Whitby Family Kartways
On the weekend I happened to see in the obituaries that a former boss of mine had passed away at the age of 91. Richard Clark was his name. He went by “Dick” to all that knew him.
As I contemplated my time in his employ I realized that even though I was barely 15 or 16ish back in 1971, he taught me many job skills that would last me a lifetime.
Dick was a self-made man with a large family to support so he didn’t have time to fool around. Nope he was full speed ahead always and usually with a short fuse.
Dick was intense but recognized good work. Good efforts, would cut you some slack on honest mistakes and I respected him. He would try to outwork everyone and his careful eye was always on what was happening on the track.
It was understood that I and the rest of the kart workers weren’t going to rise up through the ranks and lead this family business into the future. No, Dick had all his family working right along with us.
Bob was my 1st boss, Bob’s mom Betty ran the tickets sales and snack bar, his sister Debbie worked with her mom, his brother Jim our #1 mechanic, JR wasn’t family but was treated like family was our #2 mechanic, little brothers Timmy and Tommy were just kids then but raced performance karts like pros.
Everyone worked long hours in crowded, sometimes terrible hot, stuffy conditions but it had to be done not just talked about. In those days the crowds were nonstop and hungry to get out on the track and drive with reckless abandonment.
Dick established on the 35-acre Whitby property in 1963 when he began building his dream of owning the world’s largest go kart track.
He had 27 years to prepare for the day he sold it all. The finished product went in 1990 to the Sorichetti group but that only fueled Dick to start up another family business and begin again.
My job back in the day was to work closely rotating place to place around the track with maybe 6 or 7 others. We took tickets and placed people in carts, explained the controls to the newbies, we directed the endless flow of karts going in and out of the pits, we counted laps sometimes for 50 karts. Then it was the care of those on the track who drove safety and those who didn’t.
One of the jobs perks was becoming a very good kart driver. We quickly learned how to take away control from a dangerous driver and then administer the strict track rules but even so there would be the occasional accident.
Tipping a kart, long hair caught in the rear chain, children falling out, spin outs, burnt arms from reaching for the governed controls, bumping karts together in the pits. There were lots of ways to get hurt while karting but the thrilling fun was worth all the risk.
Another perk was after the customers left at closing we would on the occasional Sunday night, with permission, turn the tracks lights back on. All the track workers would choose a kart and try to outdrive the other.
After a long day in the hot sun, the cool night air, the bright lights and the open track with your kart floored made the day perfect.
We were all young but making money every week to save up for that car or motorcycle that was just out of reach. Maybe have the money after working all the next summer if asked back.
I stretched out three summers (I think) at the track that bought me 2 motorcycles from Bob and included all the track practise time I needed to learn how to ride them. They were my first 2 bikes with many more to follow and looking back both were awesome.
It was great to be part of the team up at the track. We got to know each other well and looked after each other when needed. There were times when the customers would get rowdy and needed to be stopped before getting out control. If Dick caught wind there was trouble brewing he would gladly make suggestions to customers of remedies most suited to him, he was the owner.
Dick worked so hard to build his empire and would never let a poor customer review worry him over the early exit of a trouble maker. I once saw Dick successfully encourage a car load of these doodlers out the front gate with his front-end loader. So, there was no question when joe public acted up they were in the wrong place for that.
There was no question Dick had a great business going and he enjoyed the success that came with it, cars, motorhome, travel with his family, all the fun things. My personal time with him was usually short and sweet but very good.
There was the late night that I was riding along Hwy 12 in the pouring rain when my bike ran rough and quit. Knowing this bike, I knew it just needed a quick plug change and I would be good to go but I needed a wrench to do it.
Looking up I was right in front of the track so I thought I would climb the gate, get Dick’s attention and ask if I could borrow one from the shop. They lived above the shop and it looked like someone was home.
I had been warned at some point that Dick was very protective of his place in the off hours and he had more backup other than his big shepherd.
So, I was as noisy as I could be, talking aloud, saying my name and his just to calm things quickly once I pounded on the door.
Sure enough I heard the door up on the balcony open and Dick hearing me calling out said, “step out from under there”. I assumed he was fully backed up, so I made sure he knew it was me before stepping out.
Dick wasn’t the smiling kind in these situations but realizing it was me in trouble on the road he came down and opened the shop right away.
I was very thankful it all worked out! Got my bike fixed and off I went.
There was another summer evening we had finished work and gone with Freddy in his 63 Comet up to Brooklin for gas and had to return to the track for just a minute.
We were sitting, me in the front passenger side, Freddy driving, and Jim was in the backseat behind me, on Hwy 12 facing south at the entrance to the track when we got slammed for behind.
Those were the days when seatbelts were optional so of course we didn’t have them on which made for some dangerous movement within the car.
Both cars destroyed, everyone injured to some degree but not seriously, so we were all very lucky this impaired driver didn’t kill anyone.
My time working at the Family Kartways business starting in 1971 when Whitby’s population that year was 25,324 was a time of great personal learning and an opportunity to witness a strong family pulling together and making it work.
Did they always see eye to eye, of course not but I saw that very same tight circle at the funeral home, less one in 2018!