Article By: Dan Pellizzari
Syd White, one of the most respected men in all of karting, passed away in late August. He was a husband, a father, and the backbone of 4-Cycle Sprint racing. Syd’s forward-thinking approach helped transform karting into the sport it is today. Syd was a true pioneer, using his leadership roles as National 4-Cycle Tech Director, Rulebook Editor, International Kart Federation (IKF) President, and National Board Member to develop the most recognized set of standards in all of karting, the IKF’s rulebook. He championed the phrase "Spirit and Intent," which is found at the beginning of each section in the rule book, and testifies to his wish that the playing field be as level as possible.
Tom Agan of Hollister, California, said it best: “We’ve lost a good man and a good friend.” The Agan family is one of many who were involved with racing at the national level, in part because of Syd’s generosity and guidance.
Syd approached matters with an old-fashioned common sense that few could challenge. For many years I enjoyed discussions with Syd; often I was treated to life lessons that had little to do with the sport of karting, and always came away with a clearer understanding of what Syd was all about. One such exchange occurred just prior to the 2009 IKF Grand Nationals in Oregon. We had found a way to improve horsepower, and I mentioned the potential for gain to Syd a few days before the event. He quickly responded, “I’ll disqualify you.” I pointed out that the rulebook did not prevent us from using this performance advantage. His response: “Unless you make that available to all racers, you can’t use it. I’ll invoke the Spirit and Intent rule.” I didn’t agree, but completely respected his answer in regards to Spirit and Intent.
Syd and his wife Janet got involved with karting more than 25 years ago. Their presence in karting has been constant. Through the 2011 4-Cycle Grand Nationals in Redding, California, Syd played a vital role in it’s development. Syd started out driving, then became fascinated by the technical aspects of the sport. Mike Bishop, Kermit Buller, and Rick Sturgeon each mentored Syd on his way to becoming a national tech authority and first-class motor builder. He was always grateful for their help as he got ever more involved in the sport.
A favorite story he loved to tell took place at the Jackson County Sports Park in Medford, Oregon. Syd was working in tech, responsible for compliance at the 4-Cycle Sprint Grand Nationals. A “skinny kid” out of Bakersfield, California, had just won the championship. Immediately after the tech inspection was completed on the motor, Syd walked over to shake the young man’s hand. Syd said, “Kevin Harvick just smiled, shook my hand, and respectfully said thank you.” Syd was a fan from that moment forward. After Harvick won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona in July 2010, Syd sent me a photo of himself wearing his autographed #29 hat and a wide smile. It was a very special moment for him.
Many from the karting community have stepped forward to share remembrances of Syd.
Terry Lawrence, Cody Hodgson, Tristen Orear, Alex Schutte, and Chris Scribner are only a few of the many that earned Duffys, with one of Syd White's engines on their karts. Alex said, “Syd had a passion for the sport and through my experiences with him, he always enjoyed helping others in the karting community.” Terry added, “Syd was a very loyal man to karting. He was a great sponsor to me over the years.”
David Klaus, Director of Briggs & Stratton Racing in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, entrusted Syd over the years to test and refine engine parts, contributing to the development of successive generations of racing motors. Briggs Racing considered Syd part of their family, sharing privileged information and counting on his straight talk and no-nonsense approach to decision making. David held Syd in the highest regard, saying, “…I'm grateful to have called [Syd] a friend and to have had [him] in my life. [Syd’s] love for karting was infectious and the effort [he] put towards making our sport better, fairer, and more cost-effective is the moral compass [he] shared with so many. At times we disagreed but I knew why and [Syd was] always right. [He] will be missed. [Syd’s] body of work lives on in me, and in everyone lucky enough to have had the good fortune of knowing [him], and the sport we all share a love for...The bottom line is Syd worked to make sure to provide an environment for families to come together. It was important to him. He was all about family and he considered karting, and the those involved, as family.”
After Syd’s tenure with the IKF, Terry Nash assumed the leadership role as the IKF’s current 4-Cycle Tech Director. He works hard to maintain the high standards already in place. Nash had high praise for Syd as well, saying, “Working with Syd White for the past 15 years in the area of 4-Cycle tech was a real privilege. His attention to detail and concern for the karter are reflected in the set of rules that the IKF has today. Syd was always the compass in the tech barn. Compassion was not lost in strict adherence to the rules. This is what I strive for in doing today’s tech.”
Joey Hand, accomplished kart racer and current ALMS series driver of the No. 56 BMW Team RLL M3 GT, told a wonderful story that exemplifies Syd's generous nature:
My big adventure with Syd came at the 4-Cycle Nationals in Riverside, California, in 1996 or 1997. I was there just helping my wife as she raced 4-Cycle and I did not. I did bring my driving gear though as I always did and do! It was very hot that week and they moved the races to the evening under the lights. After some practice in the dark, Syd, who was also racing there on his Emmick with a Star engine, did not think he could see well enough to drive. He came over to Natalie's pit and asked if I would like to race his kart. We padded the seat on top, on one side, and on the bottom on the other so I sat in there kind of sideways. Syd always had lots of power in his Star engines, so right from the first session I was pretty quick. When it was all said and done I was leading the final heat that would have won the Nationals, but had a rear tire de-bead. It was a great race and I was very thankful to Syd for giving me the chance to race his kart.
The Merrill family of Salinas, California developed a very close relationship with Syd and Janet over the years. Winning Duffys was secondary to their friendship. From Thomas Merrill: “His positive attitude was surpassed only by his willingness to help others. He built one of the best communities of karters that has ever been, largely because of his infectious joy for the sport.” Thomas’ father, Ross, added “Most of all, we respected Syd’s focused approach to the things that he enjoyed and the satisfaction that he derived from doing them well while helping others along the way. Syd will be missed.”
Indeed, he will.
There will be no public memorial for our friend. Instead, I know his wishes would be for all to go out and represent karting as it should be: compliant, ethical, and with a passion for fairness.