At the team base on an industrial estate in Handsworth on the outskirts of Sheffield, Paul Spencer explained his karting roots as follows. “My brother Neil Spencer,” he said, “raced karts as long ago as 1977 for a short period of time, although my main interest at the time had been in Motocross. I suppose in karting terms I first started to take a look around 1993/94, before seriously thinking about doing things on a different level, probably from around 1996 onwards.”
This interest in karting took Spencer to all the major circuits throughout France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, providing him with a thorough grounding in the sport before he made his move. “Really I was looking at all the classes involved and I started travelling all over Europe. I probably haven’t missed one race in Europe since starting in 1996. Nicola and myself didn’t travel with any team, we just did it all off our own backs to see what it was all about.”
The mention of Nicola’s name revealed how Paul’s interest in karting was about to grant him access into one of the sport’s more well known surname dynasties. “When I first met Nicola (the daughter of P F International owner Paul Fletcher), who as you know is my partner now, I became her mechanic when she returned to Formula TKM, after she had spent a few years away from kart racing.” Before the TKM return Nicola had been a proven race winner in karts in both the 100 Britain and 100 National classes in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, when she used to compete on a regular basis in company with her father. When Nicola’s son David (Gregory) then reached his 11th birthday, the extension of the Fletcher dynasty was continued when Paul and Nicola bought David a kart for his birthday and he started racing in Junior TKM.
David Gregory, went on to drive in Formula A both in the UK and overseas in the European Championships with Strawberry Racing, As it happened David was in fact one of the first two youngster’s to drive a Cadet kart, when he demonstrated the new class at a Wombwell club event in the late 1980’s during the lunch break. “He never really got on with the Cadet class,” said Paul. “Nobody knew about the class at the time. It was just too new and David did not get on with it at all. The class did not suit him. To be honest the experience put him off karting for a while.”
In 1997 I first got the idea that having a business in karting might be worth having a closer look at,” Paul recalled. “I found that a lot of people were unable to look at either the kart or the driver and see what was wrong. I was helping lots of young drivers and found I got on really well with them. They started asking me for more advice it just started to escalate. This progressed naturally into running my own team. By 2000 I was running drivers in various classes and having quite a bit of success. Lots of silverware for the cabinet!”
For 2001 Paul Spencer/Strawberry Racing moved into Junior ICA and Formula A with Richard Keen and Paul Wilson, as well as running former karting champion Fraser Sheader later in the year, also in Formula A. “The Fraser thing was the end result of a promise that I had made to him, because of all the help he had given me when we had run abroad. He would come over and help out when he did not have a job or anything like that. So I told him to come and do the last two races of the year for me and try out the equipment that we were using. First time out at Larkhall he put the kart on pole position, before then doing the same at Little Rissington. It had been the same though with Paul Wilson during the Winter Series at P F International at the end of 2000, which we won. At the time all the good drivers were there, such as Mark Litchfield, Fraser, and so on
As proven winners in 2001 Strawberry Racing found that moving into 2002 marked a big change with a serious assault on Europe in the European Championships. The year started at Ampfing in Germany during mid-May, where Strawberry Racing ran Super One champion Iain Inglis and of course David Gregory. Both acquitted themselves well, having the speed to match their foreign rivals.
In 2002 Paul managed to secure a deal with TONYKART to be the UK importer. This was to mark the next era of the Strawberry Racing story. At the time his team drove Kosmic Karts, manufactured by Tonykart, and the opportunity to be the main dealer in the UK was a fantastic coup. “All the karts come from under the same roof. The Tonykart, Kosmic, Alonso and Esprit chassis are all made in the same factory in Brescia, on the same jig, using the same materials. The only difference is the colour of the frame and the sticker kit. Each chassis should compare eaqually to the other brands. Of course, just as in the car industry , people prefer different colours but require the same performance. Having differently branded karts give people the choice that they want without compromising on the quality. We also offer a first class mail order department, and I am confident that whatever any driver wants, we will be able to supply it, whether it is a kart, engine, tyres, wheels, track rods, and so on. All it takes is just one telephone call and we will do the rest. We aim to deliver within 24-hours of taking any order.”
Why Strawberry Racing?
Clearly it would seem he has been asked the question before. “Nothing exciting,” he laughed. “I raced in TKM in ’96 and Mike Mulhearn at Kartsport (now the track manager at P F International) made the Boxer karts, which was probably one of the best products in TKM at the time. So when I decided to get a Boxer, I found you could have the chassis in colours aqua, black or navy blue. I wanted a red one with gold anodised bits, including red pods, red suit, red gloves, red boots, instead of a black kart with red bits. Mike agreed to build me this kart. When he finished it and saw me on the grid he said that I looked like a strawberry. Everybody in the pits started laughing, ending up calling me ‘Strawbs’. At that years TV Masters I had some ‘T’-shirts made with ‘Strawberry Racing’ on and the name stuck.
So, a first class team, operating from a first class industrial unit, with top seeded drivers’, plus a magnificent transporter, (registration HOW 6OOD), which would look comfortably at home in “Bernie’s F1 circus.” The investment needed to do this? “A lot!” was Paul’s response, with a coy smile. “For sure I could have done this at a smaller level and made the decision not to carry as much stock, not owning my own premises, and having a smaller team with a small truck. But, we are talking Tonykart here I feel that it is imperative to have a professional image. Having a first class product and the necessary back-up helps.
Who knows what the future holds? Our aim is to continue to invest in Karting by bringing good quality products to the market place and taking drivers from many different backgrounds and helping them to achieve the best they possibly can.
The most important thing for us is to keep people interested in the sport and to do this it must be FUN. There is no prize money in karting so the kids do it for the thrill of competition and there has to be a big enjoyment factor. Have you ever tried to get a 13 year old out of bed at 7am on a freezing cold, wet Saturday morning to drive 200 miles to a track to sit in the kart for roughly 1 hour only!! Boy do they have to be dedicated…… and so are we.
Karting is not just our business…it’s our passion.
As well as using our website as a means of contact, queries can also be directed to:
c/o Strawberry Racing
24C Orgreave Crescent
Sheffield S13 9NQ
Telephone: 0114 269 6215/0114 288 9933
Fax: 0114 2889944