I’ve never been to Europe so I can’t say anything about what they do there.
As for a trade show being a good place to pick a new chassis brand as a driver I think it would be just as easy to ask on here what the “best” chassis is. :^) Anyone who’s been around long enough knows that the a great driver will win in a shopping cart, there’s just not enough difference between most of the chassis out there to make a difference for the average club racer. That’s why local support is cited as the most important factor so much, someone at your track can look at your setup and the track conditions and help you get to where you want to be….
For a retailer trade shows ARE all about networking and getting to know some of the people in the industry (I think I first met Rob Howden at KMI). It’s good to be able to meet top management and support people from brands you are thinking about representing. Buying into any brand is a considerable investment and as a retailer I always try to get to at least one trade show in my industry. But…. I don’t need to go every year just to see the same stuff over and over again.
Why is sprint kart stuff mainly built in Italy? Subsidies maybe…. But more likely it’s because they are world leaders in CNC machine manufacturing and the guys who run those shops are nuts about racing. I suspect (and this is just speculation) that kart parts are built with excess capacity in shops where there are much more profitable parts being built, probably for the aerospace industry. The Italians have had huge momentum in karting for a very long time (like way before I started in 1977). Others have done a great job but there’s just something about being where the action is. Just go to North Carolina and see how something like auto racing which is a hobby in the rest of our country is an INDUSTRY there.
Tim was pretty clear about the challenges of trade shows for karting companies. I think going to Kartfest the first time cost me close to $10k, and I don’t even want to think about the issues we had the following year when we tried partnering with another manufacturer to do both Kartfest and KMI. The payoff just wasn’t there for us and I’m sure other exhibitors felt the same way.
All the players do have their stuff on display at the big races, just not in a trade show format where they give away t-shirts and calendars. And swap meets are probably much better for the average racer because they can talk to folks who have actually used the product as opposed to a pretty girl who doesn’t know a tie rod from a bow tie :^)
IMHO, if KMI had been able to provide things like group insurance plans for retailers, or lobbying efforts to help clubs build new tracks we might have a US karting industry that was big enough to justify big trade shows. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what Darrell did with the organization, I just think that karting in the US is challenged by the fact that we only operate on closed circuits and there aren’t enough of them to attract serious investment from major powersports manufacturers. Until that happens, or the Italians just want to travel to Chicago in January I can’t see another major trade show coming up….