Round The Bend: From bad to verse

Genk Stars August 2010
Adam suggests that racing in highly competitive Rotax MAX is better for your career regardless of what some managers say

Pushy parents can help you get to the top, or as Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse” suggests, prevent it. They may not mean to, but they do…

Some of you reading this might just be getting over the monumental hangover caused by Freshers’ week at your new university or college. Others, urged on by pushy parents and even pushier teachers, will be embarking on a ludicrous number of A Levels in wildly clashing subjects – ‘You’re doing AS Guatemalan Spanish and Reading the Manchester Metrolink tram timetable too! Sooo useful, aren’t they?’

Of course, for those simply wishing to move out of full-time education and begin the long, perilous journey towards a professional motorsport career, then having the karting equivalent of Andy Murray’s mum might not be such a bad thing. But then again…

Parents in karting are like the Victorian attitude to children, but in reverse – they are often wearily regarded as people who should be seen and not heard. It is a terrible situation for many well-meaning parents to be in. Their money is, literally the driving force of their progeny’s career – but they can be the least welcome people in the paddock. To be fair, this is frequently for good reason. Business people cannot switch off, and I know of examples where they apply the same checks and balances to their offspring’s trophy count. Some question everything a team does and do not accept that the occasional mistake is acceptable.

In times of pressure, this can be the worst possible approach. It is also ironic. When the team is working to win a championship and it is ‘backs to the wall’ time, even the most innocent of questions can create divisions. As usually non-karting experts, parents often have to ask questions to understand what is actually going on – but their well-intentioned desire to help, or extract the best, can sometimes be regarded as an intrusion, mistrust or a suggestion of favouritism elsewhere in the awning.

Of course, nothing is worse for a young driver than getting criticism from a middle-aged ‘rental who has never raced before. No matter how sincere the motivation, nor how much you – as the doting dad – are paying for the privilege of sharing that wisdom you are simply a fat, has-been or never-was who knows nothing, NOTHING you hear!

If these circumstances or scenarios are familiar, I’d recommend you seek professional help. Not in the form of Social Services (although for some snot-nosed teens this would be an ideal solution) but via a manager. In the past, I’ve slated the proliferation of these supposed svengalis who appear in the paddock and offer you and your progeny the world – for a fee. One firm apparently charges its customers a reported £80,000 per year – it does have bona fide F1-based credentials, but no client, so far, has a GP drive. Others charge considerably less – a mere £20,000 – talk a great game, but still fall short.

Karting remains a no-go area for many managers because they’ve either never done it or the class structure is too confusing. Snobbery and misinformation is also a potential blight on a potentially stellar career. One Junior Rotax dad I know was told that his son had to be in KF3 if he was to stand a chance of getting on the F1 – and lower formulae – radar. For me this advice was little more than lazy and frustrating bunkum. The Rotax classes now offer some of the hardest, most exciting and toughest racing in the world – and none more so than in the UK. We also know that drivers who ‘progress’ from the “hobby class” (yes, Max has been described as that to me folks) into KF are more than capable of winning at the highest level (Ben Cooper is the perfect example). It’s all a question of budget and I say it is better to be a champion in a well supported category you can afford, than hail your own back-of-the-grid-to-the-podium successes in a field of eight. No matter how much you big up the quality of your opponents.

However, a good manager will help you develop an early career and reputation, will introduce marketing partners and get you used to representing and working with a brand. Whilst all this is going on, they’ll be talking to people in motorsport, preparing opportunities and mapping out what’s hot and what’s not. Moreover, if you are looking to make the transition from karts to cars, a manager with your best interests at heart will give you solid advice, often without sparing your blushes. Importantly they will know how much a Formula Renault test is or how much a top team charges for a season of Formula Ford – and it ain’t £120,000. Most importantly, they won’t lie to you. Refreshingly, a young manager told me recently that he believes that anyone who promises that they will find, or can access huge sums, is a charlatan. He claims that figures from £30,000 to £50,000 are realistic – but not the sort of sums that will buy you a seat with an F1 team.

Furthermore, an expert guiding you and your child’s career will also free you up to do the most important thing; be there as a parent.

Despite its incredible levels of sophistication motor racing is, remarkably, completely unregulated. Anyone can call themselves a manager, get a business card, rock up to PFi and start peddling the dream to all and sundry. Which isn’t far short of telling a jolly fat man, wearing brightly-coloured and slightly odd clothes that you’d like a Formula One car for Christmas and genuinely expecting it to happen. Total fantasy.

Unless his name is Eddy, or Flavio…