|EKN One-on-One: Terrence McCall - BTK Motorsports
| Terrence McCall|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
Like many of the karting operations across the country and around the world, business life begins with a passion for the sport. For BTK Motorsports and Terrence McCall, it is no different. Being at the right place at the right time, McCall was introduced to karting head first. Once back home in Alabama, the infatuation began.
After purchasing his first kart and building a track outside his manufacturing facility, McCall grew from just an avid karting fan to an industry member with the creation of BTK Motorsports. The company dealt with a few chassis manufacturerís before finding a perfect fit with the Arrow Racing Karts in 2005. From there, the company has grown and more tracks across the country are seeing more Arrow chassis taking the checkered flag.
Following his trip to the Rotax Pan American Challenge in mid-June, eKartingNews.com was able to lock him down for some insight into the company and its growth.
eKartingNews.com: Thank you for talking with us today.
Terrence McCall: Thank you very much and I appreciate this opportunity.
EKN: To begin, what does BTK stand for in BTK Motorsports?
TM: It is formed from the first names of Barry Baker, Terrence McCall and Kenny Johnson.
EKN: When did you get your start in motorsports and how did that transfer over into karting?
TM: I started in motorsports at the age of 42. I began our manufacturing company (Chiptec) when I was younger, pretty much right out of school. I had worked hard and reached a level of success with the business that allowed me to start to enjoy the benefits of success, things I always wanted to do. I grew up racing some motorcross and enjoyed riding motorcycles at a young age. I always wanted to do some four-wheel racing but being in south Alabama, I wasnít aware of other forms of racing. I found Skip Barber and did their three-day program and started racing around the country. During a race at Willow Springs in California one weekend, around 1997-1998, some of the Trackmagic drivers were there testing. They invited us to hop in a shifter kart. So my very first experience in a kart was in a Trackmagic package that belonged to Jason Lapoint. I was amazed at the speed and performance.
EKN: How did your involvement in karting grow from there?
TM: My buddy Kenny Johnson and I talked about how we thought karting was exploding at that time, which looking back now it was with SKUSA. Certainly, shifter kart racing was a pretty exciting thing that was happening. When we got back, we ordered 15 Trackmagic shifterkart packages. Myself, Kenny, Barry, and 12 of our friends spent time putting them together and also, over the course of a few months, we carved out a kart track in a section of the industrial property that I owned (Bakerís Creek Kart Track). The track was built in the Fall of 1999 and at the same time we opened a storefront for karting. Kenny managed the karting portion for about a year and half before stepping away and I took control of the karting operation.
| In 2005, Shifter Kart Illustrated's editor Tim Blaney competed at the Rock Island Grand Prix thanks to BTK Motorsports|
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)
EKN: In 2005, BTK Motorsports became the sole importer for Arrow Racing Karts in Mexico and the United States. How did the deal come about?
TM: In the early years, we were with Trackmagic exclusively until we became aware of the other brands. We sold a handful of CRGs and Birels but nothing really took hold. Here in our demographics, it is a tough piece of real-estate for sprint karting. There are a ton of dirt oval racers in the area. Iíve often said we have the only true asphalt sprint track within a 600 mile radius. There are a few others but certainly it is tough for business to survive as a retail kart shop. We were contacted by CRC Racing about the Arrow chassis. I had known about it from racing in the Rotax program - which we were one of the original eight service centers in the United States. Joe Ramos of SSC Racing came to visit us in 2000 and we signed on to the Rotax program. From the first year of the Rotax Grand Finals where Arrow won, I knew about the brand. I did some research on the brand in the United States and soon after that, we were selling some Arrows. When CRC Racing left the sport and Arrow was looking for a new importer, we made the decision to become the importer. I loved the brand then and still love it now.
EKN: Arrow is manufactured by the Australian company Drew Price Engineering. With many other manufacturers based in Europe, primarily in Italy, do you feel you are at an advantage or disadvantage?
TM: I think itís a little of both honestly. What Iíve learned is that the Italian brands have one significant advantage in the numbers of manufacturing there. Though they compete with one another, there is some type of fraternity when it comes to manufacturing. Through that, they find a way to drive the manufacturing costs down plus the material costs are less there. On the other side of the table is that Arrow is a fresh departure from the European brands. Certainly, in some ways you can compare Arrow to them but there are a number of innovative thoughts and designs always coming from Australia. We also have the currency situation that is always changing. While with the Italian brands, importers here are dealing with the Euro exchange rate as we deal with the rate between the US and Australian dollar.
EKN: It seems you have a great working relationship with the factory. What has been a key factor to keeping that so strong?
TM: The Australians speak English so I think that is a helping factor. I also believe that the cultures being similar help too. I canít deny the fact that the karting scene in Australia compares to our WKA and IKF classes. So there is similarity in classes and helps with chassis design and feedback.
| Indy Car star Dan Wheldon competes aboard an Arrow machine when he returns to karting|
EKN: As you mentioned earlier, BTK Motorsports is a Rotax Service Center and has grown strong in that capacity. What has made that successful?
TM: I am big believer in spec racing. You look at the successful classes in the WKA and IKF. You have your KPV and Yamaha classes - which are basically spec classes. Those engines have been around for a while now. Most engine builders for those know what they are doing and I bet that those top engines are so close in performance, that it is basically a spec engine. So the Rotax concept is something I believe in. Not only the Rotax, Iím a big believe in the single-engine formats, no matter the engine manufacture - KPV, Yamaha, IAME, Motori 7, etc. The problem as I see it is the dilution of karting in the numbers by all the different classes. I wish I could wake up one morning and have five or six classes that fits for everybody and we are all working together to focus on just these programs. The Clone concept is an attempt in that direction but I do have some questions about it still. It does provide a low-cost way of getting into karting but we have to be careful of allowing modifications of these $200 engines. And before you know it, you are spending more money modifying it and maintaining it than a box stock Rotax.
EKN: Since you said it, I have to ask what would be the 5 or 6 classes. I assume Rotax would be one of them?
TM: It possibly would, but I want to be perfectly clear, I donít prefer Rotax over anything else. I prefer spec. Here locally there is a little bit of a struggle. At our track, we are promoting Rotax classes. The clubís board, which I am a member of, has decided to stay with Rotax as opposed to a general TaG class. We have gotten a lot of criticism about that. There are those that say we chose Rotax because of BTK. That is absolutely not true. We have been involved for nearly 10 years, we believe in the Rotax program, but again, itís all about spec racing. Because of the demographics, we will never have over 100 racers like other tracks may have around the country. The board believes that we dilute the numbers we have with more classes and fewer competitors in each. Are we making the right decision, I donít know. Itís tough and very difficult.
Certainly what has made us successful in Rotax is our companyís passion. Hiring Eric Jones two years ago has helped stepped up our program as he is truly passionate about the sport. All the testing he has been doing and the help he provides are customers is amazing. Those efforts are showing up on the track now. We had a great showing at the Rotax Pan American Challenge at New Castle, which leads us to hope for great results for the Grand Nationals. Prior to that race, weíll be at the WKA Manufacturerís Cup Series at Road America and that program is very important to us with the wonderful racers we have racing there and our hopes in the Manufacturer Trophy standings.
EKN: Certainly spec racing is your companyís main focus and you are starting to see that a lot more around the country.
TM: There are two guys that are much more recognized than I am. Both great guys and have been involved in karting longer than I have. There was an interesting topic on your site - the debate between Rotax and TaG or the inclusion of all these motors in TaG. Iím often reminded of the statement these two made - Andy Seesemann and Lynn Haddock. Lynn published a detailed post how these multiple engine class formats could never work. And Andyís comments were basically similar and I canít help but agree with them whole-heartedly. I think Andy suggested looking at IKF and WKA. They have learned over the years that their two main engines - Yamaha and KPV - same displacement, air-cooled, similar dimensions; does not make since for those two engines to compete with one another. And here we are with TaG trying to make all these different makes compete in one class. It just doesnít work. We are a big believe in spec racing.
| The BTK Motorsports family|
EKN: You have a number of key personal working at BTK Motorsports. Two wonderful ladies in Melinda and Stewart that help run the operation along with team manager Eric and Rudy handling the Rotax side of things. Who else helps to make BTK Motorsports what it is today?
TM: There are actually six of us. We have an on-staff accountant that works in my manufacturing company - Larry Robertson - who does a professional job at keeping us on track financial wise. Iím involved with BTK everyday. I spend more time at the manufacturing location as that is a practical matter, where we went through a period where it was tough to maintain in the a manufacturing world but now we are growing again. Rudy does a lot for our company as well as Eric along with Melinda and Stewart. Eric, as most will acknowledge, is a wonderful guy and very knowledge racer. Heís helped take us to the next level. Ití just wonderful to have him on board.
EKN: What other products does BTK Motorsports import or distribute?
TM: We are the importer for SKF kart bearings, going on two years now. It is an expensive product but we are trying our best to get costs down. As numbers increase, the cost has been coming down - which we just announced recently. Certainly itís not for everyone but it is a wonderful product. Kartech, innovative karting products manufactured by Drew Price Engineering, is another line we carry. We are looking at building a more focused marketing program for that here in the US. The other line is products manufactured by Chiptec, designed by BTK Motorsports, including motor mounts and radiator mounts.
Back when we were involved with Trackmagic, Chiptec manufactured components for their chassis and we sold them through BTK Motorsports as well. We also did components for CTS and Emmick. Our focus is to begin introducing more products back into the karting scene. There is a quick change sprocket hub - Speedlock - designed by Paul Kennedy. We manufactured the first 150 about a year ago. Itís a super innovative product. We are in the process manufacturing more and have become the exclusive distributor.
EKN: Looking at the dealer network BTK Motorsports has established thus far, there are a number of strong Arrow dealers across the country. What areas are you looking to build a stronger representation for the brand?
TM: The number one conversation that Drew Price and I had when we first began working together was recognizing what a large country the United States is. From west coast to east coast, there are a lot of tracks and karting. He questioned the ability of one importer to handle that vast territory. It was a legitimate concern he had. We talked about it in detail. Drewís knowledge of the US karting scene was really based in Southern California. When Arrow first came to the country, thatís where it went. John Motley began bringing in a handful of Arrow karts in the 1990s. Drewís concern was how we were going to market to the west coast. We struggled in the beginning and we struggle today. I look at our sales, our growth, and our market penetration and our market shares. If only we were able to market to the west coast, I believe we would be the number one selling brand in America.
In certain parts of the country, we have done a tremendous job and our numbers are very strong. Maybe in certain parts of the country maybe we are number one. But we have yet to find a solution for the west coast. In the past couple of years, we have shipped a number of chassis there but have yet to find a really strong dealer to help grow awareness for the Arrow brand. There were a couple years that Msquared did really well for us so I canít forget that. We also have a guy - Barry Lewis at Billet Performance in Colorado - that is passionate and doing his best but he is a one-man show which is tough.
The key for us is all of our strong dealers. If there were any potential dealers in the west coast, there is certainly an opportunity we can grow the brand out there. Looking back, I can remember winning our first WKA Manufacturerís Cup Series in 2006 with Cody Robinson at Daytona. That year, there were maybe two or three Arrow karts in the paddock. Now, they are all over the place. I feel the same thing can happen in the west coast.
| Cody Robinson is one of many drivers that have help the Arrow brand grow in the United States|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: BTK Motorsports is based in Alabama. What is the state of sprint racing in Alabama and what do you think can help it grow?
TM: I believe that sprint racing has a cycle, from my prospective. There is growth and then there is not growth and I think that is how it is locally. In the early years for the Rotax program, there was a race season where we would have 15 Masters most every race, roughly the same number of Seniors as well. Weíve had some isolated events where we have had those numbers but mostly no where near there. In 2005, we took 28 local racers to the Rotax Grand NationalsÖthat was very strong.
So the state of sprint racing is certainly not great. The thing that will help it would be another track. There is potential of a track in Nashville. There are some guys that have been working on it for many years, but value of land and zoning issues are delaying it. We here at BTK have put in so much energy into our national presence, spending winters in Florida and following the national programs, the challenge for us is to look more at our local track. Either through arrive and drive or a rental fleet, I think we are getting closer to establishing those programs to help feed our racing program here at the track. Even though the demographics here are not as large as say Atlanta, there are about 5 million people within a 75 mile radius. We just have to do a better job promoting within the area.
EKN: Arrow has been winning nearly everywhere in the United States, the Rotax Grand Nationals, WKA Manufacturerís Cup Series, Rock Island Grand Prix and other national events. Give me three races you want to win that you havenít yet?
TM: Wow, well, we want to win them all (laughing).
EKN: Ok, maybe just one that you have on your mind?
TM: We have won at the Rotax Grand Nationals but we have yet to win Rotax Senior at the Grand Nationals, but maybe more so a SKUSA SuperNationals win would be awesome.
EKN: Thank you very much Terrence for your time and we look forward to seeing you at the upcoming races.
TM: Thank you so much David I appreciate the opportunity.