Unsung heroes of the track
On the face of it, the role of team mechanic might not seem the most glamorous or gratifying job in karting.
Hours spent leaning over engines, grease under the nails, performing check after check after check, not to mention the inevitable finger pointing that occurs when the kart breaks down on the track.
It is the drivers who rightly enjoy the limelight, with their celebratory doughnuts and champagne celebrations, but few would contend that the exploits of the tuners behind the scenes are just as important to any chequered-flag triumph.
Just ask Jordan Fletcher, Anthony Gachalian and Antoine Smith, three of the vital cogs in the Bermuda Karting Club machinery.
The three mechanics balk at suggestions that they are the “unsung heroes” of the sport, but it is likely their respective drivers David Selley, Scott Barnes and Richard Walker-Talbot would argue otherwise.
Smith, of Team Intrepid, takes great pride in being the mechanic of Barnes, the island’s top driver, and says he savours title victories just as much as any driver.
“I was approached by my brother Andre Durham — he helps out with Scott — and I’ve been hooked ever since,” says Smith, who has been involved in karting for 2½ years.
Race days can become quite hectic for Smith, who maintains Barnes’s three karts in the L206 Seniors, TAG Seniors and Shifters, as well as Jacob Hines’s Cadet Class vehicle.
“I’m busy and my head’s always down!” Smith says. “You never know what’s going to happen. Scott gets out there and has a little tangle and I’ve got to fix this and that or make adjustments to the kart’s handling.
“The drivers count on us and put their trust in us. Sometimes we bump heads, but it’s all part of racing. When something goes wrong your heart sinks. Sometimes you have your bad days; that’s how it goes.”
Fletcher has been tinkering with engines since childhood and has known driver David Selley for just as long.
“David is like my brother; we fight on a good day!” says Fletcher, who also races power boats and motorcycles. “It’s not really fighting; it’s more of a case of having a different outlook on things.”
With a set amount of time allocated between races for repairs and adjustments, Fletcher admits race days at the Rubis Southside Raceway can be stressful and exhilarating for mechanics.
“When the next race comes around, the kart needs to be ready or you’re missing the race,” he says. “No one is going to wait for you; the clock is ticking. There’s no holding on, ‘Oh no, wait for me’.
“You have 15 to 20 minutes between the heats to change sprockets, change the tyre pressure, do whatever you need to do.”
Fletcher says it helps having a close friendship with Selley, with driver and mechanic both willing to take risks in pursuit of glory.
“Sometimes the driver will say, ‘Look, the kart’s loose, it’s misfiring and not running exactly how you say it should be running’,” says Fletcher, who spends his entire Saturday before race day tinkering with Selley’s kart.
“I’ll say, ‘OK, let’s try this. A quarter of an inch here, an eighth of an inch there can make a whole world of difference.”
Although karting is notoriously expensive, Fletcher says drivers rarely worry about the costs of repairs. It is simply not in their DNA.
“Drivers are only cautious until the flag drops,” he adds. “If you’re thinking about wrecking your kart then you’re not winning.
“You’ve got to go out and drive it balls to the wall. Seeing them win makes you feel like you’ve won. You’re just as happy as the driver.”
Gachalian might lack Smith and Fletcher’s experience but he has proven a quick learner since teaming up with Richard Walker-Talbot as part of Walk Tall Racing.
Before the pair bonded over their shared passion for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One team, Walker-Talbot had worked on his own engine.
“This season, I was able to connect with Richard and we hit it off,” said Gachalian, who is from the Philippines.
“Having someone else step in to help out means Richard’s focus is now mainly on racing rather than keeping his kart up to par.
“I’m far from the level of Jordan and Antoine, so for Richard and me it’s a different story. We’re both learning from each other and we’re a new team. I think it has helped him a lot.”
Trust is key to the relationship between driver and mechanic, according to Gachalian, who is relishing his first season as part of the BKC family.
“A racer can win by having confidence in the kart,” he says, “and by putting confidence in his kart, he is putting confidence in us, the mechanic.”
Take Our Poll