Article By Bill Beggs Jr.
You feel major “G” forces as you come around a turn “drifting” like a stockcar driver. You hit 45 mph on the straightaway in your electric kart … but hold on! The next turn is coming up and you hug the inside of the curve as tightly as you can. You grit your teeth, adrenaline pumping, leaning hard into the turn … but wait!
Inching past you on the left, grinning at you through her helmet visor, there’s–it can’t be, but holy Earnhardt it is!–Ginny from accounting pulling away from you. Nuts. You’re late submitting your expense reports again!
No co-workers were hurt during the preceding team-building exercise for XYZ Co. Go-cart tracks (for the uninitiated, it’s called “karting”) aren’t just for kids anymore. In fact, karting is what XYZ Co. did for their annual meeting this year. Runnin’ with the devil is great, you say? But, for XYZ Co.’s annual meeting? That’s right! Today most any entertainment venue that features vehicles of some sort welcomes business team building or training events. Karting venues in the St.Louis Metro area that host business groups include Amp Up and Pole Position, while on the other side of the state, Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas, has been loud and proud since 2001.
Venues like these host meetings for just about any type of organization and for groups large or small: “From 10 to 50,000,” says Pat Warren of Kansas Speedway, which recently hosted 12 owners and operators of Key Equipment in its conference center. But groups generally skew larger than 12 at the 1,200-acre property, Warren continues, “It depends upon how big a footprint you need.” For example, the world’s largest BBQ competition needs a pretty big footprint, right? Well, the 38th annual American Royal World Series of BBQ is slated for Labor Day weekend inside the 1.5-mile oval.
Now let’s head back to Missouri and the western suburb of Town and Country where Amp Up Action Park opened in an old Walmart in July. Managing partner Kim Link says the current 50,000 square feet under the roof is soon to be augmented by 3,000 square feet outside in what used to be the superstore’s lawn and garden department. Karting is the main draw, but Link points out that they also feature the state’s only indoor ropes challenge. There’s also laser tag at Amp Up, which at press time had yet to book many business meetings, but they’re prepared.The conference room can be configured for 50 people classroom-style, or 80 people standing. Corporate flex space can accommodate up to 300 for a buffet-style meal, and a large flatscreen TV is available. Word-of-mouth, a social-media presence, a billboard and other select marketing efforts are getting Amp Up out there. Plus, they serve beer and wine, which should tell you about one demographic they seek. Meanwhile, the park has been a destination for bar mitzvahs and other events for young people.
Not too far south and east is Crestwood, where Pole Position proprietor Mike Johnson has been throwing parties and holding meetings at his karting facility for about five years now. It’s been great for product launches: Panasonic and Monster Energy come to mind for Johnson. He estimates that 120 of St. Louis’s top businesses have held meetings or events there. They can range from a staff meeting with a jolt (like Amp Up’s, his electric karts run inside) to 10-20 employees celebrating a hot sales month. Big or small, meetings with a side of karting have been held there by Monsanto, Panera Bread and World Wide Technology (WWT), to drop a few names. The facility is 56,000 square feet. The conference room is 1,500 square feet.
But maybe you are one who has no need for speed? In that event, just take I-64 east from the Gateway City–obeying all speed limits, of course–for about 15 minutes to the second O’Fallon, Illinois, exit. That’s where you’ll find Gateway Classic Cars. This is a great place to go just to look, unless you’re in
the market for a $500,000 Shelby, a $385,000 Lamborghini, a cherry-red ’65 Chevy, a 1960s VW Bug, or a 1930s Mercury sedan with running boards. It’s all parked right there to gawk at (but please, don’t touch), and all so shiny you might need shades just to keep staring.
Can you imagine holding a meeting or throwing a party (or both) in a place like this? We sure can. It’s expo halls offer 80,000 square feet of rentable, customizable space—perfect for anything from a sales meeting for ten execs to a mega-church get-together for 1,000 of the faithful. And most everything here
is for sale, from a vintage Sunoco gas pump with an S&H Green Stamps sign on top, to the two glass-topped round tables, one supported by a Chevy engine block, the other a Ford. They’re both in the Cadillac Lounge which can accommodate a gathering of 150 (or more if they move a row of cars) and features a
Yamaha piano that can be programmed to play anything from Chopin to Jerry Lee Lewis.
Amble past a dozen more eye-popping rides and you come to the Lincoln Gallery which can host up to 500. When we visited it had a stage about two feet off the floor at one end of the room where presenters could present or a wedding party could sit. Gateway is not your everyday vehicle showroom, that’s for sure. (There’s an admission charge of $4 a head unless you’re there on business. And got kids? The theater can keep a dozen rug rats in thrall with a car movie like Cars or Back to the Future.)
Really in the mood to drive, now? Then let’s roll! Also on the Illinois side of the Mississippi is Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, in view of the Gateway Arch, where thousands can watch a pro event or any size group from a handful to who knows how many can go karting for fun or team-building. Ever drag race? Well, your group can try that here behind the wheel of what many car nuts argue is the most muscular of muscle cars: the Chevrolet Camaro. Then there’s the Richard Petty Driving Experience which puts you in a NASCAR race car with 600 horses under the hood!
How many men and women do business on the golf course? Nice shot, they say, and clap politely before hopping in the cart to go to the next hole. Ho-hum. It’s low-intensity. That’s not so with karting. “In the corporate world you may have some really good days,” says Johnson, “but you never get to spray the champagne!” It almost goes without saying, folks are blown away by any of these “wheely cool” experiences. Here’s a sampling of the feedback generated by just one destination we surveyed, Pole Position:
–“This is NOT your normal putt-putt go-Kart racing! The guys can’t stop talking about all the fun they had!”—Lynn Macke / Fabick Power Systems
–“They helped plan every detail, including providing a meeting room and an excellent meal, then briefed our group about racing. Everyone had a blast racing! It’s a terrific venue for networking and socializing with our clients.” —Jim Ghormley / Enterprise Consulting Group
–“We enjoyed the racing experience! Maybe in the future we can come back! You were so easy to work with, I wish all my clients were just like you!” —Patrick O’Connor / Continuum / CWS Security
Amp Up Action Park / Kim Link
Gateway Classic Cars / Sam Neal
Gateway Motorsports Park / Scott Winter
(618) 215-8888 x104
Kansas Speedway / Amber Schobe
Pole Position / Rita Frazier