In US karting, there are many series that claim to be either a National or “Pro” karting series by name or title. But who or what really determines whether or not a series qualifies as National? Can a series be considered national simply because of its title, or are there other measurements or standards that should be met in order for a series to be deemed National? And if an organization does self-classify its series as National, what obligations does it have to uphold some form of ladder system within the sport?
With no true sanctioning body, over a dozen different series (and growing), and a wide range of engine classes and rule books, it’s often hard to determine what, if anything, makes a series national. So we’ve decided to dive into the topic further, and analyze how the current naming structure for series in US karting has affected the sport. In part one, we will look at the impact that a series’ name or title has on how it is perceived, and if a series should be held to a certain level of standards by classifying itself as national or professional.
Note: a few things to remember about kart racing in the United States.
- There is no real official governing body. While the World Karting Association is considered the largest sanctioning body, and the only organization that can issue licensing that is recognized abroad by the CIK-FIA, within the United States their rulebook only applies to their own series and those that choose to follow it, either in whole or in part. They have no authority to require a series to follow their rulebook with regards to technical regulations or race structure.
- Each series operates independently of one another. They set their own rulebook, class structure, and requirements for competition, including engines, age groups, and experience levels.
- Karting is still by definition an amateur sport. There are only a handful of drivers in the world who are fully compensated for their training and competition, and who have no other full-time career other than karting.
Part I: What’s in a name?
How a series presents itself is critical, and a series’ name or title is a key aspect in both its identity and image. While many series refrain from calling themselves National by title alone, the language they use to reference their events tells a different story. Several series have a variation of the phrase “pro” or “professional” in their title, giving the appearance of a top-level, elite series. Others utilize the terms “United States” or “USA”, a qualifier that equates with national, in comparison to regional phrases such as “Midwest” or West Coast”. And some, while not specifically calling out their national status, rather, do it at an event level, with the final event carrying a national qualifier in its title. So, how can so many US karting programs call themselves National? Simple: there is no official governing body telling them that they can’t.
Without a proper governing body to designate a series’ title, it is left to the karting promotional organizations to determine their own identity and how they want to be perceived in the market.
So, are these self-designated titles justified? To the promotional organization, almost certainly. If a series wants to promote itself to a higher caliber of racers, attract participation on a national or international scale, and stand out against other prominent series, then a national or pro qualifier will help it do just that.
But a series cannot simply call itself national without holding itself accountable to other critical standards that merit the use of a national title, and the majority of the promotional organizations are aware of this. Internally, these organizations work diligently to make sure that every event runs smoothly and professionally. Every aspect needs to be managed with great attention to detail, from the event staff to registration procedures to the rulebook. Externally, the karting community is very vocal about the technical and operational logistics of a series. If they are unsatisfied with how a series is run, they will let you (and everyone else) know it. This can have a negative impact on the number of entries, and force the media to take a critical look at what the series is (or isn’t) doing to deserve being classed as national in the eyes of the community.
What about the programs that don’t use this self-titling tactic? Are they hurting themselves by not following suit and labeling their program as Pro or National? Not necessarily. Many organizations, especially those that are newer to the game, understand that building a series takes time. To call a program National right out of the gate would be setting it up for failure. They also understand that there are many other aspects to a race program that deem it worthy of national status, and we’ll take a look at some of these other factors that help determine if a series should qualify as national in part two.