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OFF TRACK! – The first Karting Magazine

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Give or take a few days, it is now 50 years since the first issue of Karting magazine appeared. It was launched by Alan Burgess and his wife Jan from a small office in Beckenham, Kent. The idea of producing a monthly magazine dedicated exclusively to kart racing had taken root several months earlier. After a kart demonstration at Brands Hatch on September 27th, 1959, the Kent Kart Club was established. Alan and Jan produced a monthly newsletter on behalf of the club called “The Go Karter”. This proved to be exceedingly popular and so they decided to take the enterprise several steps further forward. The sport was in its infancy back then and many people believed it to be a new fangled craze that would soon fizzle out. It took a certain amount of foresight and more than a little courage to embark upon such an ambitious venture. However, the magazine was launched in February with a photo of Graham Hill adorning its front cover. This photograph has been reproduced on many occasions since, as it was taken during the first official kart race to be held in Britain. I wonder if either Alan or Jan ever imagined back then that the magazine would still be going strong half a century and 647 issues later

In its first year, Karting magazine carried various interesting feature articles such as the Jackaroo kart, equipped with mudguards and lights, that drew crowds of onlookers as it travelled through London. There was also a piece about Stirling Moss driving a six wheeled Keele-kart and also news of his forthcoming trip to Nassau for the world karting championships. Many kart competitors had found that slick tyres offered more grip than the usual grooved variety but you could only buy them as remoulds. However, Firestone suddenly started producing them from new and there was a discussion about this significant development. Although a fair amount of space was devoted to American karting, one or two major British and European events received comprehensive coverage. Not least of these were the inaugural Paris 6 Hour race and an excellent international meeting held on the newly opened Shenington circuit. Downham Market & District Kart Club held a 24 Hour relay at Snetterton and this too was reported along with an account of the Lords Taverners charity kart race at Brands Hatch, featuring such notable F1 stars as Stirling Moss, Dan Gurney, Innes Ireland and double world champion Jack Brabham.

In the coming months and years Karting magazine would be able to influence several major rule changes. In January 1963, for example, Alan Burgess advocated the imposition of minimum weight limits for each class. As if to emphasise his point, he turned up at one or two race meetings with a modified Chriskart/McCulloch that weighed just 31 kilos minus the driver. Compare this to a modern KF2 kart that tips the scales at around 90 kilos. The RAC responded and weight limits were implemented 12 months later. Alan also campaigned for a cheap class with no tuning allowed. Once again his voice was heard and Class 1 Sport came into being in 1964 with a maximum price tag of £45 for each motor. Karting magazine then turned its attention towards the gear-box classes, adding weight to demands for a separate Villiers category. Class 1V Standard was duly introduced in 1965 and rapidly established itself as Britain’s largest class with “A”, “B” and “C” finals run at many venues. Villiers powered machines featured prominently in the Snetterton 9hrs events devised and sponsored by Karting magazine. Actively promoting the sport remained a priority and Alan persuaded his friend John Dent to convert an old Fox-kart so that it ran with two rocket engines fuelled by liquid isopropyl nitrate. This was taken to the 1964 Drag festival at Blackbushe where it achieved a top speed of 175mph.

Track tests were always eagerly read by both potential and existing karters. In 1960 Karting magazine tested models from Progress, Kobra, Trokart, KRT and MB Wasp. Details were provided of the Sid Marler and Dave Kelsey built Marlerhaley Special featuring multi tubing and independent suspension. This remarkable chassis, complete with a Villiers 9E4 motor, still survives today after extensive restoration work by Peter Miles.  “It would be very difficult to overstate the impact that Karting magazine had upon our sport,” says John Mills. “Within a few months of the Lakenheath event taking place, more than 60 different kart manufacturers had been established so prospective customers could be faced with a confusing choice. The track tests gave them some indication of what they should be looking for and brought a bit of stability to the market“. According to John there was another, even more important service that Karting magazine rendered in those days. “Before February 1960, we learned about race meetings through word of mouth,” he recalls. “Once Karting magazine appeared, though, there was a readily available list of events throughout the country. I was a member of the Lincolnshire Kart Racing Club based at Fulbeck. By announcing our meetings in Karting magazine, we were able to attract drivers living outside the boundaries of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire that wouldn’t have been possible beforehand”.

Bernie Turney was one of the early manufacturers, producing Getkarts. Later, he’d import Italkarts and Komet motors from which combination the name Tal-ko is derived. John Mills, meanwhile, had begun trading from the garage of his home in Worksop. Tal-ko and JM Engineering are the sole surviving karting firms from this particular era. In January1960 John Mills and several friends held a practice session on the car park outside Fletcher’s Bakery in Sheffield. Paul Fletcher and his father George were sufficiently impressed to place an order for two Trokart/Clintons. Paul had his first race meeting at Halifax on April 3rd and was able to read all about it in the June edition of Karting magazine. By then, of course, he’d taken out a subscription. Together with John, he has collected every single copy of the magazine since issue number one. So far as I know, they are the only two people who can claim to own all 648 copies. “John is a meticulously tidy person and he keeps them all neatly stacked in a wardrobe,” says his wife, Sheila. Paul’s wardrobes obviously aren’t quite so large and he has to store his magazines in the attic.

If ever there was a prize awarded to karting’s greatest enthusiast you couldn’t, in all conscience, overlook Paul Fletcher. After supporting Fulbeck for more than 34 years, he fulfilled a lifetime ambition by opening his own circuit at nearby Brandon in December 1994. He’d undertaken this project after Lincolnshire Kart Club was given notice to quit Fulbeck by the MOD. Ironically, construction work was well underway when the MOD had a change of heart and decided that racing could continue at Fulbeck after all. That’s why we now have two major kart tracks lying within a few hundred yards of each other. Paul’s PFI circuit undoubtedly set new standards and it still boasts the best facilities of any British karting venue. In May, it will stage a qualifying round of the European Championships. So far as non gearbox classes are concerned, this is arguably the biggest event to be held in Britain since a World Championship round took place at Rye House more than 40 years ago. Another very important development at PFI could be announced in the near future. Paul is keeping very quiet about it all just now but I’m told that associates of a certain Mr Smith from Utah may be involved.

I was disappointed to learn from Paul that his plans for a shorter Bambino track at PFI had been rejected by the MSA. “They came up with their own ideas which I didn’t agree with,” says Paul. “”Rather than make alterations that I’m not happy about, we’ve decided to run Bambinos on Buttons nights using the existing track.” Many other clubs are experiencing similar problems and it appears as though Bambino demonstrations under MSA rules will only proceed at a very small number of venues. It seems Bambino owners who want to get out and enjoy their karts will be doing so at non MSA events and that’s a great shame in my opinion. I’m told that officials at one club have insisted they’d only be interested in setting time aside for Bambinos if a dozen or more turned up. It’s difficult to see how 12 drivers, setting off at intervals of 4 seconds, could be accommodated on a circuit that the MSA insists must be no more than 500 metres long. Scott Parker, father of 6 year Jenson, has been busy compiling a register of Bambino owners and will shortly produce a calendar of events at which they can appear. “The idea came about because so far Buckmore Park is the only circuit that has stood tall and kept its word to promote the MSA Bambino class,” he insists. If you are a Bambino owner, or perhaps feel that your club might be interested in staging these events, please contact Scott on 0124 682 7890. This column is largely concerned with karting’s past, whereas Bambinos represent the future of our sport. and as such ought to be carefully nurtured.

Last month I was suffering from an overdose of Christmas Spirit and clean forgot to include the usual poser at the end of my column. From December’s issue, Wyatt Stanley, Jenny Philpot’s Winnie Edgar and Jim Coulthard correctly identified Morecambe as the venue and Graham Liddle as the inaugural World Cup winner. Gerry Philpotts actually went one better and actually identified the MGB driver entering the circuit as Bert Hesketh. “We stayed at Bert’s hotel in Morecambe on that occasion and I’m reasonably sure it was his car,” Gerry proclaims.

THIS MONTH’S POSER

This photograph was taken almost 43 years and shows two Barlotti karts racing together in the British Team Selection Meeting. The second placed driver is Chris Hampshire who would later become the first British competitor to race a 200cc Suzuki twin. The man out in front was closely associated with Camberley Kart Club who organise an annual event at Blackbushe dedicated to his memory. If you can identify him, please five me a call on 01946 861355 or send an e-mail to dave.bewley@talktalk.net.