Martin Hines: An appreciation of “Mr Karting”  (1947-2011)

The passing of Martin Hines, one of the most successful kart-racers of all time – a multiple World Champion – has been very sorely felt throughout the world of motorsport. We shall miss Martin, who very kindly supported the Quicksilver team in May 2008 by participating as a guest speaker at our ninth fund-raising Speed Night with the Sports Stars celebrity dinner, appearing alongside our other sports-legend speakers that evening – Jimmy Greaves, Bill Beaumont and Paddy Hopkirk.

     Martin leaves a giant void in the sport he loved. As well as being a top competitor in his own right over many years, he played a guiding role in the early careers of many other top British racing drivers, including Jason Plato, David Coulthard and Lewis Hamilton.

     As a personal tribute, Hamilton carried the initials M.H. on his crash-helmet at his next race, the 2011 Singapore Grand Prix.

     During his time behind the wheel, Martin Hines won 17 championships. But that was only the tip of the iceberg in a career that made him the undisputed “King of Karting” – for his constant preoccupation was in helping others to make the most of their skills. He had beaten cancer once before, but latterly his long-running battle resumed and even his determined spirit on this occasion could not win through. He succumbed on the morning of Sunday, 28th August, aged 64.

     An astute businessman, Martin had built his company, Zip Kart, into a major concern over the course of several decades. He had also, more recently, acquired the well-known Grand Prix Racewear company.

     Through his Zip Young Guns team, Martin ensured that the talents of promising up-and-coming drivers were nurtured and channelled towards the higher echelons of the sport. His close connections with Ron Dennis and the McLaren Formula 1 team created a unique link between karting and the top rung of the motor-racing ladder. Aside from David Coulthard and Lewis Hamilton, Martin’s own son – Luke Hines – Anthony Davidson and Gary Paffett numbered among his protégées. Martin formed the Young Guns team in 1991, since which time it has won over 40 national, international and world karting championships.

Nigel has recently added his words to this appreciation of Martin Hines …o

On a certain very obvious level Martin didn’t really belong at a kart-racing circuit. He was too glamorous! The kart-racing world is all about getting onto the next step. But Martin was already, from long ago, on the top rung of the ladder of his selected profession. He had nothing to prove. But he was there, of course, because he just totally loved it. And because he was a guy who led from the field of battle. I can think of plenty of people who stay in the boardroom and don’t dirty their hands.

     Although he did very well financially out of karting, Martin put so much effort and dedication back into it that he repaid every penny.

     Since I stopped racing in the 1980s, I don’t go back to the kart circuits very often. I don’t think it’s a great place to be – not when you’re not competing. And I feel out of place there, and awkward, for that reason. But pretty much the last time I saw him Martin was coming to a circuit just a couple of villages from where I live here in Lincolnshire, and it was an obvious thing to do to accept his invitation to go across there to see him. The suntan, the shades – Martin was every inch the star. Almost out of place. In fact, in anyone else it would have been risible. But Martin belonged, and everybody knew he was a very big fish in a small pond, but that he was there because he wanted to be there.

     I’m glad Martin got his book finished before his health failed. I think he was very proud of it. I was going to invite him back to another Speed Night, but when the recession came I decided we should stop doing those big events until the world improves a bit. I wanted to get him back because there was so much we didn’t touch on during our on-stage interview – he had such diversity in his career. I would certainly have asked him about the time he pranged a McLaren during a Formula 1 test drive!

     And I think he could have brought some of the younger drivers – the ones he’d helped steer into higher positions in the sport – to some future Speed Nights, if things had panned out. But it wasn’t to be.

     There are a lot of statistics that stand in the record books. His three FIA World Championships, his 1985 FIA World Cup victory, his FIA World Enduro Championship title the following year, and his extraordinary comeback to racing in 2002, when he won the European championship. But, way beyond the statistics, people will remember Martin for his tireless enthusiasm and his huge generosity. He only ran out of energy at the very end.