic fallouts from 2008. Local racing numbers is falling, regional racing is not what it used to be, and it’s not going to pay our bills.”
Being able to see the direction of the industry keeps us successful. Our market right now is based on service and knowledge. It’s not profitable to go to the local races the 40-foot trailer, three employees and expect to sell over $2,000 in product. People are racing with what they have, bending pieces back together and making do with what they have. If the numbers were higher again like before, with roughly strong numbers, it could work. What works for us is supporting those racers who want to race and win against the best. Those seem to be the type of customers we attract today because they know we have the business model in order to support them at those venues.”
“Some of us have been able to do it and some have not. Looking back, if I were to try and enter the industry the way I did back in the 1990s again, that model would be a failure and LEM would never get to where it is today. Today’s market is based on service and knowledge. What we did then to break into the market and land on the forefront would not even come close to today.”
One key aspect to Bell’s success is the loyalty he displays for his drivers, his customers and the brands he represents. Trackmagic was the brand that Bell entered the sport with and he stuck with them for many years before moving over to Intrepid. Finding success there, Bell grew as the factory did, adding on the Praga name. With the latest creation of IPKarting and the OK1 chassis, in addition to the rebirth of Intrepid, Bell carries product for three different but similar chassis brands.
“First and foremost, I’m a handshake kind of guy. I don’t need contracts to show my loyalty. When I say I’m going to do something, I’m there to do it. Just ask any of my drivers or customers. Some of my former drivers who have gone out into the industry on their own, come back and understand what it is that we put out there and sacrifice for them to be successful. They may have not understood it then, but now they do. I’m a loyal person. So when I sign on with a person, not only are they in a business relationship with me, they are now part of my family. I can run into someone who has been out of the sport for a long time, and when I see them, we have plenty of memories and good laughs about things we saw and did. It’s amazing to be part of some of these kids’ lives early on, and now to see them come back, knowing that they have a ‘Greg took care of me then and he will take care of me now’ attitude.”
“Most of the relationships with my past and current customers are pretty damn strong, because we are together a lot. Loyalty to the brand is the same thing. With Fausto Vitello at Trackmagic, he was like a Godfather to me. He taught me more about the business side of things then anyone ever has. A lot of what I have done was under his guidance. After Trackmagic lost its competitive edge, I moved over to Intrepid, and now also with the IPKarting brands. Both are at the forefront of this competitive industry and have that edge to take our drivers to victory. It would take a lot for me to go to different brands. I tell my customers the same thing. It’s not about what I can get for free; it’s what the product can do. I try to teach my customers what’s important and what’s not important. Intrepid has reincarnated itself and their new product is just now hitting the market. Because of my loyalty, I’m going to ensure the product they are producing matches the same quality and results as it did previously before I start stocking in chassis and components, making sure my customers have the best to race with.
Bell takes pride in every piece of a kart that he provides for his driver. This dedication to perfection led to him preparing engines for his customers. Among the recent successes of the Leading Edge engine program was the 2011 SKUSA Pro Tour TaG Senior championship with Brett Felkins, who raced an LEM Intrepid with a Leading Edge Power Parilla Leopard. Despite the success, it’s still a limited service that he provides.
“The whole reason I began doing engine service was to ensure I knew exactly what type of kart package my racers were getting. Before, I could have everything on the kart at 100% peak performance, and my customers would suffer because another engine builder could not produce the same type of quality product I could. Business is good as we have a good stream of engines coming into the shop for service. We have a few customers from Mexico come in to purchase some TaG packages based on the results we’ve produced in the past. We try to limit the amount of engine service we do as for me, it’s a lot of time invested into each and every engine we ship out. We have a working relationship with SwedeTech Racing Engines for a handful of customers as we feel they are the only shop as cautious as we are with what we put on the track.”
Northern California has produced some quality karters over the years. Many have made it to the top of the motorsports ladder, but not before making their mark in karting. There continues to be a strong influx of competitive and talented drivers coming out of the area.
“The talent pool is not as large as it used to be, but there are still a handful of drivers out there who are very skilled behind the wheel. I have a kid by the name of Zack Dante in TaG Junior who has been into the sport for about two or three years. He’s still a little raw, as he’s making a few mistakes here and there. But with some more time working with me and Tad Funakoshi, I bet he will be damn good. We have some plans to take him over to Italy and do some KF racing to see how he reacts at that level. He’ll be part of our SKUSA Pro Tour team as well. There are a couple drivers out there not associated with us, but I’m certain they have what it takes to win.”
“I think the drop in numbers of talented drivers some of it has to also with the classes we run today. The 80cc class really gave kids an idea of kart control. Today, the S5 class is good, but it seems the kart is taking the driver for a ride instead of the other way around. With the 80 Junior, you had to be on point with all factors. But, our industry has evolved and we’ve had to move with it and roll with the punches.”
Bell and the Leading Edge Motorsports operation will be busy in 2013. They already are part of the California ProKart Challenge, with two races already into the books and the team producing some solid results. The team is preparing for the upcoming SKUSA Pro Tour SpringNationals in Tucson and will follow the entire series, including the SKUSA SuperNationals XVII. LEM is planning a trip to the United States Rotax Grand Nationals, the Pan American Challenge event, and are working on resigning as a Rotax Service Center. Bell recently created SuperTuners Inc. to help support drivers outside the LEM market, offering up the same services he provides for his in-house customers to those competing on other brands. He helped guide one driver to the Florida Winter Tour TaG Masters championship this winter and did just as well in the Rotax Masters class.
The continuing success of Bell’s drivers keeps the fire lit and the passion fueled to spend those many hours in the shop or at the track, finding every little bit of speed he can out of each and every one and their machines, all to reach that checkered flag first. The new season promises to add to his winning resume, as everyone pushes hard en route to the season championships.