Morning Coffee: The Reality of Opportunities

Racing karts is a rare opportunity that many in the country and around the world do not have the opportunity to do (Photo: EKN)

I’m often asked about running a company like eKartingNews.com, and what we do to fill our days at the desk. This isn’t the time to list the endless work that keeps me in my office for 10-12 hours a day between races, but suffice it to say that motorsports journalism is perceived through the end product, not the massive amount of time that is put in behind the scenes. When you read an article, a tremendous amount of research has been done. Aside from pounding away at the laptop writing stories, and supporting our marketing partners (who are the fuel who make EKN possible), David Cole and I spend a lot of time just talking to people, whether it’s on the phone, through email, or through Facebook messages or replying to comments on the many karting posts that can be found on the social media giant.

That said, I often find ideas for ‘Morning Coffee’ articles while scrolling through Facebook, taking in the comments, opinions and tone of karting enthusiasts around the country and around the world.

A recent Facebook post and its resultant discussion centered on the increase of promotion-oriented PR and the current state of the drivers in the development series that lead to IndyCar, NASCAR or IMSA in North America, the three primary career targets for young career-minded competitors.  Yes, the age of drivers who are moving from karting to cars is dropping to oddly-low levels, and truly, I’m not a big fan of it. We’re seeing more and more 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds jumping into Super Late Model stock cars and slicks-and-wings open wheel formula cars than every before.

I can’t fully support it, firstly because the maturity level that is needed for this kind of competition just isn’t there, in my opinion. The speeds are much higher than in karting and potential danger is higher as well.  Also, I know the odds of becoming a professional car driver are extremely slim, and I also know that getting to IndyCar or the Monster Energy Cup by the time you’re 18 may seem like it would be a huge accomplishment, but it’s not.  You need to buy your way there, 99% of the time, so it’s not really that impressive.  First and foremost, it takes the right funding to get there and it doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 28, if you can’t fund the ride, you’re not in the seat.  There are no paid rides for rookies in IndyCar, or NASCAR, or IMSA.  It’s the reality.

But, this truth does not stop parents from fully supporting their children’s dreams and aspirations, and kudos to them for that. Those who are living their own personal dreams vicariously through their children, shame on you.

One of the talking points is the fact that a great deal of money is spent to launch these kids up the ladder, and in many cases, the drivers who actually CAN afford to make the leap into the first steps of the development system do not arrive with much of a racing resume. To be honest, even I need to do some research to find out just how little experience some of these kids have in karting or other forms of junior motorsports. It’s through their ‘press releases’, which I mentioned early, that the limited experience or questionable pedigree is touted. But hey, I’m all for promoting your driver and using releases for website content and sponsor connection, but when you’re going on about how many national titles your child has won, know that the avid karters who are reading your release will call BS on anything that isn’t truly national.

In a sport that struggles with likely 300+ ‘national champions’ being crowned each year, 90% of which are actually just regional titles or come from races with single-digit entries, it’s true that a vast majority of the most talented karters will never receive the chance to advance. This is a tough pill to swallow for top-level drivers, as our sport does not work like baseball, football, hockey or basketball, where you can go to school or play minor league, perform and succeed, and then get signed to a career and contract.  It’s the truth, and it’s real life, and yes, it sucks, but you have to get over it OR work harder, aim lower to start, and prepare to put in countless hours sweeping floors, learning new skills and talking to everyone you can in an effort to meet your ‘opportunity’ in motorsports. You never know if the next guy who sits beside on a plane is your next major sponsor. It’s simply the reality of motorsports. If you don’t have the money to buy a ride at the first levels of the development ladder, but you’re still truly 100% committed to the dream and nothing else, you have to get creative and work for it.

But this Morning Coffee is more about taking a ‘big picture’ look at racing and where we all fit in. It’s a little life lesson, as well.

In racing, I believe that too many people look at those who have what they want, and what they dream for, but cannot afford.  They lament their lot in life and they lash out at kids who are given the ‘silver spoon’ opportunities to race in the development levels where budgets are 10x that of even a crazy healthy karting budget.  I’ve talked to top karters and I’ve obviously read their Facebook comments that center on someone they perceived as not worthy or truly talented enough getting opportunities instead of them, just because their parents can afford it.

See, this is where the lesson lies.  My contention is this: whatever you race, at whatever level, there is someone less fortunate than you who wishes their parents could have supported them to the level you’ve been afforded.  While your parents are funding your ride on the SKUSA Pro Tour, Challenge of the Americas, Florida Winter Tour, USPKS or WKA Manufacturers Cup circuit, there are 100s of kids who look at you and think how lucky you are, because their budget restricts them to club racing.  I’ve known and witnessed many extremely talented club racers who’ve won tons of races with much less than you, running a four-cycle Briggs or Honda, because that’s all they can afford.

Are they any less talented than some of the best national level two-cycle sprint or shifterkart drivers who have access to $50,000 or more annual budgets?  I would, using my 20 years of experience, say that many are certainly just as good, but have just never been given that elusive opportunity.  The best national drivers in the country long to get the opportunity to race in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda or the Camping World Truck Series, and there are top regional and club drivers who would trade their brother or sister for a shot to race the SKUSA Pro Tour. It’s a tough world, because in racing, you have to pay for your opportunity.  Yes, there is the Mazda Scholarship program, and that is certainly a portal to the path that every young racer could look to.

But….wherever you race, please remember, you’re blessed to have been given the opportunity to compete in karting at all.  Because for every young man or women who laments not getting the chance to go Pro, there’s 100s if not 1000s of kids who dream of simply racing anything….anytime….anywhere. They watch racing on TV but could either never afford to get into our great sport or their families simply are not primed to make the jump into our community.  For me, racing is a privilege and a unique opportunity that I am most fortunate to enjoy. Did I want to be a professional race car driver as a kid?  Hell, yes.  But as one of those kids who was never afforded the chance to even think about racing a kart, I count every chance I get, as an adult, to tighten up my helmet strap and hit the track as a rare gift indeed.

16 thoughts on “Morning Coffee: The Reality of Opportunities

  1. That right there is a home run of a column, Nice job Rob.

    • Tires fuel travel engine rebuilds new Kart helmet shoes gloves etc…..$$$$$$$$
      Years of quality time, problem solving, relationship building , teamwork and work ethics, responsibility, mechanical knowledge , The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat =. Priceless!!!!
      Karting and being a part of the Karting Community/Family for nearly 20 years is something my Son and I have cherished and I believe our involvement has helped make my Son the Man he is today.
      Thankyou to the Karting Community

      Cal’s Dad. John Stewart

  2. Thanks, Greg. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment here. We’ve both been around a long time, and you have even more experience than I watching young men and women chasing their dreams. It’s not easy, but money buying rides is not something new…it’s just the reality of motorsports. And it’s also why karting remains the purest form of the sport. You can keep spending money, but it still comes down to the set-up and the driver.

  3. Very well stated Rob. It is a very important topic, the reality of our sport. The sport our kids love and dream about. Yes, we work hard and pay to keep that dream alive, but for Ethan and me, we always keep the live lessons he is learning from karting in the front of our minds. Thanks for both your efforts Rob.

  4. Michael, it really is the life lessons and the time together that make karting so great. At times, when a father tells me that they’re struggling, and reply “that’s awesome”. When he asks why it’s ‘awesome’, I respond with the question of when else in his relationship with his son or daughter do they need to sit down, analyze a problem, discuss it, work together to come up with the solution, and then mutually savor the positive result. You don’t get that in stick-and-ball sports when the parent is sitting in the grandstands or on the sidelines in a lawnchair Savor the moments that karting provides.

  5. I am constantly reminded of a one sided conversation thrust upon me at a road race in Dallas by one of the older competitors. His unsolicited advice came after a shrieking snit I had over some racing deal. His words were something to the effect that it ain’t about racing, it’s about coming out here and having fun with your son/daughter and enjoying their company for awhile doing something you both love. Winning is just gravy.
    Many lose this experience looking for something else,chasing something that probably isn’t real.

  6. I also didn’t strap on a helmet till I was an adult due to cost. I was jealous of the kids racing briggs at my local track! Only reason I was even able to continue in Rotax and later Shifter was due to some great friends(sponsors).
    Good post. Enjoy what you do, be the absolute best you can be at it and if you REALLY want to drive for a living learn the business side. You will have to work really, really hard and be prepared for nothing in return. So you better really, really love racing that is what matters. Because unless your family can easily fully fund a Cup/indy/F1/Imsa ride indefinitely, you are in for a long and disappointing road.
    For karters at all levels, enjoy the fact that you get to race against the best drivers. As you go up, the average quality of driver goes down.
    I just love f*cking racing. Losing fuels me more that winning. Because losing sucks.

  7. Great Reality Check ! Karting is a way to create memories and new friends. History shows that when car pilots partake in a Karting Event, there 2nd fiddle to the best seasoned Karter. I was once asked what the goal was for my son, and well I stated depends, as I already spent the college fund on karting, and not going to mortgage the house for 1 season of racing in a car! So there the goal ends!!!

  8. And Ron…this is where the love of the sport takes over, in your son. Sooner or later, every parent will need to put the financial demands of the sport onto their child, and see what happens from there. I have friends who dug in, and kept chasing the dream, and one of them eventually made it to Le Mans. I have other friends who left the sport, got jobs, got married, and had kids, and then came back to karting as a Masters driver. It’s all good. As David Cole states often, karting is what you make it…a career step or the lifetime passion.

  9. Excellent article. I know it’s been hard for my son, Brendan, to see some of his contemporaries move on to car programs that we simply couldn’t afford. Luckily for me he’s not a complainer and does appreciate the opportunities he’s been given. He’s had a lot of success at the regional and local level and we would have loved to see him get a chance to pursue his dream, but we’ve also always been pretty realistic about where this all leads. After some soul searching, on the ride to a Gearup Fseries race last August, we changed course from “move to Charlotte and see what happens” to now Brendan starts college in 3 months to study Sports Management. Hopefully this gives him a chance to stay involved, in some capacity, in the sport he loves and he’s quite happy with the choice. Luckily for me I have been fortunate enough to realize from day one that the wins are great but karting is more about the ride to and from the track with your kid and getting together with our racing family on the weekends. That’s more important than any win or any trophy. You don’t hear a lot of older karters talking about their stack of dusty trophies, but you do hear a lot of them talk about, or remember their time at the track with their Dad.

  10. Very nice thoughts! For me, some of the most gratifying memories in karting were beating out the big budget teams/kids knowing your on a solo self-funded budget (used chassis/engines that in some cases came from the same teams your competing against).

    On the other hand, I have been to many local tracks where guys have stopped in from the public just to learn and dream about being in the sport someday. Most of whom could not afford to race at a entry level but enjoy being apart of it and dreaming of doing it someday. If I could ever be in a spot financially, I have always envisioned on starting a 3-5 kart team with local kids that otherwise would never be fortunate enough to have the opportunity. My bet is that they would be very successful due to their will to learn and drive to compete : )

  11. Great article Rob. I raced as a kid in the early 70’s, was out of the sport for a long time. I got back into it at the local level here in Reno. Once my son was 10, I got him started in the Jr 1 4 cycle clone class. This is his 5th season now, and he is in Jr 2 on a Lo206. We have just begun to run at regional this year, joining the KPX series in NorCal. We are the definition of racing on a budget. I am a single father and my kids know the realities of this. Yet somehow, with the help of the local club and shop, we manage to make the races. We get involved. I work as the local track announcer, and this year I have been elected to the BOD for our local club here in Reno. This helps to offset some of my cost. I also paint helmets, do graphics for the club, and anything else I can to make our racing budget go as far as possible. My son understands we are not into karting to climb any motorsports ladders. My Dad taught me the love of motorsports at an early age, It is still some of my fondest memories of my Dad. Being at the track, working on the kart, and taking the checkered flag from Dad at the races. He was also involved with the local club in Wichita, and was the flag man! Now me and my son work side by side to figure this karting thing out. We work with Rodney at Nevada Kartsport who is one of the best tuners in the biz. As my son learns to tell us how the kart is performing, I learn to listen to him and make the right adjustments. This bonding and learning time to me is priceless, and the true reward for all of our efforts. One thing that is great about karting is the age range of those who can participate. Karting is like golf, you can enjoy it from age 5 to 75 and beyond. One thing we always say is “Karting is for Life”. My son says he plans to stay in karting throughout his life as I have done. Pretty special stuff right there!

  12. Rob, great read. This one hits home for me. The relationship I have with my son and the friends we’ve meet over the last 14 years are irreplaceable. This would make a great Podcast discussion with maybe some Karting Parents and Parents whose Kids have made the next step

    • I love the idea, Scott. Let’s connect to set it up. I’ve always been impressed by the tuner approach with the Franklin/Merlin team, with the dads spinning the wrenches. It’s such a great program.

  13. Although I have only been a part of the karting world for a handful of years, it has been interesting to watch it evolve, however, the one factor that I hope never does is the idea that karting is a community.

    I hope with your post, a few things can be valued and appreciated from our community because it is quite possibly one of the most powerful to have been written to date. One is that sharing and celebrating in accomplishments is not always the full story from a race, but it certainly is helping others to gain knowledge of our sport. Elements like press releases, website articles, and social media posts are essential because they help us communicate and share a message. Two, how lucky are we to get to spend our days at the track, laughing, having fun and competing against talented individuals? And three, the next generation of karting is watching us- from the way that we encourage healthy competition, to the way that we showcase what hard work and drive look like, to being a part of a community that values growth and celebrating success. After all, karting is much more than just karting, it is part of who we are.

  14. Great article Rob. says it all.

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