It shouldn’t come as any surprise when you hear someone say, “Karting is a family sport”. Visions and memories constantly replay in my mind of waking up at 5 in the morning to drive to the Bingemans Park with my father, to help him work on my kart and joke around with the other families who act as the mechanics and support their young club racers. This is, perhaps, one of the most treasured aspects of the sport that is not readily visible by spectators. The sport and the experience of karting is that much more valuable because, for most, it is a family effort that provides experiences and lessons that go far beyond the track. Victory and defeat are often predicated on the relationship and the teamwork that is fostered as the karter and his/her support system stand shoulder to shoulder preparing for a race; the communication and the bond that exists between mechanic and driver can be the decider between a victory and a disappointment.
Before overseas engines and large racing rigs used to transport equipment became the norm, most racers arrived at the karting track in the back of a pickup truck. A simple Canadian Tire wrench set, an analog tire gauge, and, most importantly, the love and support of those who tuned the machines, were the tools necessary to drive us to the top of the podium. However, this seems to have been lost in recent times, replaced by professional tuners and sophisticated equipment that place more of an emphasis on being victorious, rather than focusing on the experience of getting there that, in the past, was built upon the foundation of a family where all members worked together to achieve success. To be sure, winning was the ultimate goal, but a true victory was measured more by the journey of getting there, than the final victorious leap on to the podium.
These days, the atmosphere of many clubs has changed with dwindling numbers and a curious animosity that permeates the air. Many families complain about the rising costs of the sport, which precludes some would-be passionate racing families from even participating, at all.
One club in Ontario has existed for many years because of their passionate and dedicated member base that is one of the largest in the country. Understanding and appreciating the underlying value found in the sport, this club has shied away from the fast, and expensive, 2 cycle classes. Waterloo Regional Kart Club (WRKC), at Flamboro Speedway, has continuously maintained a burgeoning membership, and very few members choose to leave their home turf in order to participate in the geographically larger, but ultimately, more expensive and less personal, Eastern Canadian Karting Championship championship.
One particular family has participated with this club, and has enjoyed the warmth and comfort of the karting scene for over 30 years. Ciarra, the youngest driver of this clan, is, along with the rest of the family, a staple at the WRKC. This awesome brood of current and former karters, is but one example of how karting club membership influences and nurtures bonds that go beyond the track. In fact, this family has been a staple of 4-cycle karting in Canada and has helped many young drivers achieve victories and recognition throughout North America.
Jake Collison, longtime WRKC executive and father to Ciarra, has enjoyed a long career in the Canadian Karting scene. Helping to guide the WRKC club through rough terrain over the years, Jake has been fundamental for many current and past members as they developed and honed their own driving. Today, his twin axle, bright red trailer shrouded in a custom designed wrap can be seen throughout the region as he totes his daughter to and from events in Ontario; in addition, the visibility of this trailer at all WRKC events and beyond stands as a testament to the dedication of this family, to both the sport, and the club. Jake has stayed true to his belief that karting should be a family centered sport, and he has remained the mechanic and tuner for his daughter since she made her entrance on the karting scene.
“We have a strong family bond in everything we do,” says Jake, “…and for over 30 years our outlook has been we race karts for fun and just do the best we can; spending time as a family just goes along with it.”
This family dynamic is not unique to Jake and Ciarra, since many of WRKCs members also share the belief that the sport should entirely be a family activity, and its members think of each other as part of a tight-knit group that holds a unique bond with each other. Many of the members still engage in “swap meets” to trade equipment with one another in order to keep costs down while engaging in community building and family enjoyment. Seeing many old chassis’ still entering races and running in the circuit promotes a bond and a very large, and encouraging, cheering section for young drivers.
With this dynamic, much of the Waterloo Karting Club’s core beliefs and values mirror the Collison mindset that places an emphasis on family, teamwork and fun in an inexpensive, manageable atmosphere. Jake’s life has been filled with racing from a very young age, but he did not start out as a karting driver; his introduction into the sport came in the form of employment in 1982, while his father Jim Collison raced oval cars.
“My father started oval racing in 1962,” explains Collison. “In 1982, he answered a newspaper ad searching for karting drivers to populate the soon to be Waterloo Regional Kart Club.”
He worked from a young age as the scale person, while his brother, Brad, participated occasionally at the club races. In the fall of 1982, Jim informed Jake that if he wanted to race, he must save up 50% of the cost of a new kart over the course of the winter. The following 1983 season, Jake acquired his own racing kart, a KFL Bob Cat complete with race prepped engine, for $1200.
Over the years, Jake molded his hobby into a full-grown family business. Meeting his wife Debbie at a local racetrack, he became more involved with WRKC alongside his father Jim, eventually catapulting into the position of club president and taking over an executive position.
WRKC, like all other Ontario clubs has gone through many hardships. Through the past ten years, WRKC has dealt with overbearing municipalities, restricting governing bodies, and three different track changes before the club constructed its own circuit within Flamboro Speedway. Throughout this time, various members and friends and members, both past and present, stepped up to support the club through these times in order to ensure that its members still had a season. This came in the form of fundraisers and donations for the Flamboro circuit to be built. Jim, Jake, and all of those involved dedicated hundreds of hours to ensure the members had a permanent place they could race at every Saturday morning.
With the hardships behind, WRKC and the Collison family run a tight ship. Huge numbers turn up Saturday mornings at Flamboro with many staying throughout the afternoon to watch and partake in the nightly oval car races. As well as enjoying the fellowship found on and near the track, they can be seen, and heard, cheering on friends and past WRKC members each weekend; they are also responsible for introducing young drivers into the world of oval racing, and quietly shine as these drivers climb through the ranks throughout the Canadian Karting scene. WRKC has proven time and time again that this sport encompasses a lot more than just competing.
Today, Jake’s daughter Ciarra represents the club alongside a few select WRKC drivers on the regional level. Her competitive spirit and enthusiasm for the sport mirrors that of her family and their dedication to the industry. Her engines and equipment are all prepped and tuned in the family home before each weekend by Jake, with mother Debbie providing support at every event the family attends. In addition, Jake provides support and expertise to the BirelART and Briggs and Stratton brand that he imports and utilizes for his daughter’s ride, while promoting and consulting on behalf of the club.
Jake’s dedication to the club is fierce and unarguable; but when it comes to passions and commitment, all else is secondary when it comes to his love for the sport and, most importantly, his family. When Ciarra is on track, Jake and Debbie are always on the sidelines watching the young racer. Despite his life-long dedication and passion for karting, Jake understands the importance of an education, and before Ciarra can decide to walk in the path left by her passionate patriarch, Jake ultimately wishes for his daughter, a university degree.
As the Briggs program continues to grow in popularity, and the BirelART chassis line resurges in its immense popularity, Jake remains focused and dedicated to the sport he has known and loved his entire life; and he is adamant to continue to support his daughter in her own racing at every turn she takes.
As I reflect on this piece, I can’t help but think of the old adage that Jakes own mentor shared with him as he grew and rose in this industry. On more than one occasion, he commented, “you only get out of karting, as much as you put into it,” and I believe this statement is entirely apropos for a quality ending. As Ciarra Collison walks among her own karting giants, and sees their continual devotion and love for the sport, she is all but guaranteed of success, knowing that her karting family, both on and off the track, have put their all into creating a legacy of what it means to give your all.