Thursday, April 06, 2006

How to go motor racing in 2,768 easy steps

It all started when Sam, freshly excited about seeing his first big motor race, came home with a poster a friend from school had given him. His first poster. Ah yes, I used to put posters of racing cars on my wall when I was a kid. Memories.

Problem was, this poster was of a race driver who I don't like. One who shall remain named as Dick Johnson.

For those who don't know the Dick Johnson story, it goes basically like this; Dick bought a race car. Dick raced at Bathurst in 1980. Dick tripped over a rock and crashed his race car. Dick cried and whinged. "A Holden fan threw a rock at me. It's a conspiracy" (Dick didn't think that the rock could have dislodged by natural causes, did Dick). So everyone got sick of Dick. Everyone threw money at Dick to stop him complaining. Dick bought a new race car. Dick went on to become very succesful, didn't Dick. And Dick hasn't really stopped complaining since.

The moral of the story is, if you whinge loud enough everyone will pay for you to go motor racing. It pays to be a Dick.

So I said to Sam "I'll get you a better poster than that one. Daddy has lots of posters in the shed". But, silly Daddy had a big clean out a few weeks ago and threw out most of his old posters, thinking "what will I ever use these posters for??". Bad father. I forgot I had a 7 year old son who likes racing cars. D'OH!!!

But I salvaged one, and we had a presentation ceremony to officially award Sam with his very first bedroom wall poster:

Although he could have a perfectly good poster of Dick Johnson on his wall, Sam dutifully obeyed his Dad and accepted this 2006 GP promotional poster until we find something with somebody decent on it. Someone who doesn't complain much.

I haven't got the heart to tell Dad this is a crappy poster

Anyhoo, while I was rummaging around in the garage I noticed my old go kart. Well, it isn't really old, it's just neglected. I bought it a couple of years ago, buzzed around the local track and vowed one day to get may licence and race again.

Recently we took some colleagues and customers indoor kart racing. I failed to toe the line and won by way too much, although I did offer to take a dive and let a customer win, my boss told me not to worry and just go knock myself out. He meant it metaphorically, I presume . Whilst basking in my triumphant glory I bored everybody senseless getting all nostalgic about the good old days when I used to race and how I wish I could drum up some funds to get the little 125cc beast back on track.

My boss probably got sick of my whingeing, so he offered to sponsor me. How's that for poetic justice. I have now become a Dick.

Instead of going for the "Sprint" kart formula (otherwise known as "Formula Ego") I have opted for the more subtle class of superkarts- racing these potent little machines on real road circuits instead of the little mini golf course ones.

There are some things I will miss about the short course racing. I will miss having some pubescent little maniac use me as a brake because his Daddy, who bought him a kart when he was 5 (to live his own unfulfilled dreams through his child), will pay for all his damage. I will miss the overworked track officials giving me a black flag for an infringement committed by someone else. But most of all I will miss the go kart retailers.

Before and during photos. This is what a naked go-kart looks like. No, it's not the black thing with the wheels. That's the trolley.

One quirk about superkart formula as opposed to sprint is that it involves using bits which aren't available at the many sprint kart shops. This can be annoying, but there are advantages of not having to go to sprint kart shops; Most are owned and run by people with loads of cash, who only set up the shop to help their spoilt brat go racing. So, they have no intention of being remotely helpful to you since you may become good and beat their kid. Therefore shopping at these places, which should be pleasurable for any red blooded rev-head is actually a highly traumatic and belittling experience.

When you go in and ask for something unusual like, for example, a tyre that is black and round, they stare at you with an expression of dismay which says "what, are you stupid?? As if I'd have something like that. Now go away I'm on the phone with someone REALLY important". And forget asking them to explain something technical. If you don't know how to adjust your own power valve, then you shouldn't be kart racing. Leave it for us real competitors.

(I should mention one exception - Ian Wiliams Tuning in Torrensville, S.A. Great guy, Kingwilly. There's a plug. A go kart shop run by a human being. AND he sells superkart stuff.)

starting to look like something useable, with a steering wheel

But no. The real problem with superkarting is that it is run under the authority of CAMS, the Confederation Against Motor Sport. This means in order to get a licence you must fill out a telephone-book sized application, get a medical check and a reference from ASIO, then sell your children to pay for it. Then you must make some minor modifications to the vehicle itself before having it inspected for a log book. That's like registration for a race vehicle, although I presume, unlike road cars, they actually LET you put go fast bits on it without calling you a darstardly crim. After all this is the whole point of a race vehicle- to go fast.

These "minor modifications" involve everything from tie-wiring little nuts and bolts, putting wet-weather lights on the back so the competitor behind you has something to aim at, the list goes on, and on, and on. Here is a list of some safety-related modifications and the logic behind them:

- we must use massive big dinner plate-like washers on your seat mounting because, apparently, some goon recently crashed and the seat stays jabbed him and broke a rib.

- we must insert a timber dowel into the hollow steering column since somebody's steering column once collapsed in an incident. So now when we crash, the dowel will splinter and skewer us through the heart like a stake. Perhaps CAMS are superstitious and hope that Dracula has recently taken up kart racing.

- we must drill and tie-wire any bolt not secured by a nyloc nut. This is to stop them coming off at high speed and "compromising" the competitor behind. But we only have to tie them to eachother. This means if one comes off it takes the other ones with it, so there's a whole heap of bolts hittng somebody in the face instead of just one.

They must get their safety tips from the same people who give us the "Speed Cameras love you" commercials.

Now with the bit that goes vrooom

You see, motor racing is run not by motorsport enthusiasts, but by insurance companies. You cannot really blame the Confederation of Alarmist Manic Safety. Motorsport has simply fallen prey to the public liability curse like everything else. Every time a track marshal trips over a blade of grass, CAMS must fill out a hideously massive slab or reports or their premiums will become so high Bill Gates could not even afford to race his ride-on lawnmower.

(Don't laugh. There is actually such a thing as ride on lawnmower racing)

So, the world is actually run by insurance companies, contrary to popular conspiracy theories about Freemasons. Unless of course the Freemasons are all managers of insurance companies.

So, as I torture over installing an extra seat to carry an OH & S officer with me as I race, or trying to write a thesis on the CAMS manual, I must remember I'm one step closer to getting back on track. And I'm sure it will all be worth it.

Besides, if I keep complaining I might get me some more cash.

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