EKN One-on-One: Buddy Long – World Karting Association
Sanctioning body building toward the future, riding the momentum from Daytona KartWeek
For over 40 years, the World Karting Association has been a vital component of the sport’s foundation in the United States. At one time, the WKA led the way in the management and promotion of all disciplines in the sport, from sanctioning tracks, clubs and regional series to running national championship series in sprint, road race, dirt oval and pavement oval karting. Once upon a time, they ran the largest events in the country and helped shape the progression of the sport with their rulebook, pit pass program and direct connection to the CIK.
Over the last 10 years, the WKA had lost a tangible percentage of its numbers, strength and reach, but they’ve been fighting back. A host of new faces and fresh ideas have fueled renewed enthusiasm, beginning with the flagship Manufacturers Cup series, which is now enjoying positive momentum. This is great for the sport, and much of the success can be attributed to the return of Buddy Long as the Communications and Logistics Coordinator. Buddy works extremely well with people and his open personality has gone a long way to repair damaged relationships and partnerships.
EKN caught up with Buddy once the dust had settled from KartWeek in Daytona to discuss the WKA’s momentum and the success and challenges from 2016.
eKartingNews.com: Buddy, we know how much work that you personally put into KartWeek during the second half of December, being away from home for a couple of weeks, so thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. The event at Daytona is a monumental task; one that we think most karters simply cannot comprehend. Can you give us a little insight into the on-site preparations that were required?
Buddy Long: First of all, thanks so much to eKartingNews for your support of WKA and the Manufacturers Cup Series. We are very proud of the relationship we have with you and your staff.
The process for KartWeek begins for myself in mid-July, giving the Speedway time to come up for air following the July Coke Zero 400 NASCAR weekend. I begin by making initial contact with the Speedway, again assuring everything is a ‘go’ across the board, and double-checking to see if anything has physically changed from the previous year to the new event. From there, I begin the tedious process of staffing three national events, getting the hotel straight, and starting to go over every physical aspect of the event, including tents, tables, golf karts, storage pods, etc. These are just the items that we coordinate down in Daytona. In reality, I pretty much load the WKA office into two trailers and take it all down there. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the event, I have 53 hotel rooms booked solely for race staff.
From mid-July to mid-December, Daytona is a major project every day, along with taking care of the needs of our current races that are scheduled, all with still three months of our current racing season left. I think the perception by most people is, since it’s the World Center of Racing, and they just finished a $400 million dollar renovation project, that it contains all the amenities for everything. Aside from the Road Race event, both the Dirt and Manufacturers Cup tracks are pretty much temporary facilities. And as such, they require more physical attention to provide the needed requirements for competitors and staff.
EKN: We’ve said it time and time again, event planning and management is just one of the components of a race that 99% of the drivers simply do not comprehend. It’s such a monumental undertaking. OK, let’s start by discussing 2016 before we look at the coming year. When you look back at last year’s Manufacturer’s Cup series, what are your thoughts on the growth of the program from 2015?
BL: I am very proud of the momentum we have gained in 2016. When I returned to WKA in February of 2015, I inherited programs and relationships that were in disarray, including the Manufacturers Cup. The best way I can answer this question is to take you back to the 2015 Man Cup event at Briggs & Stratton Raceway Park in Dousman, Wisconsin. I was working the grid that rainy Friday. A couple of our past Man Cup officials, who lived in the area, stopped by to catch up with the WKA crew. The first question the one individual had was; “Buddy, where is everyone?” The pits were a ghost town, most uncharacteristic of the past. I simply said very humbly, “They’ll be back”. Not knowing if that was going to be the case or not, what I DID believe in was who I was, what I deliver to our customers, the straight shooter I am, as well as communicating back to our customers in a most timely fashion.
Having the luxury of two of the best ladies to work with in the office – Marie Borsuk and Jeannie Harrison – made the healing and rebirth process go much quicker. Adding Kelly Frazier to the WKA Office just a little over a year later also brought yet another level of professionalism and communication to the organization. What I am MOST proud of is the fact that we took our lumps, yet never took pot shots at any of our competitors, who obviously were doing better. We had our own problems to fix. And while numbers are much better, it’s always a work in progress, doing our best to keep everyone happy, and proud to be a WKA Member.
EKN: As you stated, there is obvious momentum with the Manufacturers Cup, which is crucial to the continue strengthening of the WKA on the whole. Daytona is always a good barometer of what we’ll see during the remainder of the year, although the trend has always been that KartWeek draws more than just the series regulars. You no doubt spoke with many teams, shops and families in Florida…what are you expectations for 2017?
BL: We left Daytona riding great momentum. And you’re correct. Daytona always has larger numbers traditionally. Being in the position I am, I’m through the pits a bazillion times a day, taking care of the needs of everyone. Suffice it to say, I have the constant bulls-eye on my back, as I am the most accessible. During my entire time there, as well as upon my return to the office, I have yet to be met with one dissatisfied customer, many of which are looking forward to the second Winter Cup event in Jacksonville in late February.
I received a call from the parent of one of our racers who flipped and broke his arm in two places. All he could say was how impressed he was with how WKA handled his son’s situation from beginning to end. So even having the parent, who probably had the worst weekend in Daytona, call us and commend us, means we are doing the job our membership deserves.
As for the balance of the season, we repositioned the Pittsburgh event in the hope that it will be a better draw in May than it has been in August. History has dictated that New Castle and GoPro are always very well attended. And we always look forward to a return to Dousman. I try not to be a numbers person and project. I always go high. I just know we are riding great momentum. And it’s a total team effort. Changing the weekend structure where we will just have one heat race and a final on Sunday is also a step in the right direction, enabling customers to get packed up and on their way home even earlier, enabling them to get back to work and school.
EKN: Buddy, the WKA launched the Winter Cup program in 2016 to give WKA members the opportunity to head south and escape the cold of winter, and to race their equipment in Florida. Please give us your thoughts on the first edition of that series, and how things have evolved for 2017.
BL: I think by starting the series out at Daytona, it was a win-win all the way around. For years, WKA had been looking for a source of race revenue at an otherwise Trade Show/Banquet time of year, mainly January and February. Having the ability to return 2-cycle national racing back to 103rd Street in Jacksonville for the second stop in February was a great treat for many. Prior to the sprint track being built at Daytona, it was tradition to take the Manufacturers Cup Series to Jacksonville. And having the finale at GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville served as a great setup to the Manufacturers Cup Series event the next month at the same track, providing very positive numbers for the first year of the program.
This year, with Daytona already a success and in the books, the return to Jacksonville, as well as a maiden voyage to Ocala Gran Prix, along with no drops in the program, has many in the industry excited. And to top it off, the incentives that were recently announced for many of the classes should have the pits busting at the seams. The 2017 Winter Cup Champions will receive a free entry to one of the remaining Manufacturers Cup events, as well as a set of Bridgestone tires. The ROK Shifter Champion – a Winter Cup only category – will receive tires, fuel, oil and a free entry into the ROK Cup USA Nationals in September in Orlando, Florida. Additionally, drivers in the Pro IAME Junior and Senior classes who compete in all three Winter Cup events, or who are an event or overall weekend winners, will be eligible to win a trip to Lemans, France for the X30 International Finals, with the drawings for that prize taking place at the season finale in Ocala on April 2.
EKN: After a challenging year with the WKA National Road Racing Series program in 2016, which included track scheduling issues, everything is in place for a five-race schedule this year. The WKA enjoyed increased road race entries at Daytona, so does this bode well for the rest of the program?
BL: I think so. I have received great support from the Road Racing community ever since addressing them in a Drivers Meeting back in July of 2015 at VIR. From that point on, they knew they again had a friend in the WKA Office who would work hard for them. While the 2016 schedule hit a major bump in the road, two very positive things came out of last year. The Year End Awards Presentation at Roebling Road was a great success, having many customers who felt compelled not to come because they thought it would be another hum drum deal, wishing they had gotten a ticket to come, as the organization breathed new life into the series that night. Many left the banquet that night with a much brighter outlook. The 2016 series finale at Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawsonville, Georgia was also a home run, despite a complete rainout on Sunday. Competitors absolutely loved the track, and were begging for it to be included on the 2017 schedule, which it is. So, having a repaved VIR back on the schedule, as well as dispelling invalid rumors last year of the Daytona demise on the big track, placing Atlanta back on the schedule, and not to mention friends in the office they could again count on and communicate with, has already paid off well, with Daytona entries going back over the 500 mark this year.
EKN: The Gold Cup series for four-cycle competition has long been a core program in the WKA’s national platform. Four-cycle racing is a crucial formula in our sport, and the overall approach to the category has been evolving over the last few years thanks to the Briggs 206. The Gold Cup has embraced the 206 package, and also offers the Animal Pro Gas class, which is simply a dialled-up 206 to provide more speed for those who want it. The Gold Cup has a well-balanced class structure with two options at each age level: 206 and Pro Gas. The biggest news for 2017 centers on the bodywork debate and the concept of moving from the laid-back seat / big front nosecone approach to the CIK bodywork that is run with great success in other regions of the country, as well as Canada. It was originally voted to move the Gold Cup class to full CIK bodywork, but that decision was rescinded due to member feedback, so the addition of a pure CIK 206 class was the compromise. Can you give us some insight on the overall strength of the Gold Cup program and your projections for 2017?
BL: Any time there are major rule changes that come down the pike, there will be resistance, and understandably so. Many people don’t like change. We are all victims of that in one facet of life or another. And this will be a major change for many of the traditionalists in Gold Cup, prompting them to either accept the change that is coming, or turn to another option. I think that the WKA has done the best possible job, considering the circumstances, to make the transition as subtle as possible. It’s never easy, in a member-owned organization, to please all involved. It’s virtually impossible. All you can do is go with what is in front of you. And in this case, it’s obvious that the CIK package is coming down the tracks fast. My hope is to maintain as much of the history and tradition of the Gold Cup Series, which has provided some of the great families and competitors in our sport.
The biggest challenge, I find, is trying to maintain and nurture each series’ own distinct personality. While many feel the grass may look greener in another pasture (or in this case, another series), looking at it from my perspective, we have three major series, all with great personalities, wonderful families, and awesome competition. My goal is to ensure they maintain their own wonderful qualities, separate from each other, yet similar in many ways as well. Otherwise, we’re just going to 16 national events that are a mirror image of each other.
EKN: As you just stated, the WKA has long been a foundation organization for the sport, promoting and running events in all three of our disciplines – sprint, road race and speedway. Can you give us some insight into the WKA’s dirt and pavement speedway programs? How are things looking for 2017?
BL: We were very blessed to re-ignite the relationship with Patti Owens and the folks at GoldSpeed USA, who are the importers for Maxxis Tires for the Daytona Dirt World Championships. As a result of bringing the Maxxis tire back to Daytona, the end result was an increase of well over 250 entries more than the previous year. Patti has wonderful ideas and concepts, including the desire to host more races than just Daytona, which is a work in progress. The first step was getting back on track at Daytona. From here, the possibilities are endless. Since WKA hasn’t been in the Dirt Series business in a while, it’s safe to say there is no great rush in getting back in, ensuring we take the proper steps, making sure it’s done properly. That first step was getting a successful return of Maxxis back to Daytona.
As for Pavement, that’s probably the toughest one to address. It’s been quite some time since WKA hosted a Pavement Series. With so much going on with the existing series, rebuilding and maintaining, the Pavement program would be one that would have to be tabled for a while. In difference to Dirt, when you lose a program, you lose a ton of racers who either get out altogether, or just race here and there. Many tracks have disbanded. While there are still some out there, we will continue to support them through our insurance and wristband program, with the hope of increasing that relationship further down the road.
EKN: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today, Buddy. Any final thoughts as the WKA preps to jump feet-first into the 2017 season?
BL: Well, we’re off to a positive start for the new season in two of our three major series, and we’ve turned the Dirt deal around at Daytona. It’s just always a work in progress. So the new year is off to a great start. We just have to keep the gas mashed to the floor on effort and communication. We worked through the tough times by maintaining focus and concerning ourselves with our own challenges. We need to maintain the same discipline when things are better, all the while, never forgetting where we were, making sure we stay focused, open minded, pro-active, and most of all, customer friendly and communicative to the wonderful families and members we have that make up this great organization.
The next EKN One-on-One will feature Challenge of the Americas promoter Andy Seesemann as the program prepares to open up its 10th season as the premier winter series on the left coast.