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MSA Kartmasters British Kart Grand Prix

As I write this column, my television screen is showing shocking images of looting in some of Britain’s major cities.

It took politicians completely by surprise, with just about every government minister relaxing on holiday. At one stage the most senior person at Westminster available to handle this situation was Lynne Featherstone, a Lib Dem MP who would be unrecognisable to most people.

Although television crews naturally focused on the worst scenes, rioting wasn’t confined to inner city areas. I’m informed by Wilf Carter that large scale looting took place close to Karting magazine’s offices in Orpington and Mark Burgess sent staff home early for their own protection.

Britain’s kart circuits are a long way removed from the streets of Tottenham and competitors may feel aggrieved at any attempt to draw parallels here. Karting families, after all, aren’t generally noted for indulging in riotous behaviour or even joining an occasional protest march. Nor do young karters generally suffer from impoverished backgrounds or lack of parental control, factors that were allegedly behind last month’s widespread looting. However, aggressive behaviour is increasingly seen at kart meetings and invariably parents, rather than drivers, are the cause.

Kids learn by example and the lessons adults teach them aren’t always helpful ones. There was an interesting article in last month’s issue from Diane Porter who provided a mum’s perspective of the sport. One paragraph in particular caught my eye. “Some dads use the most awful language directed at their children,” she wrote, “and that’s a really saddening aspect of karting.”

I’d entirely agree with Diane on that score but we shouldn’t believe that bad language is an exclusively male preserve. I’ve been shocked at how many mothers will merrily spout a string of four letter invectives in front of young children. Verbal abuse is one thing, but there have been examples of parents physically assaulting their own children. I remember one young lad who, after disappointing race results, would run off and hide to avoid a thrashing from his dad.

Bad parental behaviour can often be attributed to pressure. Many parents are investing huge and sometimes unaffordable sums of money in their kids’ karting activities. When results fail to match their investment, tempers are lost and the consequences can be very unpleasant.

Swearing at teenagers is one thing, but you frequently hear profanities at Bambino events where even the most experienced drivers are only seven years old. Out on the circuit these youngsters can display skills comparable to any adult. Despite their tender years, they’re often able to discuss tactics with incredible sophistication. Underneath the helmets and racing suits, though, they are still impressionable children and we adults should always remember to treat them as such.

I’ve always supported the Bambino concept, although I’d prefer it if six and seven year olds were going out on a kart and simply having fun rather than indulging in cutthroat competition. I choose these words because recently quite a few Bambino parents have been at each others’ throats. Accusations of wholesale cheating have been flying around the internet and I’m afraid it all makes unedifying reading.

One parent rightly points out that you can’t be cheating when there are no written rules to follow. The overwhelming majority of Bambino events take place during club practice sessions or at non-MSA venues where there is no official rule book in operation. This has created an atmosphere of suspicion. When young Tommy suddenly knocks two full seconds off his previous best lap time it may be due to some naughty modifications in the engine department. Alternatively, he may just have discovered some better racing lines.

Some parents simply buy a kart and take it to circuits without any modifications whatsoever, whereas others will want to do some tinkering. A few might enlist the support of professional teams to ensure that their drivers are quicker than everyone else. You also find one or two seeking less legitimate solutions by making modifications that are well outside the current MSA fiche.

I suspect that all of this matters less to the drivers than their parents. However, there is a safety aspect to consider. Some of the modified motors are reputed to reach top speeds of 50mph. When everyone else is circulating at just 33mph, then such an obvious speed differential has to raise safety concerns.

Cumbria KRC has seized the initiative by starting its own Bambino Club with a set of rules agreed by all members. Any motors used at official practice session must fall within the MSA fiche. At each practice day, three motors are selected at random and stripped for inspection. The owners of any motor outside legal limits must make a £100 donation to the Air Ambulance. I’m happy to report that so far the scheme is working very well.

It would be remiss of me to end this article without congratulating Gaby Weyer for her performance in the WTP event at Kartmasters. She is certainly the first female Cadet driver to sport a GP plate and so far as I can remember no woman has won any of the other classes in this prestigious event, either. Congratulations, also, to nine year old Thomas Turner who became the youngest winner of a WTP Little Green Man round when he took 1st place at Buckmore Park.