Is karting giving itself a bad reputation?
Written by guest author Jerry Thurston
You are not going to like this! While karting is seen by many as THE training ground for some of the best drivers in the world it also suffers from a massive image problem.
Karters coming into car racing are considered to be ‘dirty’ and as racers to be generally undisciplined and have poor driving standards. Alright, this comment is the distillation of several conversations that I have had, but in essence it is very much the opinion of many people I have spoken to.
Their words are harsh that’s for certain but are they untrue?
Sadly not, while their claims may be somewhat exaggerated they do seem to be based at least partially in truth.
For many involved in car racing their only impression of karting comes from reading the MSA newsletter, for every disciplinary case that involves car drivers there seems to be another two or three from the karting world, it is hugely disproportionate and far from giving a good impression.
Go to a few kart meetings and from what I’ve seen and experienced over the last few years there is little to be seen that does anything to dispel this.
I have heard karting dads proudly claiming that young ‘XYZ’ is ‘properly aggressive’ and “if he can’t find a way past will fire them off or go over the top”. From this it’s easy to surmise that aggression rather than assertion seems to be part and parcel of what’s considered a good driver trait.
Alright, this is competitive racing, “after you my good man” won’t get you anywhere, it’s tight at the top so of course go for the gap… Press home the advantage. Yes, contact within the tight confines of a kart track in a close race is often inevitable, but twisted, dented and rubber-smeared bodywork is worn as a badge of honour, surely this should not be so?
In another instance we were warned that if we dared go out with our low (seeded) number one or other of the drivers if they proved faster (different classes remember) would almost certainly have a crack at pushing us off the circuit because that was a seeded plate in their class… What is this? Banger racing?
In a lesser instance, upon commenting on a total disregard of track limits at one circuit, nearly all the drivers with four wheels totally off the track on at least two corners. A team member seemed to think that it was not an issue… However, the fact that everybody was doing it shouldn’t have meant that it was OK – why was it not being policed?
This isn’t just my observation either, recently I had a car race official telling me with almost perverse pleasure that kart racing was ‘really aggressive and nasty’ and she’d witnessed a driver’s (dad?) cuffing them around the helmet for poor performance.
We have just returned from our first car race, fellow drivers and officials actually took the time to approach us afterwards, they seemed genuinely surprised that a driver fresh out of karts used his mirrors, gave other driver space and brought his car home unscathed, even winning a race!
While it was great for the ego to receive positive comments they shouldn’t have been necessary. There should have been the expectation that a grounding in karting would have produced a driver that was quick and aware and knew how to race cleanly.
What can be done to clean up the image then?
In my opinion we’ve got to the point where zero-tolerance has to be the only option. This must start at the top, Clerk of the course and marshalls working on things like tightening the regard for track limits and penalising aggressive rather than assertive moves. If the whole field can’t be seen by one person, by bringing in additional observers one for each corner if necessary, to look for this, single out the culprits and deal with them sternly there and then, the same goes for in paddock conduct. (It occurs that the cuffing incident is possibly child abuse!). If you are a clean driver you have nothing to worry about and everything to gain! As for the others, voices will be raised and tears will be shed but gradually the field will start to police itself.
If all comply within a couple of years attitudes should have changed and karters welcomed with open arms, if the situation persists however, I can see the day where some series might be at pains to discourage those ‘without car experience’, limiting the progress of talented drivers to only a few formulas prepared to accept them.