|EKN One-on-One: Mike Pickman - Trackmagic
For many enthusiasts in our sport, the yellow and black colors of Trackmagic Racing Karts hold special meaning. The combination is synonymous with shifter kart racing, and a passion for the sport that was felt from club level competition all the way to the upper echelons of national racing. During its 15-year history, Trackmagic recorded wins all over the country and found ultimate success in both the IKF and Superkarts! USA competition, where the marquee scored race victories as well as the inaugural ProMoto Tour championship. The program came to a screeching halt in 2006 when owner Fausto Vitello passed away suddenly, however, after interim ownership, it appears that the iconic operation could be set to find its way back into the limelight.
Back at the beginning of the year, it was announced that the American born and bred manufacturer Trackmagic Racing Karts had garnered a new owner and president in Mike Pickman. As the second owner of the California-based company since the passing of its founder, Pickman is looking to re-establish the companyís position as a leader in the US karting market and is focused on seeing the brand grow throughout North America.
eKartingNews.com was able to get Mike to sit down for a few minutes to speak with us about his past and what he sees in the future for Trackmagic.
eKartingNews.com: First off, thank you for taking time to speak with us.
Mike Pickman: Thank you for having me.
EKN: What have the last few months of the new era at Trackmagic been like?
MP: Hell (laughing)ÖBasically we are rebuilding a brand. Itís funny, because of the people I know from different industries, I have been fortunate enough to bounce a lot of ideas off different people. Competitors, drivers, others in motorsports, so from that respect, Iíve been able to tap into a lot of knowledge. Unfortunately, the establishment that has been there so long, karting has been ingrained in their minds and it doesnít mean itís been done right. So, Iím trying to meld this industry, which is new to me, to common business practices that should always be observed. Iím not seeing that the two go hand-in-hand, so Iím trying to do it in a way that makes sense.
EKN: Your business background is in consumer electronics, correct?
MP: Exactly. Manufacturing home speakers and cables while designing some very high-end home theaters.
EKN: What can and what have you been able to take from that discipline and bring to the karting industry? As you stated before, are you looking to bring in basic business principles to your karting business?
MP: When I say Ďbasic business principlesí, let me give you an example. I got a call last week from someone after receiving an email from someone else - both having the same last name. One wanted to be a dealer and another wanted to be an importer for another brand. Through the conversations with both, I found out that they each had day jobs, neither really had a background in karting, but neither wanted to really invest time into a karting business - just set up a website and drop-ship all the products. I feel that these are the type of people that are ruining karting. I am coming to find out a lot of the dealers are trying to be the ĎWalmartí of karting, they want to sell everything but they donít want to buy it, they donít want to stock it, and if it was up to them, you would drop-ship the products to the customers while they would have to assemble everything and the dealer would make all the money.
| Memo Gidley has return home to Trackmagic where he hopes to help rebuild the company to where it once stood|
To me as a manufacturer, you have to do whatís right for the product and the overall industry. And thatís what Iím gearing towards, making sure the customer comes first, getting them the right information and not giving five different answers to the same question. But also, itís one of those situations where if you treat karting as a business, not just manufacturing, not just selling, not just dealerships, but karting as an overall business and you were to draw a flow-chart, there would be no flow at all. It would be back and fourth, left and right probably a few circles and triangles in there. To me, it makes no sense.
Another example is the recent Stars of Karting and CKI deal going on. It is fracturing the karting world in my opinion. Likewise, when you have two sanctioning bodies like WKA and IKF that cannot get together to offer the same engine rules, it creates a problem. Itís unfair for someone to buy a motor out here and want to go run a few races on the east coast for different tracks, only to be told their engines arenít legal. I have a serious problem with that. I know everyone does their own little thing in karting, which is fine, but I really think karting needs an Uncle Bernie (Ecclestone). Someone to rule karting with an iron fist. We can certainly have WKA and IKF, Stars and CKI, you can have ProKart and all the others but you need a sanctioning body that oversees all of it.
EKN: What was your first taste of motorsports? What got you into racing?
MP: Iíd have to say Chris (Surdzial) and Jimmy (Minger). Jimmy is my closest friend, my Ďfosterí brother, you could say, I spent more time at his house growing up than I did at my own house. And Chris was our best friend. When this opportunity to buy Trackmagic came about, Memo Gidley had called me saying, ĎNow, I donít want you to do this but Trackmagic is for sale.í And I did exactly the opposite. I called Jimmy and Chris and said, ĎI want Trackmagic, you want in?í I dragged them in kicking and screaming but they are now involved in it - not in the day-to-day operations, but each as investors into the company and into the future.
I really got into auto racing because of them. Going back to high school days, I always had a liking for auto racing and as I built my business in the electronics world, I was fortunate enough to meet the right people in the sport and itís something that has stuck with me. In 1999, I met Chip Ganassi for the first time and I told him Iíd like to be involved in auto racing with my business. He sat me down and told me how the whole Target deal came about.
He also told me about how I should sponsor a driver rather than a team. With a driver, you get access and your customers will get access. He suggested I meet Memo Gidley. And thatís what got me hooked. So Memo and I started talking and three years later we did some stuff with him, we then did some stuff with Oriol Servia and others. Now, when I bought the company (Trackmagic), it was really nice because now I could call on those contacts and say ĎGuess what I did?í and bounce some ideas off of them. It really helped me get the word out there that Trackmagic was still alive.
EKN: So it was Chip Ganassi who brought you and Memo (Gidley) together?
MP: Yes. Chip is a really cool guy. I see him a few times a year.
EKN: Before meeting Memo, had you ever heard or seen karting before?
MP: I knew what it was, but I had never been a karter. It was never something I had done. Itís funny because Iíve been karting maybe four or five times before taking over Trackmagic. Actually, I purchased an old kart from Michael Guasch (owner of Molecule Labs) and it was an old Trackmagic Diablo. Greg Bell from Leading Edge Motorsports helped me set it up and so I went out with that a couple times until one of my friends destroyed it (laughing). That was probably about a year ago and I havenít been in one since.
| Kiel Spaulding is the leading the next generation of stars under the Trackmagic banner|
(Photo: Go Racing Magazine)
EKN: What other forms of motorsports were you into when you were younger?
MP: For me, it was open wheel. Iím learning to understand and appreciate NASCAR, but for me, Formula 1, Indy Car, Champ Car, and now, of course, the Grand-Am Rolex series.
EKN: Getting back to the Trackmagic business side of things, the previous owner sourced out a foreign company to manufacture the chassis that was long-known as being an American-made brand. What is going to be the new manufacturing process of the Trackmagic chassis and its components under your ownership?
MP: We are kind of going to go a completely different direction. I donít agree with manufacturing the chassis all in Europe and Iím certainly not foolish enough to believe that everything can be manufactured here in the U.S. cost-effectively. I mean, it can certainly be done, donít get me wrong, but we have found it will drive up the cost and be extremely prohibitive. So we are looking at doing a Ďhybridí situation where we are testing different steels from Austria, Germany, and Japan to compare them against American steel. We have a couple partners in Europe that are helping us in the design department, along with our drivers here in the U.S. - including Memo Gidley, Kiel Spaulding, Tommy Thompson and Donavan Wheeler. We do have a couple other drivers that we cannot release as of now, but they will be a large factor in the companyís future.
The simple fact is while we collectively have the ability to design, the company lost the ability to effectively manufacture about two and half years ago when they liquidated the tooling that it takes to manufacture karts in-house. So what we are doing is bringing in the steel and we are welding, testing, cutting, welding, testing, cutting, welding, and testing on those chassis we have here. Once we have our final outcome of the design, we are looking to have one or two American made chassis for 2010 - made from European or Japanese steel - while the rest will be European. We want to be able to allow the drivers to choose whether they want it made in America or Europe. We know there are hardcore racers that want 100% made in America, but unfortunately we will not be able to satisfy old or new customers with where and how the products are made. Will I say they will be 100% made in American at some pointÖno, I canít say that because itís not true? But what we hope to do is sell them as American-made or European-made and let them choose.
| One of the most recognized figures with Trackmagic was Texan Kyle Martin|
(Photo: Super Kart Illustrated)
EKN: To summarize, that is to get back to your basic business principals where you have to do whatís right for the business while still keeping in mind what the customers are looking for.
MP: Here is another example of something we are doing. Drivers are replacing their karts every six months to a year. In these economic times, we have to do whatís right for us and what is good for the consumer. So when you buy a kart from Trackmagic, you can have a second raw frame for $600 dollars. So halfway through the year, or at the end of the year, you strip your chassis down and put your components onto your second frame, so essentially you have a new kart. From what I can see, other companies replacement frames go from anywhere between $1,200 to $1,600. We want to give our customers the ability to hold onto their kart a little longer. We have some other new things in the works as well but those will be announced at a later date.
We also like to be able to change and adapt as well. We have a full production department from the marketing and graphics side. We can design all our stickers and t-shirts in house, but we also have the ability to silkscreen and print everything. For the July ProKart Challenge race in Sonoma, the event coincides with the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in San Francisco. We are supporting that with pink Trackmagic shirts, graphic kits, ribbons and everything else to help raise money for breast cancer. Working with PKC, we are looking at auctioning off some prizes as well. We definitely want to give back to the community somehow.
EKN: The different plans you have in the works sound like a great avenue for the new company. Getting back to Memo now, what does it mean to have him working with Trackmagic in its new era, being as he was the face of the company for so many years?
MP: Other than the bragging rights (laughing)Öit took a little while to get him back. His allegiance isnít so much to Trackmagic as it was to the founder, Fausto Vitello, and everything he did. Getting him back took some work and convincing. The good thing was is that Memo has known me long enough to know that when I say Iím going to do something, I do it. And if I canít achieve it, I own up to it. The fact that he watched what I was doing in the first few months, and when we talked, he saw I was getting done those things that I said. Honestly, past the bragging rights and actually having ĎGrandpa Gidleyí there representing our company is amazing. Iíve seen him go out to the kart track to go practice and out of five hours there, heíll spend the majority of the time talking and helping people with their karts. People he doesnít even know, no matter what kart they are on. To me that is amazing.
The other reason we are glad to bring him back is to help design our parts. We are launching a company called TMP - Trackmagic Performanc Racing Parts - so we will have a signature Memo Gidley line of parts. In addition to that, we will have wearables. Suits, shirts, gloves and other things designed by Memo. What will make it unique is that we have in discussions with four different clothing companies that are going to help design the looks of the suits. No where does it say they need to be basic like weíve seen so why not have a cool, urban design look, something to bring the look in with the current times? We are talking with other karting manufacturers about using their names with the suit. We are looking at several different ways to increase our market share and footprint in karting. Itís no longer about just making karts.
| Trackmagic has seen numerous superstars of karting pilot one of their machines, including former national champion Gary Carlton|
(Photo: On Track Promotions)
EKN: I understand you have a working deal with Wild Kart. What is your relationship with the company?
MP: We have a great relationship with Wild Kart as well as other manufacturers in Europe. Wild Kart is helping to make our parts and in turn we are helping them with the importation. They are their own importer of Wild Kart into the country, but we have three locations across the country and we are helping warehouse and distribute the karts as we put in place an infrastructure with a national sales manager and building a dealership base for Wild Kart.
EKN: Are they going to be part of the TMP side of Trackmagic?
MP: Wild Kart is helping us design the parts and the will probably help us build some of the parts.
EKN: What are your short-term goals for Trackmagic, mainly what are you looking to accomplish on and off the track in 2009?
MP: On the track, we are looking very hard at continuing the success we have had with our Junior program. Kiel Spaulding has pretty much won every race or landed on the podium in every race he has been in. Donavan Wheeler is an up-and-coming driver who has switched over from Junior Rotax to Senior Rotax. Thatís another thing, Trackmagic has become a distributor and dealer of the Rotax engines. So we are now selling complete Trackmagic packages with Rotax engines - ready to go. We are going to be doing some support and sponsorship with some series. Of course, our Senior drivers - Tommy Thompson and Memo Gidley - are doing well. Gidley actually broke the track record in Sonoma on his first weekend back with us at the ProKart Challenge weekend. So we plan on continuing to have good showings on the track and looking forward to earning some championships.
We also plan on going to the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals to earn a spot at the Grand Finals in Egypt. I donít know if you have heard or not regarding the Granja Viana 500 race in Brazil, but Trackmagic has been invited by Felipe Giaffone to attend that as a team. Off the track, we are looking to rebuild the company, rebuild the brand and show customers that we have what it takes. I donít want to label us as an American manufacturer, but Iíd like to put us under the term ĎAmerican iconí when it comes to karting. Again, we are looking at a lot of different things to continue that and really show we can bring mainstream business into karting to make it better for everyone.
EKN: Obviously you have a lot of things in the works. It seems your long-term goal is to have the Trackmagic brand across the country at every track you go.
EKN: Thanks Mike for taking the time out of your busy schedule for speaking with us.
MP: No problem. It was my pleasure.