PART II: What else makes a series national?
In part one of our series on national karting programs in the United States, we discussed how organizations can dictate their own status by self-titling as National or Pro series and whether or not this is justifiable. Now, we will take a look at some of the other factors that outwardly determine whether or not a series could be considered national in the eyes of the karting community. Again, since there is not a true governing body for the sport, we don’t consider these hardline requirements, simply standards that organizations should hold themselves to, and the community should hold them accountable for.
Does the series have a ladder system?
One of the characteristics of being a national series, in any sport, would be the presence of a ladder system that funnels athletes up from the local to regional to national level. This is usually under the control of a national organization which sets the rules for the sport, and how one can advance through the different levels to reach the top. In most other non-team sports, such as track and field or swimming, this would require the athlete to qualify for participation in the national event, usually at a designated regional event set forth by the organization. Karting in the United States is a bit different, and since there isn’t a governing body that can set the structure for a ladder system, it is left to the organizations to do so. This requires partnership and cooperation with local tracks at the club and regional level to take on the class structure and rules of the national program, and in some cases the creation of a regional level program altogether.
How long has the series been around (in some form)?
In the last decade, the number of series in the United States has increasingly multiplied. Older, more established series have seen resurrections, re-imaging, and re-structuring, and newer series have burst onto the scene, either to fill a void in the market or to incorporate a new spec engine. But it is genuinely accepted that the longer a series has been around, and the more established it is, the more credibility it has to call itself a national series. This is simply because the series has been around long enough to have tweaked, modified, and perfected all the aspects that encompass a national program. It has the time to development and link together a ladder system, to work out issues with class structure, engine parity, technical rules, and overall race organization. It has built up a following of competitors (and funneled drivers up through the ladder system), and attracted the attention of the media.
What engines and classes compete in the series?
While racers can utilize any brand of chassis across multiple series, most programs have specific engine regulations with regards to their class structure. ROTAX engines, for example, have their own programs and adhere to their own technical regulations. SKUSA has had many iterations of engine classes before settling into IAME for TaG and Honda Stock Moto for shifter. So does the type of engine you race on determine whether or not your series is national? Aside from the apparent shift to spec-engine programs (which is another article entirely), a series would generally have to show some kind of advancement in engine power throughout the class levels. As to the type of engine: 4-stroke or 2-stroke, TaG or Shifter, open or spec, that varies greatly between the different programs. It is also hotly debated topic amongst karters in the United States, and probably deserves its own article as well.
How many entrants does the series have?
In US Karting, most of the series that claim to be national average about 130-140 entries per event, with some going as low 90 and others more than 200. Entries can indicate a series’ popularity, or a team’s or driver’s inclination to compete in the program for whatever reason. Organizations often tout these entries as a way to promote how popular their series is and to drive more people to register for events. Obviously organizations want to get their numbers to a certain level, depending on the number of classes, but this needs to be balanced with race play, track time, and driver safety in order to keep competitors attracted to the series.
What is the caliber of drivers participating in the series?
If a series can draw top drivers from the United States, professional factory drivers from Europe, and big names from the world of motorsport, this lends to its credibility as a national event. The higher caliber of driver, the better the race play and competition will be, and the more other drivers will want to attend to be a part of the action. Who doesn’t want to compete against an Indycar champion or an F1 star? This goes for factory kart drivers as well, especially if they have previously won a series’ championship or title. Epic battles and tight racing are all part of the sport, and you see this most when the field is stacked with top-level drivers.
A series cannot be national in name only – it requires a definitive combination of these elements, and more, to qualify as a national series in the eyes of the community. So, if a program is self-titled as national and adheres to these standards, what then? In the final part of this series we’ll talk about what obligations a series has if it is running a national program and why we aren’t utilizing a CIK-FIA type national governing body for the sport.