We’re getting ready for the 2021 Canadian karting season with a number of CKN Chatter interviews.
In today’s CKN Chatter, we talk with Daniel DiLeo, co-owner of Goodwood Kartways and KartStars Canada to discuss how last years pandemic-effected season went, how his Arrive and Drive and club racing numbers managed to grow, what’s in store for KartStars Canada, and a look into the future karting star that is his son, Jordan.
Hey Daniel, thanks for taking the time to chat with CKN.
My pleasure. Thanks for organizing this and keeping the karting community informed through CKN.
Let’s start with a look back at 2020. A crazy year for everyone, but Goodwood Kartways seemed to thrive on all fronts. When we spoke in September, you mentioned it was one of the biggest fall club races TRAK has ever had, and then you followed it up with a massive Arrive and Drive championship event. What do you think sparked this growth?
Yes, crazy to say the least. First off, I am most proud of how the karting community rallied together following procedures and protocols to ensure a safe and successful return to the track when we were able to do so. Thank you to you all! A late start to our 2020 season was always going to be difficult to overcome, but the cooperation from all involved allowed us to make the most of it. As I reflect on the challenges of 2020, we are very proud of how the season unfolded. Our Arrive-and-Drive program continues to grow year after year and that streak continued as 2020 resulted in record-setting participation levels. This was a very pleasant surprise considering how the season started. Much the same was true when looking back at our Club Racing (TRAK) program. Spring training set the tone with over 40 new members going through rookie orientation and with the majority of the kids under the age of 11 the future of our Club is bright. 20+ karts in Briggs Cadet week after week was a highlight for me and strong numbers in all classes throughout the season made the racing more exciting than ever to watch. The Club gained momentum as the season went on and our plan is to carry that into the start of 2021.
I think there are many factors that sparked the growth. Covid19 canceling many of the mainstream team sports brought some extra attention to our sport, and the hard work we put in over the last decade shows with more karters in Ontario ready to go racing week in and week out at tracks across Ontario. This is evident in a well-established Briggs and Stratton platform as well as the upward trajectory of participation in the ROK Cup Canada classes. Perhaps the single biggest change comes from within our organization and in one single phrase ‘Our attention to detail has led to a stronger community at Goodwood Kartways than we have ever had’. Simply put, with our focus shifting back to managing one facility only we were able to benefit by making good use of the extra time focusing on building the foundation of our sport through educating our new members and being around and accessible to help some of our old. Aside from the obvious results and the strong foundation upon which our business is built on I took a lot of satisfaction in seeing the appreciation our members showed this past season. Definitely no regrets, but it assured me that everything happens for a reason, and as long as we continue doing the right things for the right reasons Goodwood Kartways will always be one of the leaders in our industry.
In the fall the turn one wall was pulled back to enhance the track’s safety. Talk me through the efforts it took to make the changes and you felt it makes the corner safer and better moving forward.
There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ race track. That is a statement that I have heard many times before from a wise man who the sport misses greatly with the current political climate. Without getting into too much of that, it’s important to understand a bit of the evolution of Turn 1. Back in the early days, a ‘big’ off in Turn 1 meant through the grass, down and up the city ditch, and in some cases left the driver and/or the kart on Wagg Rd. Yes, it’s true… we have heard about these stories on numerous occasions. Then in the ’90s came the berm and the acoustic fence. Track boundaries, noise control, and facility security are a few reasons why those changes were made. With the addition of the berm came a tire barrier that stopped karts from being able to climb the berm. Issues back then included track degradation as drivers continuously dropped wheels at the exit of Turn 1 and that led to drivers trying to navigate through and over the ‘moguls’ when mistakes were made in hopes of avoiding the tire wall. Making it to the tire wall often resulted in a kart upside down on the berm. In 2012, as part of a complete re-pave and a $350,000 facility upgrade, we worked with our governing body to improve Turn 1. The result was a CIK-type exit curb which provided an extra 3ft of run-off plus 10 extra feet of paved run-off. The track degradation was instantly eliminated and drivers had much more real estate to correct mistakes. Of course, to gain that extra space we had to cut into the berm and a retaining wall was required. In front of the wall, we installed state-of-the-art motorsport-specific honeycomb pads that were flown in from England to protect from impact. The end result was a significant decrease in Turn 1 incidents. As drivers looked for more speed, the runoff area was abused as drivers push for every advantage. When it goes wrong, the ‘THUD’ is recognizable.
Our facility is the longest-standing karting specific track in North America. Built in 1957, the history of the track is never-ending. With our commitment to continuous improvement, we have once again re-invested into Turn 1. The end result takes into consideration years of experience and data gained over decades of racing into Turn 1. Now we have the advantages of the extra run-off, 12 extra feet of grass to absorb a mistake but discourage drivers looking to stretch the limits. There is also extra space between the barriers and the wall. We are very happy with how it turned out. It wasn’t a small project and we are thankful to those who have helped make it possible.
Transitioning to 2021, where has your focus been to continue the momentum for Goodwood, TRAK and KartStars?
Keep doing things for the right reasons and keep focusing on foundational growth. It’s no secret, the goal is to expand on what worked in 2020. Current enrollment at TRAK includes 52 new first-time Club members. This number is encouraging and with that comes the responsibility to educate. KartStars was a big undertaking last year and we stay motivated to build upon a very successful year 1. The KartStars environment is different from other series we have promoted in the past. Less red tape, more inclusive, and more inviting. The paddock wasn’t intimidating. Privateers belonged and you didn’t need to be part of a works team to be successful. I liked it. The participants liked it. It was refreshing and you could really tell people were enjoying themselves. The level of competition is as good as it gets and participation levels led to some of the biggest events in the province. Watching our youth develop from round to round was extremely rewarding. Offering a great product at a fair price that provides added value to the end-user will continue to be our goal with any events we promote.
On the KartStars front, I think we were all surprised how well the last-minute change to race at 3-S Go-Karts in Sutton went for the KartStars Finale. What about that place brought back great memories and helped make the event as great as it was?
First off, as successful as the finale was, it was a huge disappointment not to be able to visit the great facility and people at Point Pelee Karting.
What made the event so successful ties in everything I have touched on above. A strong karting community, a commitment to maintaining the history of the sport and doing things for the right reasons. We could have moved the Finale to Goodwood and had a lot less work, but that wasn’t what was best for the series. One of our first announcements was ‘KartStars looks to the past to build the future’. As we started looking at solutions to the cancellation of PPK it was easy to get excited about the prospect of going back to Sutton. Enzo was excited, anyone I ran it by was excited and as the announcement went out there were a bunch of drivers that showed interest. Personally, running events is something I enjoy doing. I have more experience than most and the venue ends up being just one piece of the puzzle. We put in a lot of work to organize a great event away from Goodwood earlier in the year and whether it was recognized or not, doing it all over again at 3S was something that we were prepared to do. In the end, over 140 entries showed up, making it one of the biggest season finales we have seen for regional racing in Ontario.
With a little more time to prepare for the race at Sutton this year, what do you have in store to make that event even better?
More time to prepare will be the biggest advantage. A little bit of TLC will go a long way and this time around we will run a different configuration, one of my favourites from back in my days of competition.
Another big announcement came a few weeks ago with the addition of Shannonville Motorsports Park for a round of KartStars. How excited are you to bring karting back to Shannonville and do have any surprises in store?
Again, trying not to repeat myself. Do things for the right reasons, learn from the past, respect the history and traditions of the sport. Everything pointed to reviving the massive annual event at Shannonville. With new ownership in place and a commitment to track improvements, the timing was right. Aside from the obvious, I really like the idea of a neutral playing field for the KartStars National Championship. Again, moving the event from Goodwood was a tough business decision to make but if the goal is to attract karters from beyond the region in hopes of crowning true National Champions it can’t happen at the same track year after year as the home field advantage is always tough for visitors to overcome. We will bring back the tradition of Canada’s most iconic karting trophy – The Bear – and we hope to have more out-of-province participation. Being closer to the Quebec border we have received a lot of interest already.
Switching gears, what has it been like watching your son Jordan grow and develop as a driver while you have been managing a track and kart club at the same time?
It’s definitely bittersweet for me. Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough to help him grow as a driver. We all know track time is king and to be honest, we don’t spend nearly enough time on track. The season is so demanding and finding a bit of free time to focus just on him is hard to come by. Then, when I do manage to find some free time, I almost want to be anywhere except the karting track. I wouldn’t change it for the world though. Watching him be successful in his own way is very satisfying. Watching him struggle and battle his way through adversity is equally important. The off-season allows for us to bond at some away races where I can be DAD. When racing at home, it’s hard because of my many responsibilities but we are very fortunate to have my Dad be there to support him just like he did for Marco and I.
What kind of aspirations do you have for him as he continues to find the top of the podium?
I really don’t, which is strange for me to say because of my competitive nature. I want him to do it because he wants to do it for himself. He is fortunate to have the best resources around him but when you get to the highest levels it’s the drive from within that sets the kids apart. I’m starting to see that from him. Being inside the top-5 in Mini Rok competition south of the border is already a huge accomplishment but he isn’t happy with it. More importantly, he’s starting to understand what it takes not just to get there but to take the next step.
To wrap things up, is there anything I haven’t touched base on that you feel the karting world should be aware of about Goodwood Kartways for 2021?
We have a few projects on the go that we are really excited about but we need a bit more time before we announce particulars. We’re just looking forward to another enjoyable year at the track. My hope is that the politics go away. I’m a numbers guy and what disappoints me most is that karting in Ontario is stronger than it has ever been. As the season progresses I remain hopeful of a more inclusive karting season where teams and tracks are more cooperative and barriers are reduced and/or eliminated. My focus will remain on introducing new people to the sport. It’s nice to see other clubs getting back on their feet too. If we can all find a way to knock down the political barriers we have the potential to see some of the biggest events Ontario has ever produced.
Thanks Dan. We can’t wait for our season to get underway.