Behind the Laptop: Unification Among Organizations
The recent joint statement from ROK Cup USA, Superkarts! USA and the United States Pro Kart Series regarding a working relationship has sparked much interest in our community, and not surprisingly, it has brought up past discussions and new conversation regarding the sport of karting here in the USA.
What sparked this new endeavor?
First off, let’s all keep it in first gear. This partnership is not about similar rules, similar class structures, or working together on schedules. The statement is focused on the sport, mostly honed in on the national level series of the three programs, and keeping the actions of individuals in check.
This conversation stemmed from the recent activities that took place at the Superkarts! USA Pro Tour SpringNationals at the Utah Motorsports Campus over the June 10-12 weekend. The most common question for those who were not there remains straight-forward – ‘what happened’? We discussed the situation and the actions of those involved during our Debrief podcast, however, we had not yet put anything down in writing. There was more than one situation that occurred over the weekend, yet the one that sparked everyone’s attention was from the final lap of main event in the X30 Senior division on Saturday, June 11.
On the final lap of the Final, Rolison Performance Group driver Nate Cicero and Arcane Motorsports’ Cole Kleck were fighting for position. Cicero jumped the final corner curb, slowing his pace. This allowed Kleck to pull alongside to drag race to the finish line. Cicero, as we have seen done at many events and other facilities by other drivers of all age levels, crowded Kleck toward the ‘drivers left’ side of the track, coming from the ‘drivers right’ side of the surface. The two made wheel-to-wheel contact prior to the start/finish line. The contact sent Kleck into the tire wall along the pit lane, making hard contact and sending him and the kart into a wild, aerial spin. Thankfully, he was ejected from the kart and through the dust you could see him jumping over the wall to safety before settling onto the trailer of the kart pickup vehicle. Cicero regrouped and slowly crept his kart to the inside to avoid getting hit from the remainder of the field that was coming through for the checkered flag. Results wise, Cicero was removed from the event for the contact. One final point regarding the drivers, both are under the age of 18 racing in a Senior level class.
As the dust settled, the tempers of certain individuals rose to an extreme level. Eventually, Superkarts! USA cleared the grid after Kleck was attended to and sent to the on-site medical center. Cole was diagnosed with a broken wrist and a slight concussion. What follows is what I did not see, but was instead told, as I returned to my laptop to continue working at the east end of the pit lane. Kleck was transported to the medical center, and as the scale line cleared, the kart of Cicero was gathered and was making its way from the grid area toward its tent area. Individuals attacked the kart itself, throwing it off the kart stand. Meanwhile, Cicero was kept in the middle of the racecourse under a corner marshal stand with two SKUSA officials. During all of this, verbal threats were made toward several individuals, including Cicero and his family. Nate was soon escorted off the facility with his family and did not return the following day. Local law enforcement eventually made its way to the facility, interviewing several individuals as Superkarts! USA guided them to certain areas of the paddock.
From there, Superkarts! USA made moves on Sunday to lock down the hot pit lane, removing individuals from watching alongside the track and re-positioning them to a spot further away from the track. They also removed the ability for mechanics and family members to wait along the scale line, moving them to outside the hot pit area and on the exit of the scales.
The next question is this – was it the on-track issue or the off-track actions that sparked this ‘working together’ by three of the biggest groups in the sport?
At this point, we are not sure if it’s one or the other, or both. This new ‘union’ is in the early stages, and we are still waiting to find out if further penalties or actions will be taken by Superkarts! USA regarding those individuals involved.
For me, this brings back the old discussion about having the sport of karting under one umbrella – one organization and one licensing system.
Let’s be honest, in the last two decades (if at all in the history of the sport in the US), we have never had a true licensing system. Each organization carries their own license program; however, this is really nothing more than a membership that helps fund day-to-day operations and does nothing to measure, rate or provide a skill level score for each driver. At one time in the past, SKUSA had a ladder system with decently restrictive licensing requirements, however, that is no more. The World Karting Association did something similar from my experience, however, it was to allow certain individuals the opportunity to compete in the ‘faster’ classes and thus required previous experience.
A true national licensing system – in my opinion – should be similar to a vehicle driver’s license we have here in the USA. It should be a true record of your performance in the sport, from the grassroots level to the regional and national events within the United States. The system needs to keep track of the events in which you compete, the results you earn, provide the number of incidents you are involved in, and the number of penalties you receive.
My long-term vision is to have licensing include those in the industry as well. It can be a ‘Better Business Bureau’ type approach that provides a way to promote the sport and assist those coming into karting by directing them to kart shops that can be trusted and are part of the betterment of the sport. For those who remember, it could have similar components to the ‘Kart Industry Council’ that was supported by many in the late 90s and early 2000s. Individuals within the sport should also be part of the licensing system; a hard-card program for mechanics, driver coaches or individuals working under a team tent at the national / regional level, for example. It could track their participation within the sport, help gauge their experience, and also regulate their ability to be within the paddock based on damning actions they may have shown at the kart track.
This can be done, all while keeping those organizations intact, and shifting their licensing system toward a universal program. And while doing this, it would provide a way to incorporate the regional and club level tracks and competitors, despite their insurance or series affiliations, to have individuals and businesses under this same licensing system. This would help at the grassroots level for the ‘new-to-karting’ people, providing them with an understanding of where to start, and what divisions to begin in. And, for the tracks, it will allow them to know who visiting competitors are, where they have raced before, in addition to information regarding their on- and off-track record. It would be the same with shops and individual members of the industry. A race team or shop will know if a certain individual has worked within the karting industry before or has had issues somewhere that may not have been known to the general public.
And again, the core of the problem revolves around respect. We saw it prior to the pushback bumpers with the wild and unsafe starts that were happening at all levels. Now, the competition level is so tight and close, everyone is amped up and looking for that extra edge. We, as a karting community, need to hold each other and ourselves accountable for the actions that occur on and off the track.
This is just the start of my thoughts on the subject, as there is more to discuss regarding what to do with the licensing funds – which should be used for promotion of the sport – and of course how we can tie this in with ACCUS and the FIA to really have a true streamline for USA drivers to worldwide karting and motorsports.
Because let’s face it…there will never be a standalone, sole organization for karting in the United States. If we work together and find common goals, there is something to build on to not only benefit the karter, but the industry and the sport as we celebrate the 66th year of karting. If this new connection between SKUSA, the USPKS, and ROK Cup USA comes with increased bipartisan communication, there may be a chance for the sport after all.