Rowrah Paves Way
I didnít realise that the young kid popping in and out of an old Bedford campervan would become a multi-millionaire within the space of 10 years. I was aware, however, that he had a rather special talent. Lewis Hamilton was just 13 years old when he last raced a kart up at Rowrah, but already he had star quality written all over him. The boss of McLaren International, Ron Dennis, had seen this for himself and signed Lewis into his Driver Support Programme just a few weeks earlier. Throughout the race weekend, three drivers stood out from the rest. Mark Fell and Frazer Sheader were both in their final season of Junior competition while Hamilton was in his first year. Heavy storms left the circuit completely awash on Sunday morning. Sheader couldnít get his kart to handle in the wet conditions and Mark Fell from Dalton in Furness put his local knowledge to good effect as he won by several hundred metres. Hamilton, on a kart not renowned for its wet weather handling characteristics, came home in 2nd spot.
Lewis Hamilton isnít the only F1 star to have raced at Rowrah, of course. David Coulthard actually regarded it as his home circuit and was our club champion in 1985. A year earlier Le Mans winner and Toyota F1 ace Allan McNish had captured the same title. Paul Di Resta was also the Cumbria Kart Racing Club champion at Rowrah and many pundits are tipping him for an F1 berth in 2009. Johnny Herbert raced here on many occasions as did Ralph Firman and Anthony Davidson, while Jenson Button was another regular visitor to Rowrah. In 2000, the same year that Lewis Hamilton became European karting champion, Jenson was making his F1 debut with Williams.
To commemorate this occasion, we launched the Racing for Buttons scheme at Rowrah. Within a three year period we tested over 500 schoolchildren, inviting more than half of them back for further sessions. Just over sixty of these ended up buying their own karts and almost forty actually took out racing licences. Twenty-four competed in national championships and in 2005 one of our discoveries, Jamie Little from Frizington became the British Champion. Two more Buttons members, Abigail Gerry from St Bees and Greg Harper (High Harrington) have since finished runners up in the British Championships.
Finding potential champions is always worthwhile, but the real aim of Racing for Buttons has been to give young kids who might never consider taking up motor-sport an opportunity to try karting. In 2007 Chris Quinn and I were invited to set up the same scheme down at the Paul Fletcher circuit in Lincolnshire. Paul comes from a staunch Socialist family that owned Britainís largest independent bakery in Sheffield. Heís been involved in karting since January 1960 and raced in many world championship events. He was anxious to share his experience with as many young drivers as possible. The scheme proved to be an immediate success down there. Earlier this year, the Motor Sports Association decided to launch its own version, called Letís Go Karting, and put in £125,000 as a starter. Racing for Buttons at Rowrah started life rather more modestly with a club grant of £150 but we can be proud that Rowrah paved the way. The next Lewis Hamilton might be residing here in Copeland.
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