31 Jan Live Your Passion
The Story Behind GFC
It all started at a very tight and twisty kart circuit in Davis California where my Father (George Carlton) took me to a local kart race just to check it out. My family did not have any racing background of any kind but my Dad had always found himself around fast cars and motorcycles and was looking to get into some type of motorsports being I had no interest in other sports. I still can remember the first time I watched a shifter kart scream by on the Davis kart circuit straightaway and I instantly feel in love. I think it was only a couple weeks after we saw that event my Dad purchased me my first cadet kart and we started practicing at our local kart tracks.
It wasn’t an instant success story for me by any means. With zero racing experience in the family I found himself figuring out the ropes on my own. In my first year of competition I would be happy not if I wasn’t lapped by the front running drivers during the longer final races. My Dad would constantly ask me if he wanted to continue be I would come in last position in every single race. I still don’t know why but I kept on asking my Dad to continue and looking back I feel extremely fortunate he would always support me no matter my results.
The next season things started to click for me as I was able to stick with the main group of drivers. Being that I could actually keep pace I was able to learn the lines and techniques of the faster drivers and my speed grew greater by each passing event. By the middle of his second season I found himself running at the front of the pack challenging for podiums and even wins. Near the end of the season I finally took my first ever victory in the Cadet division and the seed was planted. My love for karting would come second to none and I would make more than just a hobby but my lifestyle.
Through out my younger years I would compete in many local and regional championships and I was lucky enough to rack up countless race wins and overall regional championships. But my big break would not come until I was 19 years old when I was picked up by the American kart manufacture Trackmagic out of San Francisco. Before I was picked up by Trackmagic. Getting factory ride was a huge deal to me and I made sure I made the most of the opportunity. I knew if I lived in the factory I would be able to work and test more. So I decided to live in one of the offices on a air mattress. Some people thought I was a little crazy being the factory was in the heart of the ghetto but I really didn’t care. I was determined to win the National Championship
It was the start of 2006 season we were in a serious position to make a run at the title. With a full season of development with Trackmagic behind me and armed with Swedetech Maxter power we had all the right pieces to the puzzle for what I considered my make or break season. In 2005 we took the whole season developing our new chassis. It was when I really started to understand chassis development. And development I mean more than just changing the settings available on the chassis but more about tubing characteristics, metal treatments, and engineering basics. And being I was the only official driver for the team at that time I obviously was doing all the testing which helped a huge amount because I was at the track at least 1-2 days a week. Now that I think of it the days with Trackmagic is where I was consistently driving the most and its the period where a developed the quickest as a complete driver. Then being teamed up with Maxter Engines and Swedetech I knew I also had a power plant that was second to none. We came to the second round of the Championship with high hopes but the night before the Final race we received terrible news that the owner/founder of Trackmagic Fausto Vitello had passed from a heart attack. It was a huge blow to me personally because Fausto was much more than a boss and I was completely devastated with the news. We took an emotional win the next day and the lead of the Championship. Even though I felt huge loss in my life I personally felt like no one could beat me.
Unfortunately weeks after Fausto’s death Trackmagic was shut down and I was without a job and without a ride while being so close to finally winning my first National Championship. I had a contract with Maxter Engines that I would race the whole year with their engines but with loosing my ride I really didn’t have any choice but to call them to explain my position. Luckily Maxter was owned by the Tinini Group (CRG) and they had an opening at Randy Neal’s PCH Motorsports Team to run with CRG chassis. I finished out the season with them and ended winning my first National Championship! Before I had never even really considered racing over in Europe but in the same year of 2006 Giancarlo Tinini (President of Tinini Group) and then CRG Team Boss Danilo Rossi came to the SKUSA SuperNationals to give their support to the PCH Motorsports Team where I happened to be racing. Under the watchful eyes of Tinini and Rossi I was fortunate enough to dominate the race in Vegas and earn myself a spot in the 2007 Official Winter Tests.
I remember all I could think when I arrived in La Conca Italy for the first time was, Wow! This is serious karting. All down to how the team operated, the track, and the level of the drivers was nothing like I had seen in America. I quickly found myself behind in everything from the language to out right speed on track. But by the end of the first day I was at pace with my teammates and even though I could not understand a single word of what my mechanic was saying judging by his facial expressions I was doing quite well. After a gruelling 5 days of testing I was pulled aside by team boss Danilo Rossi and he gave me the news that I had earned a spot on the Factory Team. To be honest it was one of the best moments of my career to have someone like Danilo tell me I had what it took and to ask me to be a part of one of the greatest Karting Teams in the World, CRG.
I was lucky enough to work with CRG both over in Europe and in the America with PCH and SSC East for many years accumulating many victories and Championships. It was great time in my career doing so much traveling and racing constantly both in America and Europe all the while helping CRG develop their shifter chassis. Working with such an important factory and team taught me more than I could ever dream of and to be able to be at the fore front of the latest technology in karting was such an honor. And eventually learning the Italian language was a huge plus!
After my years at CRG I was able to go on and work with many other great chassis and engine manufactures including Chiesa Corse, IAME, TB Kart, Modena Engines, DR Kart, Intrepid, IPK and TM Racing. Each team and manufacture gave me more experience and knowledge about all aspects of karting from developing products and even the business side of karting. I made many friends and contacts while living and working in Europe over the past 10 years and I knew that one day I would eventually have to stop driving and start a business of some sort in the World of Karting.
At the end of 2017 season I decided that I didn’t have the same passion for driving like I once had and I decided to pursue my dream of developing my own team and even my own chassis line. I moved back home to California and with only a tool box and a stop watch I started Team GFC. I started doing couching with a few drivers at the beginning of the 2018 season all the while saving everything I could to start setting up a small shop that would accommodate a small race team. By the end of February I had contacted a few different kart manufactures in Italy to produce my first prototype chassis that I had been designing over the winter. Luckily it did not take more than the month of Feburary for things to go from paper to actual finished prototypes being shipped to my shop. By March of 2018 I had built a fully functioning race shop with all the tools necessary and I hadreceived my first shipment of prototype chassis.
My next step was to find a race support style vehicle. This would turn out to be a bit of nightmare as I felt a sprinter van was my best option to start out small but efficient. I located a used on all the way down in Arizona so I flew down and purchased the van. I was really excited about it because it was the last piece to the puzzle that I needed to start my on track development with my chassis. Unfortunately just 10 days after I purchased the van I was rear ended on the highway so violently that it completely destroyed the van. After dealing with the body shops and insurance claims the van was deemed a total loss. It was tough loss being I had been searching for that type of van for months and to lose it only 10 days after I purchased it was tough pill to shallow.
So I had to get creative about my testing program and devised a way to fit everything into a pick up truck while I searched for a new van. I have to say loading two complete shifter chassis into a pick up truck all by yourself is very challenging but it can be done. And with that I stared my testing program. Any day I wasn’t couching or working as a mechanic at National races I was either in my shop modifying the chassis I had or at the track testing. By the middle of May I had already designed and received my second round of prototype chassis while still working with various drivers as a couch to help fund my development expenses. By the end of July and had come to a decision on my designs and part manufactures that I would go with and then the ordering process started. It was a very busy time because I was putting together a huge order of parts and karts from various vendors, working on our livery design, finally purchasing a new van along with getting in retro fitted to store and carry chassis and parts, building a price list, working on logos, all along with servicing my customers that I had from the beginning on the year. During this whole time I was giving out teasers on social media and the response was great seeing how many people were interested in trying to figure out what I was up to.
I received my first shipment of karts and part in mid August and it was a mad dash to get a chassis built and get photos taken so we could launch it on social media. It wasn’t the best kept secret being many people had seen me out on track with unpainted frames and even some of the bits on the kart with the GFC logo already present but the majority had never seen the finished product and with our graphics. We launched the GFC brand on August 21st wih my good friends at Kart360 over social media and to be honest the overall response was overwhelming. The amount of people that liked the color scheme and graphics was really cool. I wanted something different than the normal bright neon color scheme everyone has seemed to gravitate to as of late. I’ve always been a fan of white and my Father was always a huge fan on black. Then I came up with the split design with idea of being able to spot our karts over the others more easily and be a little different than the other karts out there today. I was lucky to get hooked up with Worawong Komarakul from Thailand to help put my idea into a livery that I could have ever dreamed of and the karting community really appreciated.
So the start of September we finally had a stock of chassis, parts, race support van, and shop. Being we had a couple months before the Rok the Rio race in Las Vegas I started building everything I needed to have a full functioning race arrive and drive style race team. Until you start from zero its really hard to appreciate how many things goes into starting a race team. Everyday it felt my list was growing larger of things I needed from things like tables, tools, tents, kart stands, straightening table, ect. ect. But slowly I started accumulating things while I searched for dealers and drivers to compete with us in the upcoming Vegas events. I was going on several months working 12-14 hours day without any days off but all the positive comments either on social media or via email kept me pushing so my team would arrive at our first race as ready as possible.
Just getting to the Rok event in Las Vegas felt like a huge victory in itself. Once we had the tent all set up it was a huge relief knowing we were at one of the biggest events in North America our very first time out and looking just as professional as race teams that had been in this business for decades. The weekend went very smoothly to be honest. I feel all my experience with racing with various factory teams over the years really helped me prepare everything enough before hand and we as a team where not missing anything. I’ve been lucky enough to win many important races in my career but watching my chassis that I had developed over the past year take victory in its debut race was out of this World. as my driver Mathias Ramirez crossed the line with his fist in the air all I could was scream out in joy. It was a release of emotion after a hard years work and a dream that came true. I don’t loading up after an event felt so good and having my whole team of guys gathered around to taking a winning team photo is something I will cherish the rest of my life.
Riding on the high after our victory I was confident about our chances of a good showing at SKUSA SuperNationals. It was an easier weekend set up wise being I had learned many little things from our first event and the team was on pace from the very first day of practice. As many races go we had some bad luck with many of the drivers but the highlight for me was being able to put one of chassis 3rd for the starting grid for the KZ Final. Being there was Factory supported drivers from teams like CRG, TonyKart, Birel, and Parolin (the 4 biggest kart manufactures in the World) and we were in the fight in just our second race with a 16 year old driver from Florida (Mathias Ramirez) was very satisfying. It was a huge heartbreak having a technical issue with the spark plug while running second in the Final that took us out of the race and a chance at the podium but I was still very happy with our performance against Karting’s very best.
2018 will be a year I will always hold close to my heart. When I look back all I can think is starting from a small tool box and ending with my own chassis brand and fully functioning race team that already has a national victory to its name. I know there is much more work to be done as the World of Karting never stops, but I couldn’t be more excited to continue this chapter in my life and hopefully grow the GFC brand all over the Globe.
Gary Carlton | California
GFC. Live your Passion