Today’s Karting vs Vintage: Better, Worse, or Just Different

Today’s Karting vs Vintage: Better, Worse, or Just Different

By John Copeland, VKA President

Today’s karters are certainly different than karters when you or I started. And I think that it is largely a societal shift. 

The parents of today’s karters are the most affluent in history. They remember the struggles and sacrifices that their parents had when they were growing up. And many of them vowed that, when they had kids, that those kids wouldn’t have to do without, as they had done.

Whether it was the latest fashion fad, or a nice stereo, or whatever, these parents did without because their parents couldn’t afford it.

Well now they are raising kids and indulging them with all the luxuries that their parents couldn’t afford to give them. It resolves their unconscious resentment about the fact that they never had the things they thought they deserved.

But the darker side of this process is that today’s kids don’t have to learn to live without. And they don’t have to learn to make do. And they never learn what it means to have to work, really work, for what you want.

Just look at the average high school parking lot; today’s parents feel guilty if they don’t buy their kid a new car when they turn 16. No beat-up hand-me-downs for these kids. 

You can almost hear them say “I had to drive a rusted-out old beater when I got my license. But my kid will never have to do that.” 

What they don’t understand is that driving that old beater really made them appreciate a nice car when they were finally able to afford it.

And so today’s kids have more and appreciate it less.

The same thing applies to learning the skills of tuning, fixing, and maintaining their karts. Today’s karters “have people for that”. 

And the “big tent” people have capitalized on that and now make a fortune coaching/coddling these young drivers and tuning their machines.

And what is lost is twofold: these young karters never learn how things work and what makes the kart faster or slower. But they also never learn to deal with the frustration of making the wrong tuning decision, or the satisfaction of getting it right. 

In their drive to insulate their kids from failure, these parents have robbed those kids of the real sense of accomplishment when they have success. Winning when all you did was turn the steering wheel and mash the gas must be a very hollow victory indeed. 

The upside, for both the drivers and their parents, is that, when they don’t win, they have someone else to blame.

“It’s ok son. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know the difference between an early apex and a baked potato, you lost because your tuner did a lousy job.”

So I’m reading this and wondering why, in light of all this, I am still optimistic about the future of karting? I don’t really know.

Maybe it’s because I recognize that karting offers a sensory experience unlike anything else. Simply put, nothing else feels like this. 

The incredibly fast feedback loop, the sound, the smell, the visual rush; nothing else even comes close.  And I don’t know anybody who has done it that isn’t counting the seconds until they can do it again.

Until they find something else that does that, karting will survive.

It may not be like what we did; the changes in chassis, tires, etc. have created a different set of sensations; high g-loads as opposed to drifting through a turn, for example. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

But until they figure out how to put that feeling into a pill, people will keep doing it.

And while sprint racing has morphed into something less appealing to me, I still get a tremendous kick out of seeing the reaction of new drivers when they get their first taste of it.

I’m blessed to be able to see this again and again at Purdue, and here’s a little story to illustrate it.

The Society of Women Engineers fields 2 karts for the Purdue Grand Prix. This year they had an experienced driver and a rookie. I did my best to help the rookie get over the hump to start being more aggressive last fall at Whiteland.

Then, this spring, I kept pushing her to drive harder, to go deeper, to gas sooner. She just couldn’t break the habit of coasting into the 1st turn. Finally I told her to go over to the fence and listen; listen to the faster drivers; when did they lift, when did they pick up the throttle.

She went over to the fence for awhile and then came back and we talked about it again and I told her she had to PUSH if she was going to get better. She had to push the kart and she had to push herself. 

She went back out and really stuffed it into the 1st turn, got a great launch down the backstretch and was visibly faster.

She came roaring into the pits the next lap and jumped out of the kart. She ran right past her crew and came to the fence where she yelled through her helmet “THAT WAS AMAZING!” 

And that’s why I keep doing this; for reactions like that.