Behind the Laptop: Karting Can Be A Vicious Cycle

A promising future has brought us back a familiar position going into 2016

They say that work is supposed to get easier as you get older. The basic Rules of Seniority often provide those who have been in their position the longest with their choice of the tasks at a shop, what route you get as a truck driver, and who gets the better days or hours off. That was the ‘American Way’ for decades. In my case, however, it seems to be like I’m working harder than ever in my 11-year history with EKN. And that’s not because I’m getting the short end of the seniority option, but because it appears that those in the sport are trying to use up every single weekend that is available. The first weeks in December appear to be the only time that there are no major karting events taking place in North America.  Winter weekends at the track have been a common occurrence since the rise of the Florida Winter Tour under former owner Bill Wright, and there appears to be no end in sight.

The increase in official competition during the winter months has been a welcome addition for the industry side of the sport, as shops are able to conduct more business during what was typically a slow period in the year. Shops and teams are now able to cater to drivers who want to be at the track every weekend, competing and striving to be the best they can. This craze has led to even more events during the period that many of us in the north once considered to be the ‘off-season’. With the Florida Winter Tour already holding back-to-back events in January, February and March, the World Karting Association has recently added their ‘Winter Cup’ program which offers up another three event ‘mini-series’ for their customers. On the west side of the continent, the Rotax Challenge of the Americas is entering its ninth season as the counterpart to the FWT Rotax Max Challenge series and will launch in January. The California ProKart Challenge, set to embark on its 12th year as the flagship regional program for Superkarts! USA, begins its season during the first weekend of February.

Moving into the summer months, the premier level continues to feature the Superkarts! USA Pro Tour and the US Rotax Max Challenge. In the East, it is the United States Pro Kart Series and the WKA Manufacturers Cup Series, while the new AKRA program is set to make its debut although details have still not yet been announced. Regional programs west of the Mississippi River, such as Can-Am Karting Challenge, Texas ProKart Challenge, and the California ProKart Challenge try to work around what the top tier schedules do in order to prevent conflicts.

The question is, can all of these events work together so that shops, drivers and industry members do not have to pick one or the other?  In 2012, the sport appeared to be moving in the positive direction with most, if not all, the major programs throughout the country working together (see column by EKN Publisher Rob Howden). Going into 2016, we’ve done complete 180, as it has been all about who was going to get their schedule out first with no consideration or respect for the other programs.

Not one person is to blame, but rather ALL are to blame.

This is not a new situation that we, and the sport, find ourselves in. There was the SKUSA versus Stars of Karting conflict in the early portion of the 2000s. And well before that, the primary motivation for the creation of WKA in the 1970s stemmed from a group of people who were unhappy and dissatisfied with the International Kart Federation. Other regional programs and competing tracks have gone through their battle years as well throughput the almost 60-year history of the sport.

Our sport of karting is one of passion and enjoyment. The passion to be the fastest, the passion to be a champion or just the passion for the outright speed and feeling you get behind the wheel. It makes us addicts, and our drug of choice is karting. Enjoyment comes in the same form as passion, but for me and many others, the real enjoyment is getting to know others in the karting community and enjoying a weekend at the track with family and friends.

That passion and enjoyment is always moving up and down on the scale. For the career karters, it always remains on the positive side of the scale. However, there are also those who begin with the high, and eventually fall down to the negative side. We have seen it before at tracks, clubs, or series – a select few who just get burnt out and are not having fun, or cannot justify spending their time and money any further. They will go elsewhere, to another motorsport or possibly just quit altogether.

This is the TRUE battle that we need to be fighting to eliminate year after year – the loss of racers.  Our focus should be on introducing people to the sport and keeping them happy enough not to leave.

The thought to making the sport better is to grow the customer base. Instead, industry members go after the same racers with free product or ‘amazing deals’. I know I sound like a broken record, but organizations, sanctioning bodies, shops, clubs, tracks, and anyone within the industry needs to point all their time and effort into growing the actual number of customers. We need to stop trying to take a bigger piece of the small pie, but rather help to make the pie larger.

Can the major karting programs work together in an effort to grow themselves and sport? I would say ‘Yes’. What stands in the way is the differences in everyone’s passion. Some passion comes from the greed that stems from business success, or the attempt to become the biggest and best there is in the sport. The unique personalities of those involved are also a major factor in the positive or negative development of cooperation. You see it at the club level, and it exists in every level of the sport. Certain types of people simply believe that it’s ‘their way or the highway’.

Where do we go from here?

It is uncertain what the future holds for the sport. In previous evolutions such as this, the strong get stronger, and the weak become weaker until they fold over and leave. What I want to see in the coming months, and for the next few years, is the focus of all sanctioning bodies to be aimed on the grassroots level…following our #OperationGrassroots ideology. There is a great revolution by the karters right now, and for the past few seasons, looking for affordable, fun, and fair racing at the club and regional level. The Briggs & Stratton LO206 engine is to thank for this explosion of new racers committing to the sport, the restoration of older karts and the return of former racers to the track.

While they need to step in and help the promotion, there is nothing else required. Briggs has their engine program locked and loaded, and tracks are beginning to help by aligning chassis rule structures that work out for their area and region. What #OperationGrassroots needs is more promotion to bring in even more racers. These future club racers could be the potential stars of WKA, IKF, USPKS, US Rotax Max Challenge and SKUSA. You can’t expect racers to start out at the pinnacle of the sport, and leave two years later when the struggles of racing against the best set in.  Start them at a club and let their passion grow from there.

This, and cooperation across the board, will hopefully end this cycle that our sport seems deemed to repeat every decade.

Life is short, have fun!

David Cole Managing Editor

One thought on “Behind the Laptop: Karting Can Be A Vicious Cycle

  1. In my experience running, I’ve seen two additional issues at the club level: varied professional background and available resources. While SKUSA, Rotax and the other top level series have full-time staff who have been ostensibly hired for their experience, the person in charge at the club level is, as the joke goes, the one who went to the bathroom while the board took a vote. The sport continues largely off the efforts of volunteers (paid staff at all levels would increase costs substantially) but it also puts well-meaning people in positions without the requisite business and marketing skills needed to grow their organizations. Pair that with the volunteers day jobs, families and other obligations and you simply have more work to do than time and experience to do it. The “nice to have” of growth is pushed aside in the name of “must do” operations.

    The only way to overcome this is through collaboration. We have to create economies of scale that allow sharing of knowledge and resources to move the sport forward. I acknowledge that it is tough to get all of the personalities to sync up but I firmly believe that a rising tide would lift all boats far more than we can re-slice the existing pie.

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