In 2009 I completed twenty-five years involvement in karting and 2010 is the first year I have felt concern for the future of MSA racing. I have, since the age of 18, been involved in motorsport and was fortunate enough to be employed in the motor trade when the Mini Cooper appeared in 1961.
I soon purchased one and prepared it for club rallying. I spent many years enjoying the sport competing in local and national rallies. I competed in three Welsh International Rallies and two RAC Rallies during the 70’s, after which I decided to spend more time and money developing my business and enjoying family life. However, once you are addicted to motorsport it is very difficult to get it out of your blood, so when my son was 12 it was an excuse to again be involved in motorsport. I was introduced to some laid back guy (he was so laid back you would have thought he was dead if he hadn’t been chewing gum) who, I was told, was a karting champion and ran a national karting championship. His name, Neil Hann. I told him I required a couple of karts for my son and a friend and he told me to look in the barn and pick out two.
Knowing nothing about karting I selected a couple of ‘good looking’ karts. Less engines and wheels and agreed a price. When asked about engines and wheels Neil said “those are kept at a store in Gillingham” (about thirty miles away), “I will meet you there next week”. We eventually obtained a complete outfit and went to Clay Pigeon to practice and soon we were ‘hooked’. I will not bore you with our racing, but I will tell you that, despite some lows, the enjoyment and friendships that came from our involvement in racing was considerable.
Kart racing at this time was comparatively very much cheaper than it is today and was organised by kart clubs whose committees consisted mainly of parents of those racing together with marshals and officials who were volunteers and unpaid. I joined the committee of the Clay Pigeon Kart Club and in 1988 we were informed that the freehold owners of the circuit had gone into liquidation. The head leaseholders and the kart club decided that they did not, or could not, afford to purchase the freehold. The circuit could have been lost so a company was incorporated to raise funds to purchase the freehold. Five ex-karters or karters’ fathers decided to purchase shares in the company and then tried to raise the capital to purchase the freehold, obtain full planning consent, and widen and resurface the track.
The committee of the kart club was very strong with parents, karters and supporters having to be elected to one of 17 committee places at the AGM where in excess of 100 members attended. On our committee was Neil Hann whose enthusiasm for karting was undeniable. One of our committee, Andy Clarke, befriended a TV Producer who was persuaded to televise a race meeting on terrestrial television. After negotiations with the programme producers it was decided to open the event to proven national, regional or club champions and specially invited drivers.
The TVS Superprix and the following year’s Gulf Oil Superprix were arguably the most successful televised events being shown on prime time terrestrial television over six weeks on a Saturday at 1.30pm. Ian Mulliner raced in these events and when the kart club won the right to organise the TKM ‘O’ Plate it was agreed to find a sponsor and organise a ‘special’ event. Ian Mulliner found this sponsor, Hill House Hammond, and they agreed, if successful, to run the event every year. We therefore organised the hugely successful Hill House Hammond TKM Festival, with marquee, barbecue, bar and entertainment and, of course, fantastic racing. Hill House Hammond were so impressed that, after discussions, the sponsorship was transferred to the MSA ABkC Super 1 Championship.
The first and only time the TKM Festival was held at Clay Pigeon. During this period the circuit’s other activities were progressing, most importantly the relationship between Bob Pope and Chelborough Limited (the circuit owners). Bob had decided that a 6-hour endurance team race using the new Pro-Karts could be successful. Bob operated these as a commercial series and at its peak 50+ teams were racing for six hours. Serious racing, fun racing, and, most importantly, without serious accident or injury. The teams came from all over the country but, as other commercial circuits opened, teams joined their local track’s series and numbers slowly dropped off. Unfortunately for us, but certainly fortunately for Bob, he was offered Langbaurgh circuit – an offer he could not refuse.
Paul Bowler and Ted Poole continued the successful series at Clay, and to try and encourage some of our teams back from other tracks we invented the Pro-Kart Festival – two days of endurance racing and, most importantly, FUN. Those who competed will know what I mean! Why did they cease? Twin 160 Honda engines were the most successful ever used, and still are, but along came the larger Honda engines, World Formula and, surprisingly, the Rotax MAX – completely dividing the teams that raced. As we were offering about £2,000 in prize money and spending on ‘entertainment’ it became unviable. However, as the use of the Pro-Kart is recovering, it is a weekend of fun and great racing that I am considering restarting.
When in 1988 Neil Hann, Colin Clark, Trevor Brown and the late John Donovan and I formed Chelborough Ltd. we were all 100% supporters of MSA kart racing and not really interested in the commercial use of the circuit. However, over the years with ever increasing costs such as business rates, insurance and maintenance, we found it necessary to invest in hire karts and corporate hirings. The hiring of the circuit to the hugely successful Club 100 championships and British Universities championships has cer tainly opened my eyes to alternatives to MSA permitted events. I have been on the ‘coal face’ of karting for over 20 years and have not witnessed such disappointment and disillusionment amongst licensed competitors and officials as I have over the past eighteen months.
The criticism of officials and accusations of cheating is non-stop and the atmosphere at race meetings is less than sporting. We are losing competitors and officials and with the increasing costs of operating these commercial circuits and the success of our own Arrive and Drive championships and commercial championships such as Club 100, MSA racing could become unviable at club level. This is probably an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that with the increasing costs of equipment and the continuing increase in the number of regulations the sport is becoming elitist. Proof of this is the huge success of non-MSA racing. I believe that some very radical changes are required – and quickly.
1. JUDICIAL PROCEDURES It is well known that if you have the money, 70% of all appeals will be won by default on the failure of officials at club events to follow the correct procedure or carry out the correct administration. Our officials are volunteers, not overpaid knowledgeable solicitors, and this leads to financial bullying at club events by those fathers with money to waste on solicitors and appeals. I believe that at British and National Championship events (National ‘A’) the procedure should remain, but at club events (National ‘B’), the judicial procedure should end with the meeting stewards unless the stewards refer the matter to the MSA. Two examples that should end with the stewards are those caught tampering with tyres or fuel. After simple tests have been carried out by scrutineers to check for additives the matter should be dealt with by our scrutineers, the clerk of the course and finally, if necessary, the event stewards. That should be the end of the matter.
The penalties issued for these indiscretions should not affect the drivers other than at our club meetings. If, however, the stewards consider this to be an habitual problem with a particular competitor it could then be referred to the MSA and dealt with accordingly. This then cuts out the cost of appeals and expensive testing of the equipment and the problems with procedure and administration.
2. RULES AND REGULATIONS Over the years, and particularly since the introduction of the commercial classes (TKM, Honda, Comer, Rotax etc) and the disappearance of generic classes (National, Britain etc) the simple regulation of stroke, bore and venturi size has been replaced by regulations written by the commercial operators which, instead of reducing the cost of karting, has massively increased expenditure. Equipment becomes obsolete very quickly and has no resale value other than to leisure karters or, as is developing, non-MSA racing. I appreciate the problems with Health and Safety and understand the need for regulations that provide as much protection as possible for competitors, but this also restricts the use of older and cheaper karts and, once again, encourages competitors into non-MSA Racing.
3. COMPETITORS, KART CLUBS AND THE ABkC As well as being employed by Chelborough Ltd., the owners of the Clay Pigeon Raceway, I am also the Treasurer of Clay Pigeon Kart Club. I mentioned earlier that at the AGM of the club say fifteen years ago, there were in excess of 100 attending with many attempting to join the committee. At this year’s AGM on January 17th we had ten committee members and one member with his father. At the AGM of the ABkC at KartMania there were only thirty-five attending representing fourteen clubs, some clubs with stands at the show but not sending a representative to the AGM. After listening to complaints all year of the inconsistency of officials decisions, cheating by competitors and listening to members of other clubs saying that the ABkC only represent the bigger clubs you would have thought the AGMs would be well attended. These are the forums for competitors and clubs to express their opinions and for committees to explain their actions, so either competitors are happy in the way their clubs are run and the clubs happy in the way the ABkC is run or they just cannot be bothered.
Unfortunately I think it is the latter. I occasionally visit the UK Karting Noticeboard and I am amazed at some of the opinions expressed and I was pleased to see the site management place a warning regarding ‘accusations of cheating’. I recently read a thread stating that competitors have no say in how their sport is managed – of course they have through their club committee and the club will then process their ideas and complaints through the ABkC. I am sure many competitors do not realise the extent of work required by voluntary committee members in organising a club championship and a race meeting. Clubs such as Clay Pigeon, who are situated in the wilds of Dorset, have very few members who live within thirty miles of the circuit and many members who live in excess of one hundred miles, and so it is difficult to find members who can attend a monthly committee meeting, but your club needs you! I sat on the committee of the ABkC for a few years and, I must say, that, despite guest speakers, was disappointed to note that only thirty-five attended the AGM. However, with George Robinson attending and, hopefully, soon reporting to the MSA on the decline in numbers competing at MSA events, he was able to observe some of the problems that are causing this decline. I would suggest that the Open Meeting after the AGM was the most informative part of the meeting with George reporting the serious decline in MSA racing, Trent Valley wanting more control for the larger clubs and funds to attract more senior drivers and Clay Pigeon KC enquiring about funds raised by tyre contracts and whether they could be used more beneficially. I have always believed the Association of British Kart Clubs was formed to control karting for the benefit of all kart clubs, not for the benefit of the larger clubs and commercial championships.
Unfortunately, I would suggest the ABkC committee is biased towards the larger clubs and the national championships, with the smaller clubs poorly represented. That is not the fault of the ABkC committee, but usually apathy of the smaller clubs. I would also suggest that no club should have more than one voting committee member, and those championship, MSA representatives or visitors do not have a vote. I also believe that membership of the ABkC should be free to every club in the UK, and to encourage delegates to the meetings travelling expenses should be paid from ABkC funds. I know some of my suggestions might be contentious, but karting should be a sport for all and not just the wealthy and elite drivers. The ABkC control the sport and expect the clubs to abide by regulations agreed with the MSA. The clubs abide by these regulations, in particular the tyre regulations, and, because of this, contracts are issued to the successful tyre supplier. The fees received are used as a prize fund for elite drivers. If the committee feel that is the best use of the money, fine, but all the clubs in this country should benefit from these fees. If the contract states that all funds should be given in prize money to these championships, then fine. I am sure they can be renegotiated as it is in the interests of the suppliers that club racing recovers from this slump. I find it difficult to understand how the ABkC expect the smaller clubs to pay for the chance to organise an ABkC ‘O’ Plate, yet £30,000 in prize money is offered to commercial national championships to run ABkC championships. I am certain the MSA expect fees for them to organise the British Championships and does not provide prize money. The championships with control tyres, control fuel and sponsors are able to raise their own funds to provide the prize money.
The ABkC contract fees could not only allow free membership to every club, all expenses of the ABkC to be paid, no fees for the smaller clubs to organise ‘O’ Plates, but could find some funds to promote karting as a family sport – both for young Formula 1 prospects and older adrenaline seekers. I appreciate many will disagree with much of the above, and I know George Robinson will have investigated karting, both MSA and non-MSA, thoroughly, and at the end of the day we all should listen to what he has to say if we want MSA racing to progress. Finally, at Clay Pigeon we have always tried to encourage ‘all’ into MSA karting, but particularly the more mature driver. I would like to invite all those over 35s to visit the wonderful Costa Dorset in flaming June and compete in our 2010 Masters Karting Challenge. The bigger the entry, the bigger the prize money