The Unlimited All-Stars National Office

4412 W 6th Ave

Beaver Falls, PA 15010

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Contact: Mark Bergfelt, Executive Director

mark@bergfeltracing.com

724-462-7440

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This article appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of American Muscle Kart. It examines the original goals of the UAS and analyzes the progress toward achieving those goals with and eye toward the future.

Are We There Yet?

by Mark Bergfelt


There’s a lot of chatter back and forth lately about the status and general state of well-being of the Unlimited All-Stars.  If one reads the various posts he will find a wide diversity of opinions.  They vary from the UAS is in decline and falling apart to the other extreme; that everything is better than ever.  What it comes down to are the variety of viewpoints of what people think the UAS is or should be.  In almost all cases, the person makes the comments off the cuff without really explaining the standards by which they are making their judgments.
As the founder of the UAS, I can definitively state what the original goals and objectives of the UAS were and still are.  I can also just as definitively state that the UAS has achieved all of its original objectives and is well on its way of achieving even higher goals.  From my view point, the UAS has exceeded what I once though were the limits of reality, but have yet to make real my final fantasies.  From my perspective, the UAS is right where it should be at this point in time.  Those who disagree have inserted their own goals, objectives, and hopes, simply state that the UAS is either not measuring up, or in some cases is going too far.  In most cases those individuals don’t take the time to explain what direction they would like to see the UAS go.  They seem to take the position that since they are racers, and of course all racers want the same thing, every other racer must naturally agree with them.


It is not hard to uncover the original intended purposes of the UAS.  Some of the original objectives were well documented directly in an article I wrote for National Kart News that was published in the January, 2001 issue.  The manuscript of that article was available on-line via the UAS website until a short time ago when I inadvertently deleted the page when I was trying to remove some obsolete content. Some of the objectives cited in that article are listed below and were explicitly explained in the article.  Others were not written down, but were implied and became the standard operating procedure for UAS events.  The key, original objectives are;

  1.  To preserve the open class(es) of kart racing.
  2.  Draw up a schedule that brings the racers in a geographic area to the same place at the same time.  That schedule needs to fulfill the wants and needs of the racers in that area.
  3. Develop a show geared toward spectators that will allow promoters the opportunity to make money from the front gate so that they can afford to be more generous to the racers who are putting on that show for them.
  4. Combine a variety of engines into one class using various formulas to determine compatible minimum weights.
  5. Establish and maintain a high standard of sportsmanship and promote self-discipline amongst the drivers.
  6. Maintain the rules in such a way that they are not corrupted by the self-interest of manufacturers and businesses in the karting industry.

As time went on more objectives were added.  The reason that I wanted to have an article published in National Kart News about the early history of the UAS was to entice racers in other parts of the country to duplicate the program for the benefit of racers where they are.  Although at that time, I thought that the development of what eventually turned out to be a national sanctioning body to be a far-fetched idea, I did entertain fantasies about those possibilities.  About the same time that that article was published, a UAS partipant at the time, Paul Kish got me interested in the internet.  He and I began posting the UAS rules on Bob’s 4-cycle.com.  Then I got a call from a guy in Alabama who saw the NKN article and the posts, and another call from an outspoken racer in Florida who decided to test out the concept there.  As they say, the rest is history.


Using the objectives listed above as a measuring stick I must conclude that the Unlimited All-Stars is an overwhelming success.  I am convinced that if I were to quit doing what I do to organize the UAS, the administrators of the various regions and racers would pull together to keep something going and open class racing would survive.  Objective 1, fulfilled.


Because the UAS is set up to be centered on the programs at the regional level, first and foremost, those racers will see to it that someone there keeps on making up an annual schedule that will work for those racers.  Object 2 is fulfilled and will stay that way as long as the racers want to keep it going and will support their administrative person.


Several Years ago the UAS was invited to be the marquee event at the Big Show held near Charlotte NC.  The following year the promoter of the Kart Show, that filled the void left when the Big show promoter disappeared also did what he had to do to get the UAS into his program.  They both did it for what they called the wow factor the UAS brings and the crowd that it draws.  But crowd pleasing appeal is nothing new.  Back in the earliest days of the UAS, races were scheduled at Western Pennsylvania stock car tracks as additions to the regular stock car shows for thousands of race fans.  Tracks that hosted those events were; Interstate 79 Speedway, and Tyler county Speedway in West Virginia, and Marion Center and Challenger Raceway in Western Pennsylvania.  Objective 3 has been fulfilled but it is the most difficult one to maintain.  That is because kart racing is viewed by so many, including most kart racers, as a hobby sport pursued simply for recreational purposes.  Even though the UAS has proven to provide spectacular shows that need not take a back seat to any, that mindset is the biggest deterrent to continued progress.  In spite of that, the original objective has been achieved.


The openness of the UAS rules and the variety of engines it allows and encourages is one of the biggest draws for many racers.  A large following of dedicated racers have seen to it that that has been expanded and maintained.  Objective 4 has been and remains achieved.
Another attractive aspect of the UAS for many drivers is the reputation of clean driving, sportsmanship and camaraderie that exists among the people in the UAS.  It looks like that will continue for a long time.  Much has been said and written about those aspects.  Objective 5 has been achieved.


In the rule book there exists rule 6, A which reads “No sponsorship will be accepted if, any condition of accepting said sponsorship requires all competitors to use any particular brand of product or the modification of any rule.”  Never, in any UAS rule review, has that item been mentioned for revision.  It exists as it has since it was first written.  It has often been cited when there has been debates over tire rules but is has many other applications as well.  That one single, simple sentence has done more to maintain the integrity of the UAS rule set than any other. Objective 6 continues to be achieved.


Considering the above mentioned items, the UAS has been successful beyond anyone’s expectations and appears to continue on that track.  It has done, and continues to do, what it set out to do, even if it remains as it is and regardless of how may paid memberships there are.
So where does the notion come from that the UAS is on a decline?  One of the reasons that come up for comments like that is from looking at membership numbers.  In the first year that national points were kept for the UAS, Tim Taft, a dedicated Florida transplant from Up-State New York, took on the enormous task of keeping track of the results of every UAS regional race, everywhere there was a region listed.  At that time, there was no membership fee.  Anyone who entered a UAS race was counted as a member and was in the points.  At the conclusion of that year, Ed Schreifels earned the first UAS national championship.  That was fantastic, but there was a problem.  The UAS had no income at all and there was nothing to award to the new national champion and the top racers in the country.  That inspired the beginning of paid memberships in the UAS.  The purpose was to establish a fund for end of season national awards for the top 10 racers. It also was part of the stimulus that would create a political split with-in the UAS.  In spite of that, the following year, the paid membership was about half of what it was when all racers were included in the national ranking without committing to a paid membership.  Critics of the UAS used those numbers as an indicator of the decline of the UAS. 


During the first year that membership was required to earn national points, many regions required membership for participation in their events.  That turned out to be a very controversial item and many administrators were uncomfortable with requiring membership of those who only wanted to compete on a regional basis, which as it turns out is probably the majority of UAS kart racers.  Consequently the policy was adjusted to require membership only of those wishing to be included in national points.  As a result the paid membership dropped a bit more and the critics used that number as an indicator of the decline of the UAS.


Since that time we have seen gasoline costs, the biggest cost kart racers face, rise to near $4 per gallon.  We have seen a degradation of the national economy that has put many would be UAS racers in the column of the un-employed and underemployed, making it impossible for them to afford their hobby.  Many of those who are self-employed have seen a decline in business causing them to reduce their participation.  Those factors have effected participation in general at kart tracks across the country to a level about one-half of what many once where and those same factors can, and should be applied to UAS participation for an accurate and fair assessment of just how the UAS is doing.  Critics seem to ignore those factors and claim that the UAS is not doing as well as it should.


The strength and most important part of the UAS are the regional programs.  It is my bet, that the majority of racers who participate in UAS regional events are not national members. With over 20 regions across the entire country now, if the numbers were kept the way Tim Taft did years ago, I know the number would far exceed the roughly 350 or so that were counted that year.  Whether or not those racers should have to contribute something to the UAS or not is another matter.  Some point out that that the UAS should do more to encourage all participants to become national members, which would certainly make operation of the national program a lot easier. Those critics stop short of providing a meaningful incentive that would entice racers to want to join up.  I contend that having more regions, allows the opportunity for more racers to enjoy UAS style racing.  That fact that regions continue to be added, to me, is an indication of growth.


As it is now, there is a place in the UAS for anyone actively racing open class speedway karts.  There are the regional programs where racers who like staying close to home and just want to, or are just able to,  race once in a while can.  There is a place within the regional program for those who are a bit more serious to compete for a regional championship.  There is the opportunity for racers to travel outside of their region to a not-to-distant neighboring region for the various ¼ point races.   On the other end of the spectrum is the Grand National where national caliber racers can show their stuff with all of the accolades that such an event boasts.


Not in existence now, but what could easily be instituted, is a divisional program.  That would be for the racer who wants to compete beyond their region but cannot or does not want to commit to attending the Grand National.  Some UAS racers have suggested holding the Grand National at non-central parts of the country at venues and in co-operation with promoters who want the event and have the ability to put on first class shows.  The major problem with that is simply a matter of the remoteness of the location and the fact that moving to a non-central location defeats the purpose of the Grand National in the first place since the racers from the opposite ends of the country are not likely to attend and will likely feel disenfranchised.


My proposal for taking advantage of those various venues and events and to accommodate racers who can’t or won’t travel all the way to the Grand National but do want to travel a little bit farther from home is the addition of a divisional program.  Gleaning a variety of suggestions, mostly from the internet forums, but also from first hand conversations and e-mail, I propose that the country be divided into 3 to 6 divisions.  For example, with three, West, Central and East, or splitting things up a bit more as suggested into six the Northeast, Southeast, North Central, South Central, Northwest and Southwest.  After thinking things over, I think the second option would be most effective.  The various regions within the geographic area that the division name describes would determine where and when their divisional would occur.  One of the main criteria for selecting the site could be which promoter offered the best deal to the racers.  I would like to see the divisional events to be run according to the same program as the Grand National, but that decision would be left up to the administrators within that division.


Applying points and divisional titles could easily be accomplished using the exact same point system that is already in place and that has proven to be quite popular.  The Divisional results would simply replace the Grand National for the purpose.  In other words the points would be kept exactly as they are now, but instead of using the Grand National as ½ of the total points, the Divisional would be used instead.  It’s simple and it could be implemented immediately by any division that wants to.  I imagine that the most controversial part of implementation would be determining what division the various regions should be part of.


The 2012 Grand National is an event that people will talk about for years to come.  I believe that the general consensus is that overall, it was a huge success.  That is not to say that there is not some room for improvement, there ALWAYS is in any human endeavor.
Prior to the first two Grand Nationals, I conducted surveys to determine what suitable sites most UAS racers were interested in.  In both cases Lasoski Speedway was at or near the very top of the list.  For the first two years I could not easily make the necessary connections, but from the surveys I took, it was very clear to me that Lasoski’s central location would interest racers from every part of the country.  With 55 entries, it holds the attendance record for official UAS races since national points have been kept.


By UAS policy, as executive director I “have jurisdiction over the Grand Nationals” so I have the task of making the arrangements for that event.  I was committed to making the event happen at Lasoski no matter what it took.  Although the UAS is well established in the Eastern part of the country and promoters there have pretty good idea what it is all about, it is a relatively new and foreign concept in other parts of the country.  There is a reason that Missouri is called the “show me” state and it became very clear to me that the UAS was welcome to come to Lasoski Speedway, but the track management was not willing to take a financial risk to do it.  I can’t say that I blame them.   I knew that I had to demonstrate that the UAS was the real thing and that people would actually show up to support the race.  I believe that the people who benefit from a service are the ones who should pay for it.  As things are now, most UAS racers, when asked to get real, will admit that their karting effort is really a hobby and they don’t honestly expect that anyone else can or will pay their way.  When I made a plea via e-mail and the UAS web site for financial support for event expenses, many of the racers came through in a big way.  I really appreciate that support.


Some individuals have expressed that I should not have had to make the appeal for financial support that I did.  Some of those people expressed that membership fees should pay more of those costs and the UAS should make more effort to make more people members.  To that end, non-driver memberships have been voted in and those fees will be dedicated to Grand National operating costs in the future.  That coupled with the scheduled dues increase, and an expected increase in membership from the Western states will be a big help.  The members are the ones who benefit from the Grand National, when it is viewed as their recreational activity so I do believe they should help pay for it but I also don’t think that it is inappropriate to ask for financial support from donors.  I see no difference between that and soliciting businesses for sponsorship.


There are many promotional benefits to booking the Grand National more than a year in advance.  What most people do not know is that I started making initial arrangements for a 2013 Grand National almost a month before the 2012 Grand National.  I wrote a letter to the track management that stated that there were many promotional advantages for the track and the UAS to having the 2013 race there again.  I wrote that Lasoski would be awarded the event again if they agreed to pay most of the expenses that the UAS was obligated to in2012 if they wanted the event in 2013.  I also made it a condition that the track would make more effort to promote the event to spectators so that they could make more of their profit from spectators rather than ther racers who are working to put on the show.  While the racers were packing up to go home, track owner Bruce Lile asked me, “Well, are you coming back next year,” I read that as he saw first-hand the possibilities the UAS presents and agrees to the terms. 


The only major deficiency to the 2012 Grand National was in the number of spectators.  With the Speedway sitting right next door to the Johnson County Fairgrounds there are a number of promotional possibilities.  On the way home from the race I stopped at a local convenience store and picked up a copy of every local newspaper that was available.  The day after I got home I sent each one of them a press release about the event.  I also sent that release to a number of other outlets.  If the reader is interested he should be able to find the article on e-kartingnews.com.  Some reading this will scoff at the notion of spectators coming to a kart track just to watch.  I agree that no one wants to watch 20 classes of almost identical karts based on flathead, clone and animal engines, but no one can resist watching when the UAS karts get fired up.  I am convinced that we just need to do a better job of getting the word out about our big races.  Even for those racers who may not have liked the outcomes of all three of the grand nationals that we have had, they have all been fantastic shows that even a casual race fan would thoroughly enjoy.


From time to time it comes up in conversations and forums that all the UAS needs is a big dollar title sponsor.  I don’t think that would solve any problems but I do believe it would present many possibilities.  It is important for the development and survival of the UAS that our program can thrive on its own without depending on outside help.  That is important for maintaining the integrity of the program if the sponsor wanted to use its leverage to change the direction of the organization, and it’s vital for the survival of the program if the sponsor were to pull out.


With that said, a title sponsor would make a lot of promotional things possible that we would have a hard time doing without.  One year, quite a while ago, an advertising executive was hired by the regional McDonalds chain in the area where I live.  One of our members and myself had helped this guy out quite a bit and got him out of some serious jams when he was working with the Arthritis Foundation, his former employer, when they were operating their Mini-Grand Prix.  He managed to convince his boss to give the UAS a shot.  I learned an important lesson from that sponsorship.  As racers, we got greedy and used way more than half of the money to boost our purses.  As it turned out, the next year we were not even considered again because we did not use enough of those funds to promote McDonalds and as a result we also lost a golden opportunity to promote our own program.  If the UAS was to secure such a sponsor again, I would make every effort to make sure the bulk of those funds went to promoting the sponsor and the UAS jointly by using the bulk of the funds to advertise on mass media, TV, radio and print if possible.


So how does using the title sponsors funds for advertising UAS events to the general public do anything for the average UAS racer?  What it does is bring the UAS to the attention of many people and that interest even more to become sponsors.   It allows racers a real opportunity to secure real financial help for their own racing effort since they will be competing at venues where people will see their billboard flashing past.  One of the goals of American Muscle is to develop some celebrity status among UAS racers to help them with their sponsor search.
So are we there yet?  I guess that answer depends on where you think the UAS should be going.  For some, especially those who are only interested in racing as a hobby at the regional level, we’ve been there for a long time.  For those who are content that we have an established national program, they may also agree that we have arrived.  For those that want a national type event but at the divisional level, well we are almost there since it would not be hard to implement that as I suggested above with perhaps some tweaking by those interested in doing so.  As for me, the answer is both yes and no.  Yes, because we have succeeded at meeting, even surpassing the original goals.  Even the goal of putting the UAS in front of large crowds, like at the stock car tracks many years ago and more recently at the Big Show and Kart Show not to mention a few events that some regions have put on at county fairs.  I could also answer no to that question.  Since this all started I have acquired at least one more goal; to get thousands of paying spectators to come to see the UAS Grand National and even some of our other major events.  It is not good enough for me that they come because a UAS race is part of another show that would draw a crowd anyway.  My goal is to make the Grand National a major attraction for spectators.  I know some may say that I’m dreaming and that my goal is unrealistic.  I can live with that. I remember well when people told me that it was not possible to have karts with 2-cycle engines race with karts with 4-cycle engines; that it would necessarily be a crash fest, as though the karts didn’t have a driver that was controlling the kart.  That was disproved by the UAS years ago.  But what do you think, “Are we there yet?”