by David Tremayne, F1 Journalist
One of many things disenabled by China’s 2020 world gift was the scheduled FIA Motorsport Games, which had been inaugurated successfully in 2019.
This was particularly vexing for a good friend of mine, David McLaughlin, who has long had an affiliation with the Bahamas where, between 1954 and 1966, the annual Speed Week included the prestigious Nassau Trophy race which attracted the likes
of Stirling Moss, Dan Gurney, Carroll Shelby, Pedro Rodriguez and A.J. Foyt.
David and his wife, Lorina (well-known for her fast handling of a Formula 4 GRD in the old days and, more recently, the ex-John Watson Hexagon March 721 and an ex-Michael Schumacher Benetton B192) were involved in the Bahamas Speed Week Revival in 2011, and have been energetic supporters ever since.
But thanks to Covid-19 they have been grounded in the UK, like so many others, while valiantly trying to keep alive a project they started in the Bahamas, 3,400 miles away. Five years ago David bought a load of second-hand karts from our old mate
Bill Sisley down at Buckmore Park, and took them to the Bahamas where they were run as a form of junior competition to back up the Bahamas Speed Week revival, under the banner of EduKarting.
Reasoning just how strong a medium sport is, David set up the Bahamas MSA in conjunction with the FIA, with himself as president and Susan Schauff as vice president. And for the past five years, many young Bahamians have taken part in Easter and Summer camps where they learned multiple life skills such as Leadership, Presentation, Budgets, Mechanics, Communication and, naturally, how to drive and race karts. Several students have gone on to become trainers in their own right, helping to pass on what they learned to future generations, together with the importance of road safety.
It’s a project that has gained great traction, and as part of the United Nations Road Safety Global Weeks in past years Bahamian youngsters have helped to apply pressure to stakeholders and governments to bring about changes in Bahamian laws, such as banning texting while driving.
Via the FIA’s affiliation with the International Olympics Committee, 145 motorsport countries were brought together to participate in the first FIA World Motorsport Games. The first Games were held in Rome in 2019, and proved very successful.
Inspired by this, David instigated a competition to identify two Bahamian racers, one male and one female aged between 14 and 16, to represent Bahama in the 2020 Games.
But then things went awry.
“We have suffered a double whammy, as last August Hurricane Dorian devastated the islands and at the same time destroyed all of the karts I bought from Bill Sisley,” David explains. “Then, of course, Covid-19 has also brought the Tourism to Bahamas completely to a halt. Normally 7.5 million tourists arrive each year, and now it is literally zero…
“But we are too stubborn to give up, so I am hoping to put together a plan to pick up and start again. I get a grant from the FIA Foundation each year and hope this will continue as they love the venture as we are genuinely helping disadvantaged
kids. They often have less than nothing, and can through it learn life skills and aspire to something. And here we are with so many people in the world now talking about racial inclusivity and so forth, but how many are actually coming out of their comfort zone to do something about it?”
David likes Rob Smedley’s Electroheads concept and visited the first event at Whilton
Mill. “It looks a great concept and would particularly suit Bahamas as the concept of electric vehicles is only just arriving and, in particular, charging by solar energy is good as we have quite a lot of sunshine!”
Electric karts could showcase such technology. The enforced lack of karts has created another problem: David’s annual grant from the FIA is made on a pound-for pound basis, so unless he can match it, nothing will happen. He needs to raise around £50k to facilitate the purchase of Karts similar to those that Electroheads uses. Which in turn will enable the Bahamas to field its two-person team at the 2021 FIA Motorsport Games…
“We aren’t going to find the next World Champion,” David admits with his typical modesty, “although we have found a pre-teen kid named Dante Williams who displayed a freakish ability to opposite lock his way around a stack of old tyres without being taught how to do it. Where did that come from? Dante had never seen a kart 10 days before, but was then sliding an old Sodi around tyre markers in the college parking lot like he owned it."
Henry Beaudette has been the chief instructor since David started EduKarting. He competed in MSA kart racing from 2002 to 2008 at club and national level and represented Wales in the ABkC Internations in 2005 and 2006, and competed in the Le Mans 24 Hour Kart Race in 2004 and 2008. So he knows a thing or two about karting, especially in his other role as a commentator, in which he watched an entire generation of talent which included Alex Albon, George Russell and Lando Norris as it rose through the ranks. And this is what he says:
"Despite the focus on stealth teaching, EduKarting is still a karting-based course run by former kart racers, and while there have been a number of students in the past who have shown decent ability behind the wheel, in 2018 a ten-year old student by the name of Dante Williams instantly showed a natural ability and skill level that we had never seen in EduKarting before. In 2019 he returned to the course and, in a 370 cc Honda powered Thunderkart usually reserved for our older students, he continued to impress us to the point where we began coaching him beyond the course, and in wet-weather conditions where we usually would not run the karts as they only have slick tyres.
“Every time Dante sat in a kart he showed an incredible ability to take on information and guidance and put it into practice on the track. I have seen thousands of kart racers in my career and I believe I can recognise a natural gift for racing when I see one. And in Dante I see a very rare natural ability for driving a kart. If given the opportunity to compete at a higher level and on a much higher stage than he currently is, he has the talent to successfully represent the Bahamas in any kind of competition."
David concludes, “We are genuinely changing lives by the structure of EduKarting and the things it teaches the kids.”
Gravette Brown, the CEO of Bahamas based communications giant ALIV, supports the STEM-focused camps which are backed by ventures such as EduKarting, endorsing the latter’s value.
“Innovation is just one of the three pillars on which ALIV stands while bringing service or assistance to the public. We want to continue to be the leader in technological innovations in as many ways as possible and supporting camps like those that we have during the summer helps us in doing so.
“Education is also important to us and that was a common factor within all of the camps, not only was it fun but it was a fun learning experience that granted young minds the opportunity to be a part of technological innovation, and we hope to support more of this kind in the future.”
So… Why am I telling you all this?
It’s quite simple. These kind of projects matter. They give kids fun and focus, self-confidence and, perhaps, ambition. Any individual or company keen to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to a professed interest in diversity can contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will hook them up with David. He doesn’t bite, but he doesn’t give up either, and he gets a decent job done. And, man, he does it with passion and commitment that engages and inspires young people who wouldn’t otherwise get their shot at a fulfilling life.