Vintage Karting: How the H*** did I get here?

Vintage Karting: How the H*** did I get here?

By John Copeland, VKA President

VKA President John Copeland

The Holidays are upon us and this time of year always makes me a bit more reflective than usual. These days so much of my time is spent on Vintage Karting in one way or another. Whether it’s planning for an upcoming event, or working with the amazing volunteers that serve on the VKA Board, or helping track down hard-to-find vintage parts, I have to stop and wonder “How did this Vintage Karting thing take over so much of my life?”

Like most of you, my karting life started long, long before Vintage karting was even a thing. For me it started when I was 18 years old and a freshman at Purdue University. That’s where I first got exposed to karting through the Purdue Grand Prix race for students. Something about it just touched something in me; the technical details, the competition, the absolutely unique physical sensation of driving a kart. I was captivated by the drive to build better, to prepare better, to drive better, and to be better. 

After college karting became a passion, and the lessons learned about attention to detail, about striving for constant improvement, and pushing myself carried over into my career and my everyday life. Along the way I learned a lot about myself, including the fact that I was not a “gifted” driver. What I lacked in talent, I would have to make up for with relentless determination. And I met some amazing people along the way; people who helped shape my attitudes and character. 

As the years went by, karting began to change. It became more “professional”, more cut-throat, and more money-driven; and a lot less fun. Instead of getting together to have a good time and share that time with our friends, with each succeeding year these “new” karters turned friendly competition into adversarial combat. When the fun went away, so did many of the karters. And then, in 2001, a friend invited me to go with him to Quincy, Illinois for something being billed as the “Vintage Kart Olympics.”

Vintage karting was in its infancy. Heck, it wasn’t really even a “thing”, at least as far as I knew; it was just an event. But that “thing” had something that I hadn’t seen at a karting event in years. Here  were people who came together to have a good time and to relive their earlier karting experiences. Nobody at Quincy thought they were headed for a career in NASCAR or Indy Car. They treated their karts and engines as treasures, not disposables. And they treated their fellow racers as friends, not bitter rivals. Karting was fun again.

And the thing about it is, the slide from the karting of my early days into what “modern” karting had become was so slow that I hadn’t really even noticed it. I mean, I knew karting had gotten more serious, and more expensive, but the sudden contrast as I wandered the pits at Quincy, as I watched and listened to the people, was startling. This was the sport I fell in love with over 50 years ago. 

And so here I am, 22 years later, deeply immersed in Vintage Karting and the VKA. Vintage Karting has changed in those 22 years; it’s more organized, with common rules and a published schedule of events. It’s not quite the Wild, Wild West that it was it was in 2001. But, for whatever changes, good or bad, in those years, Vintage karting has stayed true to one guiding principle. Vintage Karting, and the VKA exist to promote and provide for the preservation, restoration, and enjoyment of the sport of karting. We gather at kart tracks throughout the year to celebrate the history, the legacy, and the pioneers of the sport we all have loved these many years. 

I can’t imagine a more worthwhile way to spend my time. Thank you for being a part of it.