By Julia M. Johnson
Racing is a sport that boosts team pride while bolstering the individual drive to win. That makes it an ideal backdrop for group teambuilding, where participants balance the will to succeed with a spirit of collective accomplishment.
Now St. Louis offers a place where planners can bring out the best of both skill sets in their meeting guests.
At Pole Position Raceway, an indoor electric kart racing facility newly opened in the St. Louis suburb of Crestwood, aspiring champions can jump behind the wheel and put the pedal to the metal as they build team pride.
The new Pole Position location joins several others across the country. Owned by co-founders Mike Johnson, John Stevenson and an investor group, the St. Louis facility occupies a building that used to house a large Value City department store. Johnson and his co-owners spent about $2 million renovating the structure, adding the track and about $600,000 worth of 30-mph karts, plus chargers and barriers. And there is more construction to come, as Johnson builds in a couple of large, rentable meeting and lounge-area rooms. In the meantime, groups can synch up at the racetrack for outings of various kinds – parties, reunions, and post-meeting recreational time.
The Pole Position formula for fun has received thumbs-up reviews from prominent figures in the racing world. NASCAR champion Kurt Busch describes Pole Position tracks as “the place for indoor karting.” And American Motorcycle Association Supercross champion Jeremy McGrath says, “I’m amazed at the performance of [Pole Position’s] electric karts. They accelerate quicker than any gas kart I’ve driven on any indoor track.”
Start it up
Fast cars and friendly competition make for fabulous gatherings by groups of many kinds, says Johnson. His intent is to work closely with event organizers, putting them in the driver’s seat so every outing is a memorable one.
Johnson says he has seen interest from pre-wedding, holiday and office party groups, men and women alike. And the track setting is a perfect fit for motor-related societies and associations. “Recently, we had a group of 30 POWRi open-wheel racing enthusiasts who were supposed to go to an outdoor racetrack in Illinois, but they got snowed out,” Johnson says. “Instead, they came here with their announcer and a TV crew, and had a great time.”
“I’ve used Pole Position Raceway for new product launches, press introductions and corporate team building events,” says American Suzuki vice president Mel Harris, who has hosted groups at other Pole Position locations. “Everyone always seems to have a good time. We will continue to come back over and over again.”
Johnson says he can reserve the entire St. Louis Pole Position facility for groups at prearranged times. “We can even rent it out during off hours,” he says. “It’s a great place to hold large gatherings such as auctions. It’s also ideal for kids’ groups. I have a four-year-old and an eight-year-old, so I know who does children’s parties well around town. I’m aiming for the same kind of seamless service here.”
Get in and drive
The electric karts can accommodate people of all shapes and sizes, Johnson says. Most are full-size, five- by eight-foot vehicles appropriate for adults, but there also are junior karts on a smaller track for the younger set.
“Former St. Louis Rams defensive tackle D’Marco Farr has been here driving,” Johnson says. “Most people can fit in our karts comfortably. You just have to be at least 48” tall to race on the full-size track.”
Karting at the St. Louis Pole Position track costs $21 for each 10-minute race, a price that guests seem to find very palatable. And the facility can work with groups to arrange special packages. “Everyone walks out with smiles on their faces, saying, ‘That was SO worth it,’” notes Johnson, who is a 20-year racing veteran himself. “People really love the chance to enjoy some speed. In my experience, no other track’s karts go faster than the slowest kids’ karts we have.”
High-tech timing and scoring systems enhance the driver’s experience even further. “Guests really get the feeling of racing from our karts – they’re amazed when they experience it,” Johnson adds. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘I can’t believe you’re letting me drive this much car.’”
The driving milieu
Johnson says he picked the Crestwood site because it’s in a comfortable residential area, surrounded by restaurants, retail and other services that appeal to groups.
“I wanted to build it someplace pleasant, not in an industrial park like some other tracks,” he says. “There are plenty of free parking spaces here, and good places to eat nearby. You can have fun racing, then go to dinner.
“You even can bring people during the workday, in their work clothes – the facility is clean and pleasant, and climate-controlled. Your colleagues can have a good time at lunch, then go back to the office or back to their meetings,” he says. “The karts are electric, so there are no fumes or dirt.”
The track facility also offers cold drinks and concessions for racers who need a pick-me-up between start times. There is a selection of chips, candy bars, Coke products and Monster drinks.
Racing around the country
The St. Louis facility joins existing Pole Position tracks in California, Texas, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma. Johnson, a St. Louis native, says another franchise is set to open in Houston soon. He and his team want to add more locations of their own in cities such as St. Charles, Des Moines, Nashville, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Memphis.
P2R Karting Inc., the California-based firm that franchises Pole Position tracks, hopes to have a network of more than 20 racing facilities across the nation soon. The company estimates that 35 million Americans participate in kart racing each year, and demand appears to be growing.
And Pole Position franchises have a history of giving back to the community, so group organizers can support local causes while their guests enjoy an adrenaline-fueled experience they’ll want to repeat.
“Most people come to the track, try it for the first time, then want to go around again,” Johnson says of the Pole Position experience. “You’re racing against others, and against the clock. It’s only natural to get hooked.” MM&E
Pole Position Raceway
Mike Johnson, co-owner
Rita Frazier, CMP, sales and marketing
8800 Watson Road
St. Louis MO 63119
(314) 925-7545 phone