Published: 08:01, 01 August 2014
More than 100,000 people visit go-kart circuit Buckmore Park every year but plans with a motorsport legend could make the track a lot bigger.
Just 400m long when it was built in 1963, Buckmore Park was founded as an army engineering exercise and used by the local scout club for a bit of fun.
Move ahead 51 years and it is a 1,200m go-kart circuit attracting thousands of visitors every year – and it is set to get a lot bigger in the not-too-distant future.
Led by managing director Bill Sisley, track managers are looking to begin a reinvestment programme with former world motor racing and motorcycling champion John Surtees.
Plans are only in the pipeline but they hope, in partnership with Surtees, to extend the circuit in the coming years.
The Edenbridge-based motorsport legend, 80, is the circuit’s landowner and also has the freehold on another 90 acres of land next to the site.
It means an expansion programme is possible but no timescale has been set so far.
“We’ve got bigger plans for the future and we want to keep stepping forward,” said the Chatham circuit’s chief operating officer Chris Pullman.
“There’s a big area there and we’ll wait and see what will happen in the future, but we’ve got some very big plans for the site.
“You daren’t stand still because there are circuits out there which are holding big events and we want to do the same – to prove we can do it.”
It is hoped the expansion plans will attract more young talent to the track like F1 world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who both raced there as boys.
However, Buckmore has already shown it can compete with the country’s best kart circuits this year.
Over the winter months, bosses invested £150,000 in improvements into the site and – for the first time in three years – it hosted national Super One championships in May.
The two-day event was hailed a massive success – a new grandstand, pit lane and resurfacing impressed – and more than 140 of Britain’s best karters visited.
“[Such a big investment over winter] was a risk,” said Mr Pullman.
“We didn’t know if the drivers would enjoy the circuit. Luckily they did and everything went brilliantly well."
Holding such a big event can now help Buckmore grow, according to Mr Pullman.
“It helps the circuit as a whole,” he said.
“When you look at the club meetings in the lead-up to it, they doubled in numbers.
“You’ve got the bigger picture that some of those drivers might make Formula 1 – and then we can say they raced at Buckmore Park.”
Away from holding its big race event in the spring, Buckmore is used by the public throughout the year.
It’s thought more than 90% of its annual activity is public use, the other 10% being race meetings.
Buckmore’s drivers’ club now has 4,500 members and they employ 64 staff in the busy summer season.
Around £250,000 was spent on a new fleet of karts last year, meaning it has 150 karts available.
“At the end of the day it’s commercial,” said Mr Pullman.
“We have to make money but what we do here is reinvest.
“It’s who you know in business and John [Surtees[ obviously knows a lot of people...” - Buckmore Park's Chris Pullman
“We’ve had some hard times in the last few years but we still went out and bought a brand new fleet of cars and that paid off because people wanted to come back.”
On the circuit’s future plans, Mr Pullman added: “We need Bill Sisley and John Surtees to sit down and talk, as they have been.
“We’ve always dealt with the local council and local MPs but when you’ve got John on board you start talking to local ‘lords and ladies’ and everything else.
“It’s who you know in business and John obviously knows a lot of people.”
When the recession hit in 2008, Buckmore worked hard to find new revenue streams.
It expanded its children’s karting operations and charity work as its general admissions and corporate entertainment business dropped.
Mr Pullman said: “We had to find other ways as people had to cut back.
“Corporate entertainment would have probably been over 50% of our business and that probably dropped down to about 35%.
“Children’s karting has been very good for us and that’s why we’ve invested heavily in new karts.
“Parents want their children to have the best and go out and enjoy themselves.
“We’ve also started doing a lot of charity work and as a company we’ve raised over £180,000 for charities.”
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