Story written by Marshall Watson - Son of TKC Life Members Kate & Neville Bannah- Reflecting on karting career spanning 25 years+ which all started at the Townsville Kart Club.

As I clean my kart for the last time before it gets sold off I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what has been a huge part of the last 25 plus years of my life.

I was first introduced to karting by my step dad ‘Nev’. As a 10 year old I would help him prep his kart in the lounge room (yes lounge room... I’m not sure how he convinced the old girl this was a normal thing to do) ahead of the monthly race meetings. He would put the kart in the back of the old red ute and off to the track we would go. I would spend the day helping him out and just being an annoying kid. The highlight of my day would be hitting as many as I could unexpecting victims with as many of the thousands of tyres that we use to mark the track with every meeting. When ‘big’ meetings would come around we would head down to the drag strip and load up a grandstand on the back of the ute and us kids would get to sit on it as they transported back to our end - safely of course... I use to watch every race and just admire the skill and speed everyone had. I was in awe.

It wasn’t long before I had my first go in a kart. It was Matty Mullers kart and someone thought it would be good idea to take me up the drag strip end so I would be out of harms way... I still remember to this day how nervous I was putting on the race suit and helmet. I was pushed off and on my way. I really thought I was giving this thing a red hot crack and flying along until a few of my buddies ran past me I was going that slow!!! Me being me I thought I’d show them so I planted my foot as hard as I could. I had the speed bit sorted now but soon realized I was running out of bitumen and let’s just say my turning skills weren’t that great. I ploughed straight into the drag strip wall and to a stop. I cried flat out. I don’t know if it was because I was in shock or if I’d realized I’d got my ambitions mixed up with my capabilities. That was the last time I got in a kart for several years, my confidence was shot.

A few years on and a man by the name of Tony Houghton came into my life. Tony had spent his life building and racing formula fords in his homeland of England before coming out to Australia and playing a big part in getting the category off the ground. Old Ton use to ask me why I didn’t race and my answer would always be I wasn’t good enough. This wasn’t good enough for him and he convinced me to jump back in a kart and give it another go. After that day we would go to the track for hours on end as much as we could to practice. I didn’t want to race until I was atleast good enough to not get lapped...Tony was a remarkable man. He taught me about race craft. He use to tell me anyone could be quick in a kart but it’s the ones with race craft that would always prevail. I owe old Ton a lot for everything he done for me and still think about him all the time.

When I was 14 Nev told me to jump in the ute we’re going for a drive. Down the dirt road (which is now Shaw Road) we went and pulled up alongside the gate to the kart track at the end of the drag strip. But this day he didn’t get me to unlock the gate as usual instead we headed across the road and ventured into the scrub. As we got further and further in Nev started to tell me how he was going to build a new kart track right here where we stood. Anyone that knows Nev well will understand he is always full of grand ideas and I dead set thought this bloke is proper dreaming... Over the following 18 months or so the project gained momentum and before we knew it me and Nev where drawing a racetrack design on our kitchen table. We spent every single day at that place while it was getting built. From clearing the land with chainsaws and lighting a ridiculous big bon fire that burnt for weeks until the day we held our first race meeting at the track. There was some remarkable people in the club back then from all walks of life that contributed to making it a world class facility. The efforts they all put in where enormous. Bud Hankin was instrumental in the construction of the race track. Bud in his old Cat 12H grader did all the earth works pretty much single handedly. The first left hander is the maximum turning circle of a 12H grader - random fact... Bitumen was finally laid (twice - they stuffed the first time up) and all of a sudden the dream became a reality. The rest of the infrastructure was built and we where ready for our first race meeting.

The club has held many state titles over the years but the pinnacle was the 2009 Australian Title. It was Mum and Nev’s dream to be able to hold this event in Townsville and when it got awarded to the club it was a massive moment in our household.

When the event rolled around it was like the circus had come to town. All the big dogs where there. The best of the best from all over the country. Personally I was excited but nervous as hell. I Qualified up the front but come the pre final on Saturday it bucketed down as we rolled out the gate. I’m no guru in the wet let alone on slick tyres and I managed to not spin myself off into the woodchip and finished in 11th. Fast forward to Sunday morning I was disappointed but still thought I could give this thing a good shake. After 35 lead up nervous cigarettes we made our way to the grid where I just sat there and thought about everyone that had ever helped me get to that point. Old Ton, Bev and the boys, Ken Harris, Hainsey, Mum and Nev, my sisters just to name a few. There was many.. To come across that finish line in 1st was the biggest relief and personal achievement I’ve ever had. Before that day there was only a small handful of Australian champions to come out of Townsville and I’d joined that elite group. Very few if any have gone on to do it since then. To be able to give that result to my parents for all the work they did over the years was amazingly rewarding. They too where now Australian champions. The trophy still sits pride of place at Wulguru.

The thing I learnt most about karting isn’t the actual results. It’s about making memories. No one remembers or cares who won the July club meeting in 10 years time. But what you do remember is the fun times you had off the track. The stories that where created whilst traveling, the random places we would stay at, the big nights out after the racing was done and dusted. There the memories that stay with you a life time. Karting is just a platform for making life long memories and friendships.

I owe karting a lot for the person I am today. It has taught me a lot of life lessons that I carry through my everyday life. There is no better family sport in my opinion. The time spent in cars getting to and from race tracks around the country, the endless hours in the shed getting prepared for a race meeting help you form a bond like no other sport. Yes there is politics and all the other crap that goes with it but hey what other sport doesn’t have that...

Karting has changed over the years whether it be for the better or worse but only time will tell. For those involved today and especially the TKC members I wish you all the best. Looks like you have a bit of a fight on your hands with the developers but let’s hope common sense prevails and the Townsville Kart Club can again grow back to the once power house it was.

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