It’s nothing new or unusual when a motor sport world champion retires and then decides to pass on his experience or stay in touch with his racing roots by becoming a Driver Coach or by running his own team.
But it IS unusual when the world champion won his titles in a completely different branch of motorsport to the one where he subsequently reappeared as a team manager or Coach.
That’s precisely the situation with karting’s Tatum Racing team. Kelvin Tatum, MBE had been fascinated by motor bikes as a kid and when he was old enough to try his hand at speedway, it was soon apparent that he was something special. He made his debut at Wimbledon speedway in 1983 and went on to win over 50 caps for England and Great Britain, and was a regular in Speedway’s World Finals. He also captained the 1989 World Cup Winning Team.
But it was in the lower profile, though far faster, sport of Long Track Speedway that he really made his mark winning 3 world titles in 1995, 1998 and 2000 as well as coming within touching distance of a 4th title in new Zealand, and taking the runners-up spot 3 times.
Now that he is retired he is still significantly involved in speedway being the immediately recognisable joint presenter of Sky Sports excellent TV coverage of British Speedway.
However, in the time since his retirement from active racing, he has built up a respected following for his kart racing team.
This aspect of his motor sport career began whilst he was still racing speedway and when he bought a Dyno for his own use, but made sure that it would take 4 wheel vehicles, thinking that he might also put quads or karts on the machine.
He’d bought the Dyno from John Dent and his son Kevin. Kevin was winding down his kart racing career, and like Kelvin had raced in the faster though less high profile version of his sport. He was a 250cc superkart racer on circuits like Donington Park, Brands Hatch and Silverstone. Like Kelvin’s Long Track Speedway, squeezing every last ounce of performance from his superkart motors was vital to achieve any significant success.
Kelvin was also quietly winding down his speedway racing career and looking to the future, but wasn’t contemplating karting particularly, when he got an invitation to call in at Buckmore Park. ‘Why not’ he thought, ‘let’s go along’, and the seed was sown.
He was friends at the time with the Drysdale family and Harry Drysdale became the first karting client of Tatum Racing. Harry has no doubts as to the value of that link-up. ‘Every little detail was checked on the Dyno. Kelvin’s diligence and thoroughness was obvious. I got the benefit of his years of experience preparing speedway racing engines, and it inevitably worked to my advantage in my kart racing’ Harry readily confirmed. Did it show in Harry’s karting results? ‘Definitely. Without a shadow of doubt’ was the emphatic answer to that question.
‘I ‘d been involved in racing all my life. I knew I would miss the hands-on work when I packed up racing’ Kelvin recalled, ‘but here was a chance to stay involved in the nitty gritty, dirty-hands side of racing’. It was the start of a successful phase for the now increasingly kart orientated Tatum Racing organisation.
Florent Lambert was to provide Tatum Racing with their first international karting success when he won the Rotax Winter Cup in Campillos, Spain in February 2010. Florent already had the trappings of a colourful career before meeting up with Kelvin.
For example, how many current ‘English’ kart racers were born in Paris, lived in the Ivory Coast, where he became the middleweight National wind surfing champion, and hold down a High Powered High Finance job in the City of London? Incidentally, Florent has an interesting angle on karting and his City Trading job which we will delve into later.
He started racing in prokarts at Buckmore Park in 2003 and had his first full season racing Rotax 175 in 2004. ‘I won my novice races and also beat the more experienced Nick Rogers and another beginner, but a very enthusiastic one, Dave Wooder. But above all, and more importantly, I had fun and enjoyed all of it, the failures and, of course, the few victories’.
This is where that comparison with the ‘Day Job’ comes in. Florent takes up the theme. ‘I do a job that is very competitive and very tense, and where trading markets are ONLY about ‘winning’ or losing’ money. I have learnt and applied a lot of winning attributes from trading to racing and vice-versa. I have to say that trying to win (and losing more often) in karting has helped me greatly in winning most times in Trading whilst losing only very few times. This is my bottom line and my kart racing philosophy’.
‘I still enjoy the sport, and can still afford it thanks to the Trading, and even at 43, I think I am still improving’. Indeed he is. I have witnessed this improvement first hand from middle-of-the-grid racer to that Winter Cup victory in Spain followed up with a deserved third place in the Masters Championship in the competitive and prestigious Rotax Euro Challenge. And that’s where Kelvin Tatum comes in.
‘It’s no coincidence that my best ever results have come since joining up with Tatum Racing’ Lambert readily acknowledges. ‘I also thoroughly enjoy working with Kelvin and I believe that we are very similar in many ways. He certainly has a passion for anything with an engine and has a drive to maximise everything that can be maximised. This constant attention to all details adds up to a formidable package.
Does being a team owner/manager give as much satisfaction as being a racer or TV Presenter? Presumably not, but where does it stand in ‘fun’ terms as opposed to commercial money earning terms. ‘Well in a strange way it does provide as much fun’ was Kelvin’s response after a moment’s thought. ‘You see, if I wasn’t doing this, I would have absolutely no direct involvement in racing and having been a racer all my life, I dread the thought of being left out in the wilderness so to speak. The TV work compensates for not racing to some degree but I still love the hands-on side of racing.
The beauty of what I am presently doing is that I can combine these different aspects and still feel fulfilled and earn a living. I am very much enjoying my role with Florent. He allows me to satisfy my own Racing Instinct and Passion. I enjoy immensely the challenge that karting presents and would like to continue for the foreseeable future. But we have no Long Term Plan. We will just seek the successes that between us we can achieve’.
What was the story behind the award of the MBE? ‘Completely out of the Blue’ Kelvin admitted. ‘I was still racing back then in 2003 when I learned of the award for ‘services to speedway’. It was a wonderful day with a visit to Buckingham Palace and being invested with the MBE by Her Majesty the Queen. A day I shall never forget’ he acknowledged.
So where does Tatum Racing go from here? ‘Well I am looking forward to another successful season with Florent who tells me he plans a full racing season in 2011 taking in the Rotax Euro Challenge AND the French Championship in Masters and/or DD2 Masters. Winning both championships outright and qualifying for the Rotax World Challenge Grand Finals is the optimistic target, but why not aim high and see where the journey takes us.’
‘Flo is also looking even further ahead. He reckons he has unfinished business with the British Championship and is already eyeing a 2012 campaign. Additionally, he intends to spend some time bringing on his young son Jacques who started racing Minimax in 2010.’
At a personal level, Kelvin had just received the good news that his contract with Sky TV had been renewed. So we should be seeing him on our screens for the next 3 seasons presenting Sky’s speedway coverage. As he pointed out to me, his initial involvement in karting was not pre-planned nor does he have a clearly mapped out programme for his continued involvement. The TV work will be a prime commitment and source of income, but with the opportunity to combine that work with the hands-on racing involvement that karting, not speedway, now gives him, Kelvin is more than happy to keep going on the present successful formula.
So, if speedway racing on 2 wheels and kart racing on 4 wheels might seem not too closely related, gaining the optimum performance from your motors and bringing a professional and thorough approach to your race preparation are clearly attributes common to both sports.