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‘Karting couldn’t run on testosterone alone’

Women’s movement: from left — Natalinha Walker, Hildegarde Thomas and Donna Barnes play valuable supporting roles behind the scenes at the Bermuda Karting Club

All eyes might be on the drivers hurtling their karts around the Rubis Southside Raceway on any given Sunday of the Bermuda Karting Club season.

It is the selfless volunteers, however, who are the vital cogs in the club’s machinery, with secretary Donna Barnes pointing out: “There’s a lot more than just testosterone down there!”

Barnes makes a valid point considering the important roles played by the club’s female contingent. And although karting remains a male-dominated domain — there are just two female drivers racing this season — it is the women, rather than the men, who appear to form the backbone of the club.

Barnes has been heavily involved behind the scenes since her son Scott, the island’s top driver, first jumped behind the wheel as a 12-year-old almost 22 years ago.

She has witnessed the club’s numbers slowly swell in recent years after a period of regression and is adamant the secret ingredient behind their resurgence is the family-orientated atmosphere generated by the members.

“There’s so much more to our club than just the drivers,” said Barnes, who has taken on the role of head flagger this season.

“Everyone pitches in to help out and it’s those behind the scenes who make the club — the people who don’t always get recognised.”

Barnes admits she still becomes a “nervous wreck” whenever Scott and Jacob Hines, her 11-year-old grandson, don their brightly coloured helmets and overalls every other Sunday.

“Even to this day, when Scott and Jacob get on the track my heart is just in my mouth,” she said “It’s worse when Scott races overseas and I’m not there with him. They have both had bad accidents; Jacob last season, and Scott when he was about 12 or 13. Both made ambulance trips. It’s nerve-racking. I’m very supportive, though. It makes them both happy.”

Hildegarde Thomas, whose daughter Jorja is a rising star in the Tag Junior class, has been the club’s head scorer for the past two seasons while her husband Huw is the grid master.

Jorja “eats, sleeps and dreams” karting, according to Thomas, who could not be more supportive of her teenage daughter’s need for speed.

“We live in a neighbourhood with racers in boats, bikes and karts,” she said. “I could see she was interested and thought karting would be safer than the powerboats. Right away [when she first raced] she was smiling ear to ear. She’s constantly on YouTube watching karting videos and even goes to the track every week during the off season.”

Thomas said she “sort of just fell into” her role as head scorer.

“I’ve always been heavily involved in the activities of my children,” she added. “I’m involved in church as well, where I run the Sunday School. For two years I said, ‘Well, I can’t give up church to go karting’, but after a while I thought, ‘You know what, I’ve got to do this for Jorja’.”

Another ever-present at the Southside track is Natalinha Walker-Talbot, whose husband Richard was inspired to take up karting after watching the inaugural Dockyard Grand Prix in 2013.

Even when pregnant with their daughter about two years ago, Walker-Talbot made her fortnightly pilgrimage from Somerset to St David’s for race day.

“I was due on a race day, but I was still there, scanning tyres and helping out,” said Walker-Talbot, who moved to Bermuda from New Jersey eight years ago.

“First thing in the morning we leave home with the baby, the high chair, the playpen ... I was nine months pregnant at the track and I guess from hearing the noise she came out going, ‘vroom, vroom’. She’s always messing with her dad’s tyres and wants to sit on the driver’s seat.”

Walker-Talbot considers the club as part of her extended Bermuda family and dreams of one day competing herself.

“I don’t mind the hours Richard spends outside working on his kart,” she said. “What I didn’t expect was how expensive it is. They don’t tell you that!

“If we could afford it, I would be racing, too. When we go away and race at the little indoor tracks, I’m right there with him. Sometimes I’m even in front!”