A BUSINESSMAN has beaten rivals more than 30 years his junior to scoop a national championship after returning to his childhood love of go karting.
Graham Payne, 53, from Wolsingham in County Durham, is now managing director of Stockton-based Darchem Engineering – but away from work he likes nothing better than reaching top speeds of 100mph, barely an inch from the ground, in a small, open kart.
Since starting on the karting and motor racing circuits in his 20s, Graham has competed against some of the greats of the racing world, including Nigel Mansell and the late Ayrton Senna.
As well as excelling at single-seater motor racing on the Formula Ford circuit, he clinched his first National British Kart champion accolade in 1990 from the Motor Sports Association (MSA), the UK’s motor sports governing body.
He has now regained that title, scoring the most points in eight races over a season.
Graham was inspired to race during the mid-1970s, when charismatic Formula 1 racing driver James Hunt was a regular on the circuit.
He said: “In 1977 I bought my first kart and I started to race. In 1980 I went into single-seater motor racing and competed in Formula Ford championships, which were considered the playgrounds of a lot of Formula 1 drivers.
“In 1981 I came up against the likes of Ayrton Senna, but F1 is an expensive addiction and once my Formula Ford sponsorship ran out in the early 80s, I made the decision to return to my original passion of competitive karting.”
When it came to carving out a career during the 1990s, Graham put competitive racing on the backburner.
“I relocated to Scotland in 1992 for business reasons and gave up karting because it was more a Midlands and Southern-based activity,” he said. “When I moved back to England in 1999 I went back to karting. It’s taken 22 years for me to claw back my National British Kart title but I’ve never given up. It’s about fast reaction times, co-ordination and knowing your racing craft. Fitness is important but not at the top of the list, so that is why I have been able to succeed well into my 50s.
“One of the biggest challenges is fitting it in with my role as managing director of Darchem. However, after a race weekend I come back to work on a Monday morning feeling mentally refreshed, although physically exhausted.”
The accolade of National British Kart champion is awarded to the driver who has scored the highest number of points across eight official rounds in karting competitions staged around the UK over the course of a year.
Graham’s aim is to maintain his title next year and keep up his highly competitive racing schedule for as long as he possibly can.
He said: “For obvious reasons, at 53, my aspirations aren’t to be the next Formula 1 world champion!
“All the other competitors in my field are pretty much half my age so I hope this gives inspiration to other older people that you can still achieve sporting prowess even in advanced years.
“If you’ve got a natural talent, it’s surprising how long you can keep going.”