A Statement to the CKN Nation: Canadian Karting Emotion and Passion(less)
I’m aware I’m not going to make many friends with my latest piece, but my passion and my sport are in jeopardy and I feel the need to vent, even if this editorial most likely won’t get in front of the eyes that really need to be reading it. So whether you agree or not, I do ask that you share it with your social media outlets to help spread the word in support of our great sport.
Before I begin with my latest instalment, I do want to apologize for the shortage of content on the site throughout the year so far. Both my business and personal life have been running on overdrive since 2015 began, but I promise things will be back to normal soon on CKN, where I have plans for some great new features along with a fresh new look to the website as well. –CS
This season has been a very difficult to get a grasp on so far. Nationally, we are struggling for entries, regionally we are seeing a positive turn in some regions, however a very difficult run in others and only a few clubs seem to be finding a little bit of life. Quebec is falling off a cliff right now, Ontario is down to three tracks/clubs, the East Coast keeps on trucking while the Prairies and West Coast are holding station with some small gains over past years, but everywhere is feeling a pinch in some way or another. Overall the feeling is very negative in the paddock, whether it be in Canada, the USA or even around the world, with many trying to relive their ‘glory days’, reflecting on how it used to be and what it was like when they attended races five, ten, even fifteen years ago. Those glory days were great, but they are gone and like just about every sport, the times have changed and the visions everywhere need to be adjusted accordingly.
Karting as a sport has changed drastically over the past five years and in my humble opinion, I don’t see the change for much good. There is more money than ever being spent in the sport, yet so many teams, drivers and industry operations are struggling to keep the lights on week in, week out. The racing is nowhere near as competitive and most drivers, especially the younger ones, don’t feel the need to work hard, instead they simply expect the results to come from a pocketbook or just showing up, while engines and chassis are all the talk for all the wrong reasons. It is very difficult to compare and contrast both the Briggs & Stratton LO206 racing and the Rotax Max Challenge competition that we feature here in Canada, but for the most part I am looking at our premiere categories based around speed, development and overall expertise.
It’s almost forgotten amongst today’s drivers that mistakes must happen to learn and grow as an athlete, not just a driver. Instead mistakes today seem to go unpunished and the driver simply just goes back out on track for another round of practice. Most parents are clueless when a driver even makes a mistake, instead allowing their driver coaches to scream and yell at young drivers, hoping their message sticks with no true learning outcomes other than a developing fear. Walk around the scale exit area after a Mini-Max or Junior Max race and tell me how many young drivers look humbled and afraid to go back to their pit.
This year alone, I have seen more teams and one-driver focused operations spend unheard-of amounts of money to hire a “special” mechanic or tuner, who to be honest has no real qualifications other than maybe winning a National Championship many years ago, and feel that is all they need to go out and win some races, or the latest fad, a ticket to the “worlds”. But it appears these teams are forgetting that it does take more than some fine tuning and hair product to win a race, let alone a National title. Not to discredit some of these ex-drivers who are now making a living in the sport, as their driving talents were special, but driving and coaching are two completely different job titles and most of them don’t quite deserve the paycheque they are receiving each weekend, especially when so many should still be racing karts.
I really don’t want to be writing pieces like this, I would much rather talk about the positives of our sport and how we are creating new lasting memories that will be looked back upon in ten to fifteen years, but that just simply isn’t the case. It is so tough to sit here and watch the numbers dwindle every week, to see drivers switch to different forms of motorsport because of the cost or the politics, or, and this is my biggest hate right now, drivers who race faster to their social medias to throw a series, organization or manufacturer under the bus without telling the true story behind what led them to write the post in the first place, usually because a call on track or in tech didn’t go their way. The effort required to prepare and host an event, whether it be the Eastern Canadian Karting Championship, US Open, SKUSA Pro Tour or even a local club event does not deserve the public shaming that is seen week in, week out on Facebook and Twitter. If you have an issue, sleep on it, and then try to find a constructive solution instead of hiding behind a computer screen and social media outlet that so many feed off of these days. Think bigger picture.
So what is my solution for the current problem? Well I don’t think anyone in our sport has the answer to that. The CIK-FIA worked hard to develop a new engine platform in Europe that will hopefully cut costs and be utilized by National organizations around the world, but we’ve all seen how that announcement has gone. Rotax released their EVO upgrade kits this year that have become nothing more than headache after headache because of a terrible effort in rolling out the changes and maybe a premature release. Briggs & Stratton is going very strong, but it just isn’t a National calibre engine program for the elite, instead a great first step in karting and that I am happy to see as someone who started in the four-cycle community, and finally every week a series is trying something new to entice drivers to enter, but we all know how gimmicks really work.
My hope is to first see the first impressions of our sport changed over the next three years. While big goals are great, I think it is terrible how so many drivers enter our sport with immediate intentions to qualify for a world final, whether it be ROK, Rotax or IAME. The emphasis in Canada and the USA on qualifying for the Rotax Grand Finals has become out of control. The efforts some are going to just qualify blow my mind, when the money they are spending could easily have them compete in the Rotax Euro Challenge, a series I have seen first hand and truly believe is much better than the Grand Finals, or the CIK European or World Championships, the true top levels of karting in the world.
The second hope is to see the revival of a true licensing effort. A two-cycle kart should not be the first purchase a family makes when their son or daughter enters the sport. While I don’t like to live in the past, the efforts by ASN Canada and first the Ontario Kart Racing Association, followed by the Sunoco Ron Fellows Karting Championship to keep drivers progressing up a ladder system made the most sense. Currently there isn’t much stopping anyone from buying a Rotax DD2 kart and joining the Canadian National Championships next month at Mosport, because entries are entries. That needs to change if we want to have a premier category in Canada again. Learn, develop and earn your stripes before lining up on the grid against the provinces best.
I would also like to see less classes at the National level in Canada. There needs to be a want for drivers to race at our biggest events and forcing drivers to actually learn and develop to compete against the best will go a long way in bringing some prestige back into our National trophies, because I’ll be honest there are few Canadian Champions in the past five years that wanted the trophy and title more than the invitation the Rotax Grand Finals that came along with it.
Finally, I really want to see some passion back in our sport. It kills me to walk around the paddock of any race to see so many just okay or so very humble with being at the track. Our travelling circus truly takes a toll on so many of us who do this for a living, and I know I am one of them whose passion is fading because of it, but I know we can come back stronger than ever, it will just take some time. Be a little more positive, support what you are doing instead of constantly seeking out issues and promoting them, and just enjoy the fact that we are all involved in something that truly is one of a kind.
As I complete this article now two weeks after I started it, more issues have risen in Canadian karting and the future is even less certain for the premiere categories. Change is required by all of us, from the admin to the local racer, if we have any hope in bringing back the emotion and passion at our highest levels.
See you at the track again soon,