The Future Starts Today 01.15.2008 - To: WKA Members, Sponsors and Representatives of the Karting Industry My name is Rick Dresang, and I have just been elected to serve as President of the World Karting Association. I follow in the footsteps...
The Future Starts Today
01.15.2008 - To: WKA Members, Sponsors and Representatives of the Karting Industry
My name is Rick Dresang, and I have just been elected to serve as President of the World Karting Association. I follow in the footsteps of Randy Kugler, who held this position for the past 13 years and his father, George Kugler, who served for over 20 years before him.
It has been an honor to be recommended to the Board of Trustees by President Kugler as his successor and to have the unanimous support of the Board of Trustees in this new endeavor. I am delighted that now President Emeritus Randy Kugler has agreed to continue his long association with WKA as a consultant and advisor to me, the officers, and the new Executive Director, Van Gilder. But more on that later.
First, let me begin by sharing my motorsports history and how it has led me to the where we are today. My background in motorsports began over 30 years ago and has included involvement in snowmobile racing, sports car racing, karting and even historic race cars.
It all began in Wisconsin in 1974. I was just a year out of high school and started racing snowmobiles as an amateur. I began with a 1973 Arctic Cat snowmobile, a 1954 Ford pickup truck, and a passion for motorsports. I raced with the Chargers Snowmobile Club, Inc. (CSC Racing), a club started in 1967 by members of the Green Bay Packers.
The mid 1970's oil embargo brought many hardships to our economy, not the least of which was fuel allocation and gasoline prices at a record $.48 per gallon. This changed the face of snowmobile racing in the United States. Travel became very expensive, and creating more regional racing venues became vital to keeping the sport alive. This situation was much like the challenge that karting faces today with gasoline prices around $3.25 a gallon.
I served as the race director of CSC from 1977 until 1979 while continuing to compete in two snowmobile classes. In 1979 I was elected president of CSC and helped the organization grow from regional to national status. This was accomplished through three values.
First, customer service and membership input drove the organization. It was due to our membership and their feedback that drove the positive changes that made a user-friendly race organization.
Second, safety and quality of events that CSC conducted was as good as any nationally sanctioned racing event in North America. Before my involvement in CSC, many of the events that I attended in the 1970's had a lack of safety and even ambulances at the tracks. When I became CSC president, I changed these practices immediately.
Finally, we helped control our member's travel costs by establishing quality race venues within a five-hour travel distance from Appleton, WI; the CSC home base. It is a value based administration that I proposed to bring to WKA.
When I became CSC president, we assembled a team of key individuals who could work together to achieve the objectives that we set. Each person, as a member of the team, had specific responsibilities and objectives to meet in order for the entire organization to succeed. This turned out to be an incredible time in my life to see CSC be as successful as it was.
During my time as president of CSC, I also helped form an alliance with Yamaha, Toyota, and Western Snowplows that gave us the equipment we needed to maintain our oval racetracks. We were also sponsored by the R. L. Ryerson Company, who helped our organization financially with donations for the costs of running the show. In 1985, CSC managed and promoted the oval racing portion of the Yamaha / Toyota Challenge held in conjunction with the St. Paul Winter Carnival in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1986, we also ran the oval racing portion of the Snowmobile World Series for the International Snowmobile Racing organization in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.
As the promoter and president of CSC, I had a seat on the Safety and Competition Committee of the ISR. The committee met to create guidelines and promote safety throughout snowmobile racing in North America.
Despite the association with the Safety and Competition committee, I became one of the sport's safety statistics when I sustained a knee injury while racing in 1987. As a result of the injury, as well as business and family commitments, I stopped racing snowmobiles. I also resigned my position as CSC president in 1988. After I left, CSC continued as a premiere racing organization until the late 1990s when climate factors contributed to event cancellations, as many of the race sites were held on frozen lakes and rivers.
Before I left snowmobile racing, I co-owned Fast-Glass Motorsports, an aftermarket snowmobile hood business. We manufactured light-weight racing fiberglass for snowmobile racing applications. Our company also manufactured a very radical one-piece body for enduro kart racing which my business partner used in competition. His radical bodied kart was clocked some-12-mph faster than any other kart in his class on the long straights of Road America. Unfortunately, those speeds couldn't be controlled through corners, and it acted more like a sail than a streamlined racing machine. That was the end of my first karting endeavor, but left me with a hands-on understanding of the supplier side of the racing industry.
In the spring of 1989 by my business partner, Pete Utecht, my wife Alison, and I formed U-Tech Environmental Manufacturing Supply, Inc. (UEMSI). . We manufacture products for the pipeline cleaning and televising inspection industry. It was the startup of this business that allowed me to begin looking for a motorsports program that would include my son, Jacques.
In the winter of 1995, I took Jacques to Eagle River, WI for the World Snowmobile Championships to see if he would be interested in racing snowmobiles. We weren't there for more than ten minutes when Jacques Villeneuve (Uncle Jacques) stuffed his Ski-Doo into the wall directly in front of us. My son declared on the spot that this idea of racing snowmobiles did not seem fit for his tastes.
That following spring, my nephew introduced us to sprint kart racing at the Sugar River Raceway in Brodhead, Wisconsin. A month after our visit to Sugar River, we purchased a 1989 Coyote with a restricted Yamaha KT-100 engine from the recently retired Guy Schneider. The newly formed team started racing the Junior Pipe class at the Badger Kart Club that summer and continued to race at BKC until the end of 1998 when Jacques won the Jr. Pipe championship.
In 1999, we decided to race in the WKA George Kugler Manufacturer's Cup and Midwest Sprint Series in the 100cc Restricted Jr. and US820 Junior classes even though Jacques had an extra 40 lbs. disadvantage on his competitors. It was still a lot of fun, and it served as a great introduction to WKA.
I became a member of the Midwest Sprint Series Board of Directors the following year and continued until the end of 2004. During that time, Jacques captured the Manufacturer's Cup HPV Heavy class championship in 2002 with a borrowed chassis and a backup engine from a friend. Somehow things worked out, and the experience on the MWSS board got me back into helping manage a racing organization.
In 2003, I was elected by the members of WKA District 7 to represent them as their Trustee. During my term as Trustee, I learned about the inner workings of WKA as well as its many challenges. I also met many of the individuals who made up the WKA organization and its various divisions such as road racing, dirt and pavement oval track racing, and sprint racing.
It became very apparent, however, that it would be difficult for me to act as a trustee with Jacques racing in WKA. There were moments where conflicts of interest came into play at tracks, and we felt it would be best if I didn't have an interest in an entry when I was trying to help the organization. For that reason, we decided to race in another venue while I was in an elected position at WKA. We went on to race in the Spec Miata category in the Sports Car Club of America from 2004 through this year.
One of the things that Randy Kugler, my son, and I share is our passion for the history of motorsports. In karting, we have such names as Adkins, Dismore, Haddock and Hartman that makeup the pedigree of our sport. In my personal life, I was always a fan of Mark Donohue. In 2004, my business partner and my family were lucky enough to acquire Mark's final Indycar, an All-American Racers Eagle. We spent the next two years restoring the car, and it is now shown at charitable events and concours around the nation by my son and our historic racing friends. Like Indycar racing, the history of karting gives us prime examples of lean and rich times. Sometimes to you have to look at the past and add it to the present to realize the future.
In November of 2006, the WKA Board of Trustees elected me to serve as WKA's Chairman of the Board. My job was to oversee the operation of the Board of Trustees and to help communications between the Board and the Executive Committee. I quickly became involved in a number of issues including tire prep in WKA's dirt division. I also advised WKA in issues pertaining to membership and the Code of Regulations.
It is this 34-year-involvement in motorsports in general and ten years in karting that I bring to the Presidency of the WKA, and it is at a time when the Association is facing several challenges, not the least of which is declining revenue. There are two major factors behind this revenue decline.
The first reason for lower entries is the cost of travel, and this applies to most of our racing series. Much like the situation I faced in snowmobile racing in 1974 with the oil embargo, the price of gasoline has increased significantly with fuel prices above of $3.00 a gallon. In addition, the price of lodging has increased significantly: just ask those who attended the Daytona events this year. Of course, this has not just impacted kart racing. Race track management at one of our road race venues has reported that sports car, vintage, and motorcycle entries are down about as much as karting. Attendance at NASCAR events is also down. And in a completely unrelated area, visits to national parks are down about the same amount.
When we look at any activity that requires expenditure of discretionary income for funding, when there is an increase in cost, we would expect to see a decline in participation. That has led some people to believe that WKA is also in a state of decline. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sport is still rich in passion. WKA, with the support of its membership, sponsors, and manufactures behind it, provides a competitive climate and will do so for years to come. However, there are several things we must do to respond to this changing environment.
First, we must become more cost effective in managing our business and in conducting our events. To help achieve this objective, WKA completely overhauled its entire accounting system in 2007. This has given us more data to track event costs and profitability by events.
Second, we have to ensure a revenue stream throughout the year. During the 2007 season, we made several strides in this area including Randy Kugler's work with Daytona International Speedway and WKA's new partnership with Mazda. Randy Kugler was also able to secure a place for WKA in the Drive for Diversity program to spotlight two young kart drivers.
Last, we have to consider ways to reduce the travel cost of participants, as the snowmobile racers did over 30 years ago. This may entail making our regional/divisional and local programs stronger.
The second major challenge we face is participation in our Dirt series. In addition to travel cost, the contentious issue of tire preparation continues to divide our dirt racing community as we struggle to find a balance between fairness and environmental and health concerns.
In early 2007, I wrote an article for Karting Scene which illustrated my position and the challenges of this topic which included its fair and consistent enforcement. WKA is currently revaluating the topic of tire prep and its enforcement. Somehow, some way, we have to reach some compromises with the dirt community without jeopardizing environmental and health issues.
These are just some of the major issues that WKA faces and that affect its financial health and a few of the changes that we have already made to address them.
The key to addressing the issues that WKA faces is people. We already have a knowledgeable and experienced staff at WKA headquarters. We also have a strong technical and competition committee structure.
With the recent resignation of WKA Vice President Kenny Venberg, Randy Kugler recommended to the WKA Trustees that Kevin Williams be approved to fill that position. Williams is currently a WKA Trustee from District 10 and Race Director for the Manufacturer's Cup Series and the Stars of Karting. Kevin brings a strong background in management and has had up to 2000 people under his direction in his professional career in the travel industry. Kevin has raced karts since the age of six and has raced several of the different forms of karting. He will be a great addition to the executive committee in moving WKA forward.
To spread the officer responsibilities, I have asked Kevin Williams to focus on the 2-cycle series. I am also planning to add a second Vice-President to represent the 4-cycle community at WKA's officer level.
We are also making a change in the way WKA is managed. During his tenure, Randy Kugler held the position of President, but he also fulfilled the duties of an Executive Director in managing the day to day affairs of WKA. Under my administration, we are going back to WKA's original organizational structure. I will serve as WKA President as a volunteer as will all of the other WKA Officers. The day-to-day affairs of the business will be handled by an Executive Director.
Missy Nelson-Tate will continue as treasurer, and Angelo Buffomante will continue as the secretary of the organization and legal counsel. Dan Stowell will also continue in his position as Technical Director. In this volunteer position, he will manage WKA's Technical and Competition Committees. This is the volunteer side of the WKA organization.
At Randy Kugler's recommendation we have appointed Van Gilder as WKA's Executive Director with the responsibility of managing the office staff and contract employees. Van's association in WKA traces back to the origins of the organization with Randy's father, George Kugler. Van brings a unique blend of history and presence to the organization to help it move forward.
Randy Kugler assembled the WKA office team. I have found this staff to be a very hard-working, dedicated group of professionals who care greatly for their jobs, the organization and its members. By showing them your support, this organization can only succeed.
Finally, I am delighted to announce that Randy Kugler will serve in the new position of President Emeritus. He has been the face of WKA for 13 years, and he will remain vital to the organization. In this position he will continue to provide input and direction to the officers and Executive Director. He will also assist with key WKA partnerships. Randy has also offered to begin writing about the history of WKA.
With these positive changes behind us, and plans to move forward; WKA needs the full support of the karting community. And on one negative note, the recent posts on the Internet forums have been very damaging to our efforts. It was one such post that contributed to Randy Kugler's stepping back from WKA to pursue some other goals in his life. Many of these posts have been both anonymous and completely unfounded. Of course we welcome constructive criticism and ideas from our members and the industry in general, but the negativism recently showed toward WKA and its officers is simply destructive and a distraction from the organization's mission.
In conclusion, I am honored to be helping the WKA move forward. The leadership team that has been assembled is made up of people who have industry experience and skills needed to make WKA run effectively and efficiently to meet challenges that WKA faces in the future. We are all working together make WKA the best it can be.
President - WKA