OFF TRACK: Brand New Key

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img05840 years ago, Melanie Safka recorded a top ten hit called “Brand New Key” sometimes know as “The Roller-skate Song” It was all about some girl riding her bicycle past a young lad’s window and then returning after midnight on roller-skates. I’m not certain that Melanie’s record would have been quite so popular over here were it not for the rather quirky decision by several radio stations to impose a ban. Apparently some of the lyrics were deemed to include sexual innuendo. Lily Allen fans would no doubt struggle to find any sexual connotation behind the words I got a brand new pair of roller skates / You got a brand new key / I think that we should get together and try them out you see!” There’s nothing that guarantees sales quite like a good old fashioned ban and “Brand New Key” immediately shot to number 4 in British charts before becoming a world wide hit. I rather think that a well connected record publicist may have been behind the sexual innuendo myth. This view was supported some months later when Melanie came out with “Look What They’ve Done To My Song, Ma.” Despite having a better tune and much more sensible lyrics, this one only just scraped into the top 50.

If Melanie’s American compatriot Art Ingels could take a look at today’s karting scene, I suspect he might change the words of her song to “Look What They’ve Done To My Sport!” 54 years ago, Ingels created a very simple motorised machine that relied on lightness rather than excessive power for its speed. Art’s historically significant creation was purchased12 years later by Alan Burgess of Karting magazine, still with the original tyres despite previously passing through various hands and competing in goodness knows how many events. Simplicity was the essence of karting in those days. People who couldn’t afford the costs associated with car racing jumped at the chance to take part in an exciting branch of motor-sport. Those responsible for karting’s governance appreciated the need to avoid unnecessary complexities. That’s why an early decision was taken to limit the number of classes, whilst banning bodywork and independent suspension. Bev Bond tried to circumvent the bodywork ban with a wrap around Nassau Panel that virtually enclosed his entire kart. Increasing use of motor-racing circuits throughout the sixties led to a relaxation of the rules regarding bodywork, but 100cc karts at least remained relatively simple. .As “Rocket” pointed out in August’s Letters Page, today’s karts have become overly complicated with so many micro adjustments that require specialist knowledge.

Apart from TKM meetings, onboard cameras and data-loggers have become compulsory add-ons at every Super One event, so that karts are beginning to look a bit like Christmas trees. At £160 each, the cameras represent a significant additional cost that might be easily absorbed into a Super One budget but would stretch resources if adopted at club level. I was very surprised to be informed by one rather peeved dad that stewards had turned down his request for film to be viewed as evidence against alleged wrong doing. It seems unfair that entrants should have to fork out for this equipment and then be restrained from actually using it. Data-loggers have become necessary in major championship events to prevent drivers gaining an unfair advantage through excess clutch slippage. In Europe some competitors are using data-loggers that measure tyre characteristics and tell them when they should be backing off to obtain optimum performance. It’s all very Formula One, but do we really want such sophistication in karting?

I’m very uneasy about the emergence of kart “teams” which are now becoming predominant even at relatively low grade club events. There is almost universal agreement that karting is becoming too expensive, yet operating in a team will invariably lead to increased costs. Drivers are often sucked into attending additional race meetings or practice sessions simply because another team member might want to try out the circuit before a championship race there. It isn’t economical for the team owner to run one driver, so others are persuaded to come along and share the costs. Several years ago, there was a proposal to prohibit teams from operating in the WTP Little Green Man Series. Whilst I agreed with the sentiments behind this idea, such a ban would have been impossible to enforce. In any case, bans can sometimes have the opposite effect to what was originally intended, as the self appointed censors of Melanie’s song soon discovered. What you can do, though, is limit the effectiveness of teams in certain classes by restricting chassis alterations to a bare minimum.

Easykart pointed the way forward six years ago, but unfortunately this type of racing is restricted to a national championship held at seven different venues and isn’t ideally suited for beginners. The MSA ought to be promoting an entry level Clubman’s Class that doesn’t simply keep down engine costs but also places restrictions on the chassis. The emphasis should be placed once more on keeping things simple. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t revert back to 28mm axles as used previously in TKM. If every kart used in this class was homologated with fixed dimensions for front and rear track, then you’d be going a long way towards eliminating the need for specialist knowledge. Ackerman steering, along with castor and camber adjustments could also be prohibited. Fixed gearing ratios for each circuit would help to make such a class even more user-friendly. There’s a huge variety of motors, all professing to provide cheap low maintenance racing and perhaps that’s part of the problem. I’d like to see British manufacturers supported and have a natural preference for the TKM BT82. Others will no doubt have different ideas. One thing is certain, though. If the MSA wants karting to thrive, then it needs to take action very quickly. It’s hardly rocket science, after all.

Richard Brett, Jim Coulthard Jenny Philpotts and Ian Prestwich all correctly identified the Cobra as Johnny Herbert’s championship winning kart in 1982. Ian also recognized Les Sheppard as the driver in August’s issue, as did Paul Klassen, Bob Reynolds, Wyatt Stanley and Paul Brighton. Unfortunately, I received their replies too late for the September deadline.


The 1965 outright British karting champion is pictured here 12 months later on a Piranha kart. The rotary valve motor, produced by himself, was Britain’s answer to the Spanish Bultaco and Montesa engines that were predominant at that time. Can you identify him?