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Off Track: RAC/MSA good for British karting?

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Ask me whether or not the RAC/MSA has been good for British karting and I’ll give you an equivocal response. Many positives have undoubtedly arisen from their involvement but critics can point to quite a lot of negatives, also. RAC control resulted from a hastily arranged meeting of interested parties chaired by Dean Delamont back in September, 1959. This followed a kart demonstration at Silverstone which proved that there was huge public interest. Another motivating factor, no doubt, was the establishment of a rival body. The British Go Kart Association had been founded several weeks earlier in Northampton. The RAC’s sudden interest meant that this body soon became irrelevant.

18 months later the British Association of Kart Clubs was formed in Birmingham, but this initiative also fizzled out within a very short space of time. Yet another organization, the British Karting Board of Control, was established in 1962. It too was very short lived. Had any of these alternative bodies succeeded, then karting in Britain might have turned out very differently. It’s interesting to note that 120 kart clubs had been established in this country by 1961 and more than 5,000 licences were issued each year, well in excess of today’s figures. Race meetings with 200 or more competitors were concluded within a single day due to the relatively small number of classes available.

In its early days, British karting consisted of Class 1 (100cc motors), Class 2 (twin 100cc engines) and Class 4 (200cc gearbox). Class 3 had originally been intended for 100cc gearbox karts but never really got off the ground. Over in America where the sport was controlled by various rival bodies a multitude of different classes had been allowed to develop. As a result American karting fell into rapid decline even as it thrived over here. Ten years after Californian race engineer Art Ingels built the world’s first kart, British competitors actually outnumbered their American counterparts.

In recent years British karting has also become swamped by a fantastic number of classes and it’s perhaps no coincidence that race entries have declined. According to informed sources, the MSA is powerless to prevent classes from mushrooming even further. I find this notion difficult to accept. The MSA can force changes in a circuit configuration or even prevent race meetings from taking place. It can impose levies on clubs running championships and jealously protects the word “British” that can only be used for certain MSA approved classes and events. In the case of WTP and Easykart Cadet, it rigorously enforces the “rule” that these engines must be half a second per lap slower than Comers. Why then is it unable to stipulate the types of class that can be run at MSA licenced events?

The RAC retained a firm grip on British karting by imposing very punitive penalties upon anyone attempting to usurp its authority. Racing at non RAC events could potentially result in a lifetime ban. Less draconian measures included heavy fines for miscreants. Such high handed methods naturally caused considerable angst, but at least you always felt that someone was in control. Since then, the MSA has turned into a much more liberal animal, but its “laissez faire” approach might easily be interpreted in some quarters as “couldn’t care less”.

The policy of contracting out responsibility has brought about a situation whereby commercial interests have become more important than competitors themselves. The reason why certain tyres are chosen for particular classes owes more to profitability than durability. British Championships used to be decided over a single weekend with drivers arriving on Friday evening and leaving by late Sunday afternoon. I suspect that it’s the profit motive again which is largely responsible for today’s long drawn out affairs.

In fairness there is now at least partial recognition that ceding control hasn’t necessarily been a good thing. Through its “Let’s Go Karting” initiative, the MSA has also invested heavily in attempting to increase numbers. Initially it was intended that this scheme would be run exclusively by private operators but a last minute change of heart led to several clubs being included also. 10,000 young drivers have taken advantage of this scheme which has been enthusiastically embraced by my own club at Rowrah where attendance at each weekly session averages around 40.

18 months ago George Robinson was tasked with preparing a report on karting’s future. He has traveled the length and breadth of Britain seeking different views. Hopefully his report will allow the MSA finger to return firmly onto the pulse of British karting once again.

My apologies are due to Iain Blair, Paul Klaassen and Peter Brinkworth who answered the August poser correctly. Unfortunately their submissions were received too late for inclusion in last month’s issue. Paul Brighton, Gerry Philpotts, Timothy Field, Wyatt Stanley, Jim Coulthard, Richard Brett and Jenny Philpotts all correctly identified Chris Merlin as the driver photographed in October’s magazine.

THIS MONTH’S POSER

The 1966 British Class 4 team is photographed. Standing left to right are Chris Merlin, Dougie Brooker, Graham Liddle, Les Sheppard, Kelvin Hesketh, Roger Keele and Len Fletcher (Team Manager). If you can identify the three times British Champion sitting in a Dale kart on top of the Mini then please send me an e-mail to dave.bewley@talktalk.net. Alternatively telephone 01946 861355.