When someone mentions the World Karting Association, one of the first names that come to mind is Randy Kugler. The former president was the face of the kart sanctioning body for over 13 years and a part of the organization since its inception in 1971. Born and raised in Eastern Ohio, the recently celebrated 55-year old has been involved in karting for nearly every one of those years. Working now as a director of customer relations for a company in the Cleveland area, Kugler has settled down outside the sport but remains connected as of late with his recent gigs as broadcaster for the Championship Karting International online coverage. EKN recently had a chance to sit Kugler down for a few questions for our latest One-on-One segment.
eKartingNews.com: First off, thanks for sitting down to talk with us. To begin, I want to go back to the beginning of 2008. In January of that year, you stepped down as President of the World Karting Association, what honestly led to that decision?
Randy Kugler: Simply put, I came to the conclusion it was time for a change. For most of my tenure at the WKA, I set a vision and followed it as best I could with tremendous support from my office team in Charlotte. The last couple of years, the WKA faced challenges like never before. Tire prep, transitioning from the Raptor engine to the overhead valve, and an economy that had begun to take a downward turn, just to name a few. The organization was struggling and my vision began to drift apart from the vision of some of the WKA Board of Trustees. At the time, the WKA wasn't strong enough to have an internal battle. It was time to do the right thing. I resigned and handed the reins over to a new team; President Rick Dresang, Vice-President Kevin Williams and Executive Director Van Gilder. Current Secretary Angelo Buffomante and Treasurer Missy Nelson-Tate remained.
I can truly say that I left feeling that I did the best thing for the WKA, myself and my family. It was time for me to take a step back and re-evaluate what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Since that time and through the hard work of the the solid team that remains in Charlotte, along with the Executive Committee and Board of Trustees, WKA has bounced back and seems to be doing just fine. No one is any happier about that than I am. WKA has played a huge part in my life and I want it to always be successful.
EKN: What were the first two weeks out of the WKA office like for you?
RK: It was certainly strange knowing that we were coming back to Daytona after a year off (December 2007) and I wasn't going to be there. WKA had a couple of very special people working for them that stepped up to the plate, Sissy Mendenhall and Buddy Long. Assembling a great support team and with the help of WKA's new leadership, Daytona KartWeek was a huge success. That made me very proud.
I spent that week in New Orleans on vacation with my wife and her parents. Her father was battling cancer and it turned out to be the last trip he took before he passed away three months later. Upon my return from vacation, I received a phone call from a close friend who had a job interview for me. The rest is history. I was hired by a local company involved in construction and continue to work there in their sales department.
Simply put, the first two weeks I was away from WKA I was very fortunate. I stayed busy.
Former WKA President Randy Kugler
EKN: What has been the thing you missed the most, within WKA or karting in general, since leaving your position as President?
RK: Without question, it's the people. Karting is full of some of the most wonderful and genuine people you will find anywhere. And I mean on both sides of the fence. Whether it is competitors, crew, officials, or promoters, I have truly enjoyed some great friendships. With my current involvement with the Championship Karting International events, I have had the opportunity to renew some of those friendships and it has meant a lot to me.
I miss the sense of pride I felt after a successful event when I see the smiles on the faces of Buddy, Sissy, and Marie and all of the WKA team. I am so proud of their continued accomplishments. I miss my good friends Kenny Venberg and Angelo Buffomante, who were with me for 20+ years every step of the way for support. Fortunately, I still remain close to both of them, although our paths don't cross nearly as often.
I think of the strength and faith that Carol Gettys instilled in me for so many years. I am happy to say we still stay in touch but our visits aren't nearly as frequent. More recently, Todd Shaw of OnTrack Ministries reminded me of what truly is important as we enjoy racing while maintaining our faith in God. Yea, I sure miss that.
I miss all of the people that have such a huge impact on my life. From my days as a racer in the 60's and 70's to serving as President of WKA for 13 years up to 2008. I learned so much from so many. I was very lucky. One of the first things my father taught me was to listen. It is the only way to learn. He was so right.
I hope as the years go by I'll have the opportunity to visit some of those old friends again that I haven't seen for so long. I think it might be good for both of us!
EKN: You spent 13 years as President of the sanctioning body, however, you were part of the organization for many more prior to your reign as the top guy. As you just mentioned, you were a racer as well. When and how did you get into the sport?
RK: Back in the late 1950's, my brother was sneaking off on the weekends to race something called a "track rabbit" (one of the early names for a Go Kart). My Dad got wind of it and wasn't too happy. He told my brother that if he was going to race, he was going to be there with him. My Dad partnered with another guy and built a dirt road course in our home town of Gnadenhutten, Ohio. One Sunday afternoon, there was a big argument. My Dad's partner wanted him out. My Dad said “no problem”; he would build his own track. His partner laughed at him. The very next year (I believe 1962) Linden Valley Raceway was formed. The dirt track was closed shortly thereafter. I began racing quarter midgets that first year. In 1963, I raced my first kart. It was a Rupp Grand Prix with a Mac 9 on it. My Dad made me start in the rear of the Junior class for every race until I won my first race later that season. It was truly the best driving lesson I could have been given. Working my way through traffic was always a blast.
I remember a couple of incidents that will always stick with me. In one of my first races I was running last, well off the pace. A driver in front of me spun out. As I approached him, he was waiting for me to pass so he could enter back onto the track. I slowed down (showing what I thought was good race track etiquette) and motioned him back on to the track in front of me. When the race was over and I returned to the pits everyone was laughing. Well, almost everybody. My Dad was a little upset to say the least. Apparently, I learned that I needed to be a little more aggressive.
The other incident involved me out on the track practicing. I remember focusing on my driving and not on the signals my Dad was giving me. For several laps, he apparently was signaling me to come in. I never saw it but just kept driving the kart as fast as I could and never looking at him. Finally, he stood out onto the track and signaled. I came in. He was furious! Needless to say I never missed another signal.
My favorite year had to be 1969. I was running Reed Jr. racing for George Damanic. I won the IKF Winter Olympics in Barnesville, GA and finished 3rd at the IKF Nationals in Camden, Ohio. This was at a time when Reed Jr. would easily have 50-60 drivers from all over the country. It was a stock 100cc McCullough class and very competitive. In Barnesville, I passed Randy Fulks (road racing legend) in traffic to take the win. At the Camden race, I finished ahead of Kyle Adkins (WKA Hall of Fame inductee). Just in case anyone doubts me at this point I still have the IKF Karter News magazine to prove it (laughing). I retired from racing in the early 80's. I did race a Sprint Sit Up for Chuck West in 1988 at Charlotte. That was my last competitive race.
Kugler began his association with WKA as a racer first, seen here on the cover of the World Karting magazine in 1979
EKN: Those father/son moments and being at the race track with the family truly is what karting has been about for most Americans since the creation of the sport. Would you agree?
RK: Absolutely. The most important job anyone will ever have is to raise their children. Karting is a great way to do that job. Karting teaches families to win graciously and to lose with their heads held high. It teaches young people to look ahead after a bad weekend and focus on the future, not to dwell on the past. It teaches team work and the team is the family.
One of my favorite stories is the first time I ever raced without my Dad being there. I was about 13 years old and my Dad was taking a hunting trip to Canada. It was up to me if I wanted to race or not. My mom would still be there, but my Dad would not. I said I definitely wanted to race. I mean come on, what is the worst that could happen?
Well, I was coming off a corner in the middle of the pack and hit a kart head on that had spun out. It shot me out of the kart and on to the track. The throttle stuck on my kart took off up the race track and into the woods. When my friends found my kart it was leveled. It had bashed head-on into a tree. I think the highest part of the kart was about 10 inches high (and that included the seat).
I was scraped up a little bit but other than that I was fine. And then it dawned on me. Someone had to tell my Dad. I went to my Mom because she had always bailed me out before. I pleaded with her to tell Dad as it wasn't my fault. Her reply was very clear, "No, you are going to have to tell your father. You got yourself into this and now you need to get yourself out."
My Dad came home a couple days later. Little did I know Mom had already explained the whole thing to him. When I saw him I took a deep breath and said I needed to show him something. We went down to the shop and I showed him the carnage. He asked me what happened. I explained everything and said it wasn't my fault. I will never forget what he told me next. He said you cannot drive looking under your nose. You have to always look ahead. Be prepared for what's coming not what has already happened. My outlook on life changed that day. I have followed that philosophy ever since. You can't change the past. You can only learn from it. Look ahead and be prepared. It's the best road to success.
EKN: Before we look ahead into the future of the sport, let’s get into your past as WKA President. What is the one thing you wish you could go back and change?
RK: The first thing that comes to mind is the attention given to local programs. Clubs and promoters are at the base of the sport. If they ever go away, the sport will die within a couple years. The karting organizations (and I include myself in this) get so caught up in the high-end events that we forget the most important part. The first level feeds the entire sport. Clubs like Badger, OVKA, So-Cal Sprinters, Woodbridge Kart Club and the Dart Kart Club are just an example of kart clubs that support karting growth.
Although few dirt tracks have clubs, there are many strong promoters out there that support karting through their efforts at their dirt track. Dirt tracks like Margaretsville, Capital City, Jasper, Volusia County, are examples of promoters who work hard at growing the sport.
I think all sanctioning bodies fall short when it comes to assisting clubs and promoters on how to be more successful. If I could change it, I would focus on getting closer to those clubs and promoters. I would try and develop a network where we could share ideas and learn more about promoting to the community. Strengthening the local element of karting will make the regional and national programs stronger. Focusing on the regional and national programs does not necessarily make the local programs stronger.
Kugler has returned to the sport to offer his color commentary for the recent CKI SpeedCastTV broadcasts
(Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)
EKN: What do you think has been a key factor for some of these local clubs, now reaching their 40th or 50th year of existence, in their longevity?
RK: Strong and consistent leadership - people who are in it for the good of the sport and the club. Three people come to mind right away. Shirley Howard at the Badger Kart Club never made a living from karting, but she did make a life of it. Her dedication is a prime example of what it takes for a strong kart club. You need people that are willing to pitch in for the best interest of the club not themselves. You can trace the history of kart clubs throughout the years. It is very clear. Strong and fair leadership has always translated to a successful growing club. People who get involved for the wrong reasons only hurt the process.
The Ohio Valley Karting Association has been hosting events at Camden, Ohio since the 1960's. The one common denominator is the Gregg family. Specifically, Gary Gregg has always provided the club with a great facility and sound advice. That combination works.
More recently, look at the New Castle Motorsports Park. Mark Dismore and his staff have created a kart club and given it their support. The result is the K.R.A. They conduct huge club events at New Castle on a regular basis. The combination works.
Like any business, the kart club has to make decisions that are logical and for the best of the club as a whole. When special interests get involved it causes dissension, lost entries, and infighting. Any one of those things can cause a club to suffer and sometimes never recover.
EKN: On the positive side, what is the one thing you were extremely glad you had a part in during your tenure?
RK: I'm glad to have worked beside so many great people. The racers, the series staff at WKA, and the office staff in Charlotte. It was a wonderful and rewarding experience. Through it all three people come to mind who make me the most proud. Marie Borsuk, Sissy Howard Mendenhall, and Buddy Long lived and breathed the WKA brand and its members all across the country with me for many years. From California to Massachusetts, to Florida and so many places in between, I traveled with them. In their own way each of them helped create the face of WKA. Nights with a couple hours sleep, battles in the trenches with angry parents, and resolving issues with track owners and promoters were not uncommon as we grew the WKA brand. These three individuals along with a massive support team still represent WKA and its membership. To think I might have had a little something to do with their growth, maturity, and expertise makes me very proud and very glad I had that opportunity.
EKN: How much have you kept in tune with what’s going on at the WKA Charlotte office and what do you think of the job done by the current administration?
RK: As time has passed, I have become disconnected with the day-to-day operations of the WKA. Watching from a distance, it appears that they are doing a great job considering today's economic climate. They are facing challenges that I never faced. High gas prices, job losses in so many parts of the country, home foreclosures, all of these things can push karting to the back burner for many families.
The current administration has my full gratitude and respect for taking over the leadership of WKA at a very difficult time. It allowed me the opportunity to step away while feeling I left the organization in good hands.
EKN: Playing a little ‘Monday Morning’ quarterback, what would you like the new administration to tackle that you may feel is not being address at this time?
RK: This causes me to go back to a question earlier in the interview when we discussed what I would have done differently. Helping local clubs and promoters is an area that I tried to improve on as President of WKA but fell short. I think it remains an area that needs a lot more attention by all organizations, including WKA. Trees grow from the bottom not the top. Karting will flourish with a healthy entry level program, but it will die if it is neglected. Karting organizations should focus on:
- Teaching clubs and promoters how to run a profitable race track
- Teaching them to promote their track locally to increase public awareness and create more racers
- Teaching them how to play well with others. In other words, work with other tracks in the area to schedule around each other, not on top of each other
- Guide them in offering a class structure that helps all of their members, not just a few.
This could be accomplished with workshops and seminars, where experts in the racing industry could counsel the clubs and promoters. This is done regularly for the Short Track community through the RPM workshops.
In summary, help the first level (kart clubs and track promoters) be more successful. That will grow the sport and develop loyalty to the organizations.
EKN: Having come back to do some play-by-play for Speedcast TV and RaceFanRadio in the past few months, what does if feel like to come back to the track once again?
RK: It has been awesome! Seeing a lot of my old friends again has meant the world to me. A prime example is when I was at the (Championship Karting International) Fontana race; I hooked up with my old friend Steve Nieto. I went out to dinner with him and his son and had a blast. It really means a lot to be back at the track. Working with Rob Howden (eKartingNews.com Publisher) these last two races has really caused me to step up my program. Rob is a great announcer and his knowledge of the drivers and their identity on the track is phenomenal. I am also able to watch the race from a completely different viewpoint. It has given me a new perspective on the sport and the entertainment on the track.
I have always loved announcing and getting to be part of history with the live web casts put on by SpeedcastTV and CKI have been a real thrill. While we are at it I'll put in a shameless plug. I am available for other announcing gigs for anyone out there needing some help.
EKN: Randy, it’s obvious that you’re enjoying this return to the sport, albeit in a different role. To wrap things up, how would you like to see the future unfold for Randy Kugler, both in the short term and the long-term?
RK: I love what I am doing now. I have always enjoyed announcing races. It's fun to bring more excitement to a karting event. It's good for the people watching and it's the gratification the drivers deserve. I certainly hope I can continue working with the CKI group. Long-term I would really like to expand on what I am doing and cover other karting events when the opportunity presents itself. I had the opportunity of getting to know Kevin Williams’ father David Williams a few years ago. He is a great lover of the sport and a tremendous announcer. It spills over into what he conveys on the microphone. I think he is a prime example of someone who truly enjoys his work. I feel the same way. It comes easy to me and hopefully I add to the events I am involved in. Motorsports has always been my passion. I hope I can spend more time enjoying that passion as the years roll on. I'm not over the hill yet but I can see the top!
EKN: Randy, thank you for taking the time to speak with us and we’re happy to see you back at the kart track.
RK: It’s great to be back. I appreciate you and Rob giving me this opportunity. I have had some wonderful experiences in karting which created some lasting memories. I look forward to what the future holds!