By Michael Humphrey
America, get ready for a conference center built on adrenaline. And St. Louis, you get the pole position.
The nation’s first Grand Prix Speedways center, located near I-70 in Earth City, has a list of competitors in mind that might just set the meeting and events world spinning. Other go-cart venues are not what GPS is aiming to pass. Hotels, event centers and the golf courses are.
It certainly looks like a new playing field – a $15 million, 125,000 square-foot venue with a hotel-quality conference center, a trendy bar and restaurant that happens to overlook two race-grade asphalt racetracks. Don’t worry about fumes or roaring engines, there aren’t any – the cars are electric.
Is this an idea that will take off fast?
“We’re now booking group sizes anywhere from 20 to 250,” said Karl Krummenacher, chief executive officer of Grand Prix Speedways. “We’ve got Boeing committed to doing a group that would be 400 one night.”
And those groups will fit just fine. Actually, the whole facility has a capacity of 2,800 people.
You, meeting planners, are not the secondary customer here. You are the point of this new facility. Krummenacher says the business plan marks 65 percent income from corporate usage, with 35 percent from the walk-in customer.
Perhaps the two words GPS chose for its slogan tells it all: “Business. Accelerated.”
Krummenacher, a native of St. Louis, and his partner D. Jackson Smith didn’t have one day of hospitality experience before they opened Grand Prix Speedways.
“That’s why I hired him,” Krummenacher says, pointing to General Manager Harry Lunt, who comes with 17 years of hospitality experience. “We’re not trying to do something we don’t know. We’re trying to do something we do know.”
And what Krummenacher knows is business, especially winning in business. After starting and selling one software company to Digital Equipment Corporation, in 1998 Krummenacher started another company called Bizware LLC, which developed the software Rapid Office.
After a successful 2004, the company was looking to grow. Krummenacher said a friend turned him on to indoor racing tracks and he started doing the research.
“We quickly found out that there were about 800 indoor cart racing centers worldwide,” he said. “And 600 of those were in Europe.”
Krummenacher and Smith went to Carlsbad, Calif., to check out one of these tracks.
“There was a about a two-hour wait for people to get into the facility,” he said. “And it sounded like Indy cars inside. We took a ride. That was August 24. And August 25, we embarked on this new venture.”
They identified all the tracks in U.S. and found Bertrand Ollier, one of the world’s leading consultants on indoor tracks. Then came the idea, actually based on a European model, that could have planners revving their engines.
“We would create a high-end conference center that any corporation would be proud to bring its people to, regardless of the fun activity behind that wall,” he says, pointing past a wood-paneled entryway toward the tracks.
And St. Louis is just the beginning. Several more Grand Prix Speedways are in the offing, scattered across the country, including one in Kansas City in the near future.
Teambuilding on wheels
All of that is to say that Krummenacher and Smith definitely have experience with making a business take off. And they have applied that knowledge to a series of metaphors that can be specifically used at Grand Prix Speedways.
“We have integrated into the business a very unique message,” Krummenacher says, “which is that speed, precision and attention to detail are what wins a race. We can show how paying attention to those details just a little bit will translate to your performance on the track.”
The variety of teambuilding experiences is endless. Race crews can get a driver on the track faster and more efficiently. Teams of drivers can combine times and give each other pointers on how to dominate the turns and straight-aways.
This is one of the competitive advantages over golf outings, says Lunt.
“Most people drive,” Lunt says. “So there’s not a great advantage like you will have in golf, where some people have never held a golf club and others have years of experience. It’s also a sport that is more about strategy than brute force.”
The racing experience goes like this:
Racers take a class that first teaches safety and gradually gets into strategy. They are then sent into the locker rooms to put on a race suit and helmet, making preparations much like an open-wheel racer would. The drivers get in the cars and line up on one of the two tracks. Hit the pedal – zero to 40 in three seconds – and you are gone.
“The heart starts beating in the classroom,” says Krummenacher, “when you learn about the strategies it takes to win a race. Then it increases in the locker rooms. And by the time you hit the track, your adrenaline is at an all-time high.”
The races start with qualifying heats marked by state-of-the-art technology that times and videos the races, which can even be broadcast in high-definition via satellite. Once the fastest drivers are determined, races for trophies begin.
Meetings on track
Lunt’s team consists of meeting consultants – with a range of experience from hotels to ESPN X Games – that will help planners perfect a meeting for their particular companies.
And not only is this fun, says Lunt, makes for good business too. For one thing, the flow of networking works better than at baseball games or golf foursomes.
“People can mix together, wait for their chance to race and really have an opportunity to talk to each other, even while being part of the event,” says Lunt, a former GM for St. Regis Hotels and Resorts. “You don’t get that when you’re divided by seats or split into groups.”
Then, of course, there are the meeting rooms. All offer Wi-Fi, dedicated land phone lines, satellite feed for teleconferencing, every multi-media option you can imagine, programmable lighting settings and automatic shades.
When it’s time to get down to business, here are the choices:
* A small auto mall leads up the front doors. Anything from classic cars to industry-related machinery can be poised to greet clients.
* A 3,790-square-foot circular lobby, bedecked with flatscreen monitors on wood paneled facades, greets all comers. The large space can be used for pre-function events, small exhibits or registration.
* North of the lobby is a pro shop that can be open as is or used for custom logo merchandise and even cleared out completely for another functional space.
* A 1,622-square-foot walkway leads to three large meeting rooms on the north side sitting away from the racetrack. The walkway can also serve as pre-function space.
* The Laguna Seca Room is 1,205 square feet with a movable partition that opens into the Daytona Room, another 1,211 square feet. (The rooms both fit about 150 guests theater style.)
* The Grand Prix Ballroom stretches 2,108 square feet. (170 people with rounds, over 200 theater style.)
* On the south side of the building – closer to the track – are four meeting rooms and an 805-square-foot conference lounge.
* The Lemans Room is 1,475 square feet. (Around 200 people theater style.)
* The Monaco Room is 1,463 square feet.
* The Indy Room is a 690-square-foot board room that seats 20 comfortably.
“We tried to keep it all first rate,” Krummenacher says. “The place is wired for any kind of meeting you can imagine.”
Like convention hotels, Grand Prix Speedways also will have a full service restaurant and catering service.
“Our banquet kitchen area will be set to cook up to 1,000 fresh meals,” Krummenacher says.
The kitchen has been created and will be operated through a team effort among the proprietors of J. Buck’s, Finale and Fuzio’s.
A full-service bar will also be available – all overlooking the race track.
For the price of putting along
Group pricing begins at 10 people and goes in increments of 10.
Classic Grand Prix ($99.95 per person) includes one qualifying heat (16 laps) and one final race (12 laps).
Challenge Grand Prix ($124.95 per person) includes two qualifying heats (16 laps each) and a final race (12 laps).
Ultimate Grand Prix ($149.95) includes two qualifying heats (16 laps), a semi-final heat (16 laps) and a final race (12 laps).
All packages include:
* Corporate day racing license.
* Grand Prix Speedways gift.
* Group photo.
* Food and beverage allowance.
* Private meeting room.
* First, second and third place trophies.
“We’re not going to nickel and dime the customer,” Krummenacher says. “We’re going to provide a full, high quality experience.”
(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor from Kansas City, Mo.)
Grand Prix Speedways
3590 Rider Trail South
Earth City, Mo 63045
(314) 298-RACE or
ANOTHER Adrenaline-Pumping Meeting Opportunity
Here’s another way to get your team building on wheels – the Kansas Speedway. The popular race track, located in Kansas City, Kansas, can get your team speeding around the same track that hosts a NASCAR Nextel Cup Race in September and an Indy race in July.
Currently there are five racing experience companies that use the track – four use stock cars and one uses Indy cars – and they want to work with groups.
“They can put on a pretend race,” says Lisa Joyce, manager of special events. “Teams have to learn to work together in the pits, making sure each person is ready to go when it’s their turn to race. It really is a good team-building experience.”
Each member of the team gets in the car with a professional driver, who then takes the team member on a prescribed number of laps. The faster the teams can get the next rider’s gear on, into the car and set, the better the chance that car is going to win the race.
“It teaches that it takes a team effort to win,” Joyce says, “which is certainly true in the pits.”
Before and after the race, Kansas Speedway has plenty of venues to host a meeting and lunch or reception. The garages, the media center, the president’s suite, even the winner’s circle are available.