Get Behind the Wheel
Pole Position Raceway feeds the need for speed.
Article by Julia M. Johnson
There aren’t many spaces in Missouri where your group can eat, drink, network, and floor it around curves in a high-powered racing kart, all under a single roof.
There is one spot in the St. Louis suburb of Crestwood, however. It’s Pole Position Raceway, the indoor racing venue where visitors live out their pedal-to-the-metal fantasies in electric-powered speed karts on a challenging track. Opened in 2013 in a former department store building, the raceway is clean, climate-controlled and safety-focused. There are karts, tracks and activities tailored to adults and young people alike, so visitors of all kinds can get stoked about racing.
Owner and racing professional Mike Johnson is building on the venue’s initial success by adding new activities for corporate and event groups. Pole Position is all about getting guests’ competitive engines running, so the facility makes perfect sense for event-goers on the hunt for a challenge.
News for groups
Johnson says he recently brought in a new general manager, Lindsey Valenti, and they are working together to create new uses for a 5,000-square-foot area inside the raceway building. “We are thinking of adding something like a ropes course or miniature golf in there,” Johnson says. “We’ve found that a lot of group clients go racing, then say, ‘What can we do now?’ So we want to add a secondary attraction for them.”
To help them decide how to use the space best, Johnson and his staff have been attending industry conferences and consulting other amusement vendors for advice. “We want to add something fun,” he says, “and market it as a value-added service for groups” – in addition to Pole Position’s existing party room and spaces for seating, meeting and eating.
“We’ve had a great first year and a half,” Johnson says of his Pole Position location, which is one of 14 nationwide. “We want to continue to get more people in here – add even more smiling customers.”
Fuel for thought
St. Louisans have been seeing Pole Position in headlines and on social media in recent months. In December 2014, country singers Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood brought a group of about 50 band members, crew and friends to the facility for some adrenaline-fed excitement. Johnson says Brooks’ and Yearwood’s group booked his facility for a midnight party after wrapping up a local concert appearance.
Current St. Louis Rams offensive guard Rodger Saffold and former Rams defensive tackle D’Marco Farr have been known to stop by for speed therapy as well – which gives you an idea of what Pole Position’s powerful karts can handle. St. Louis of what Pole Position’s powerful karts can handle. St. Louis baseball Cardinals and Blues hockey players also visit in the off season. “They like bringing their friends in,” Johnson explains. “Come in for a race, and you just might see famous people.”
Space to race, and more
It doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity or a corporate meeting guest; there’s a wide variety of racing options groups can choose, according to Johnson. “We can have endurance races, or competitive races, or other custom formats,” he says. “We had a recent group that wanted 12 races with 12 people in each race, and the winner of each competed in a final race. That’s easy for us to put together; we can set it up however groups want. Maybe you would like to have your salespeople compete against each other, or pit the accounting staff against the marketing staff. Companies love that.”
The space also is ideal for groups wanting to set up a showroom- like arrangement. “We have had clients such as a large oil company come in and do product launches here,” Johnson says. “That group used the whole interior, and the party room for breakfast and seminars. And Panasonic Corp. came here as part of a convention week, and used our facility to showcase new equipment while letting guests race.
“I would say we’ve hosted about 90 of the firms that rank on the St. Louis Business Journal’s list of ‘150 Largest Privately Held Companies’,” Johnson says. “It’s a big facility – you can do a lot with it.”
Pole Position also welcomes student gatherings, to help kids learn about racing and safety. “We have groups come for a full day’s education and racing,” Johnson says. “It’s part of the Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) program through Missouri schools.”
In the running
Julie Krull DMCP, director of business development for Destination St. Louis, recently worked with Pole Position to host a large corporate client’s team-building activity at the raceway. “Our client was looking to go off-property from its hotel,” Krull says. “We proposed several options, but they really loved the idea of competing in races.”
The group booked a complete buyout of the venue for an evening, and worked with Pole Position to bring in catering and beverage services. “We provided a buffet dinner and an open beer and wine bar,” Krull says.
“The group was competing throughout the entire week of its meeting, and this event was an opportunity for people to earn additional points,” she says. “We allowed everyone to run practice races for the first hour, then started competition rounds. This gave attendees who didn’t want to compete the opportunity to drive a few races, then sit back and enjoy the rest of the night.”
Krull says it is especially convenient that the facility can host entire self-contained events – food, drinks, mingling and networking, plus team-building fun. “Pole Position also works with caterers often, so there were no surprises about what would and wouldn’t work in the space,” she adds. “We even brought in checkered linens and used racing-themed centerpieces. Overall the event was a success, and we enjoyed working with the onsite staff.”
At the finish line
The bottom line is, Pole Position is well set up to meet the needs of many a meeting group, and guests with a variety of preferences. Those who crave a seat behind the wheel can don a helmet and get strapped in – and those who prefer not to race can enjoy networking, conversation and the excitement of spectatorship.
In the end, the best way to live the full Pole Position experience is to be part of a competitive group, Johnson says. “Of course it’s great solo if you’re really into it,” he notes. “But it’s even more fun when you’re part of a team.”
Pole Position Raceway
Rita Frazier, CMP, sales and marketing
8800 Watson Road
St. Louis MO 63119
(314) 925-7545 phone
Julia M. Johnson is a contributing editor and writer from St. Louis.