LONDON (Reuters) - Ayrton Senna was once so annoyed at being beaten by Terry Fullerton in a go-kart race that he angrily pushed him into a hotel swimming pool.
But beating the Brazilian was all part of the job for the boy racer who had a dream and grew up to make it happen.
When Senna was asked in 1993, the year before the triple Formula One world champion died at Imola, which driver he had most enjoyed racing against, he reflected for a moment before replying.
“I would have to go back to ‘78, ‘79 and 1980, when I was go-kart driving and was team mate to Fullerton,” he said.
“He was very experienced and I enjoyed very much that driving with him because he was fast, he was consistent, he was for me a very complete driver.
“And it was pure driving, pure racing. There wasn’t any politics then, right? And no money involved either. So it was real racing and I have that as a very good memory.”
The comment provides a memorable moment in the acclaimed 2010 documentary “Senna” and the fact he singled out Fullerton, rather than former McLaren team mate Alain Prost or any other F1 rival, was telling.
Karting was a passion for Senna and Fullerton was the man who set the standard and, as often as not, won.
“It opened up the public to the fact that Senna had a life before F1,” the 63-year-old Briton, who is still enjoying the renewed attention brought by the film, told Reuters.
“And also the fact that he wasn’t always considered the best driver in the world. Because when he was in karting he wasn’t. At the time it was probably me. If you’d done a poll at that time, he’d have probably made fifth or sixth.”
Fullerton, who became Britain’s first karting world champion in 1973 and remains a renowned figure in the sport, recognized, however, that times have changed.
The first steps on the motorsport ladder are now far more expensive than in those carefree days and few see karting as anything more than a temporary stage.
“My dad was a schoolteacher, a maths teacher, and we did it on his wage,” said the Briton. “On a doctor’s or a teacher’s wage, you could afford to go proper karting in those days. It would take all your disposable income, but you could do it.”
Now, a full cadet season in England can cost up to 100,000 pounds ($151,650), rising to more than twice as much for 14 and 15-year-olds competing at top level in Europe.
“There’s been a big shift away from doing it as an individual and for fun and into doing it with a team and more seriously with all the data and stuff,” Fullerton said. “The kids even at nine or 10 are into their data and apex speed.
“And there’s more desperate dads. There used to be rich kids before, and there are still rich kids now, but there’s more desperate people.”
Fullerton was never one of them, preferring to become a karting pro than chase fame and fortune.
His brother died in a motorcycle race in the 1960s and Formula One, then a truly lethal sport, would have been more than his parents could bear.
He retired from driving in 1984, the year Senna made his grand prix debut with Toleman, and moved into coaching.
The roll call of young talents he has worked with include world endurance champion Anthony Davidson, former McLaren test driver Gary Paffett, the late double Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon, and triple Le Mans winner Allan McNish.
“My dream when I was 13 was to be a professional driver in karting. That was my dream, whereas all the kids now their dream is to be in Formula One,” said Fullerton.
“When I got to 19 or 20, I became a professional karter. So my dream came true. I loved it. I didn’t connect it with motor racing at all. In fact, I didn’t really like motor racing. I didn’t use to watch F1, I just loved karting.”
($1 = 0.6594 pounds)
Editing by Ed Osmond