North Bay Business Journal

Monday, July 6, 2009, 12:06 am

Telecom execs turn to ‘high-speed fun’


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    Shuttered retail space being transformed for kart racing, entertainment

    Matt Stearn and Rod Towery plan to open an electric-kart-based family entertainment center in the shuttered Linens 'n' Things store in Rohnert Park this fall.

    Rod Towery (left) and Matt Stearn plan to open an electric-kart-based family entertainment center in the shuttered Linens 'n' Things store in Rohnert Park this fall.

    ROHNERT PARK – Two former Telecom Valley executives are on the move from high-speed communications toward high-speed fun with plans to open a family- and corporate-oriented indoor kart racing and entertainment center in a shuttered big-box store by this fall.

    Matt Stearn and Rod Towery quit their jobs at telecom equipment supplier Calix in Petaluma on June 22 to position their Driven Raceway LLC venture in the vacant Linens ‘n’ Things store at 4601 Redwood Drive to cross the finish line by early to mid-September.

    “For years I wanted to start my own business, and I was searching for a concept that brings together family entertainment and the racing concepts,” said Mr. Stearn, the 39-year-old chief executive officer and father of two.

    They’re spending several million dollars transforming most of the 40,800-square-foot former household goods store into adult- and junior-level tracks for electric karts, two bowling lanes with smaller balls and pins, nine holes of blacklight miniature golf, a game arcade and a snack bar, all with a racing theme. The facility also will have rooms for parties or group meetings, all with a racing theme. It would employ 25 to 30 mostly part-time employees.

    The design team includes Tierney/Figueiredo Architects of Santa Rosa, Canada-based blacklight mini-golf designer Shankz and Kart1, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based kart track designer and distributor for manufacturer OTL Italia.

    The facility is being fashioned to attract families, but the focus will be on attracting corporate events and team-building business as well as having competitive racing leagues, according Mr. Stearn.

    En route from Italy since June are 20 adult karts, which have 20-horsepower electric motors capable of speeds up to 45 miles per hour on straight-aways, and 10 slower-speed versions for children. The adult track will accommodate up to 10 cars at a time, and can be configured to include the junior track for longer races. Codding Construction has the interior transformation under way.

    As is increasingly common in the business of concession karting, each vehicle will have an electronic transponder that allows track staff to not only control the speed of reckless and inexperienced drivers but also track times for use in qualifying for various leagues.

    Kart racing has turned into an internationally competitive motorsport since the acknowledged “father of karting,” hot-rod designer Art Ingels, built the first vehicle in Southern California in 1956. It’s even one of four motorsports with a championship sanctioned by Paris-based International Automobile Federation (FIA). The federation’s Geneva-based International Karting Commission (CIK-FIA) last month created a global championship for drivers younger than 18 and Driving Academy for young teens, both set to launch in summer 2010.

    The Driven Raceway venture started taking shape in mid-2006 when Mr. Stearn and Mr. Towery were working for Motorola in Rohnert Park, and the company closed local operations.

    “We wanted more control over our careers,” said Mr. Towery, the 37-year-old chief operating officer and a father of three.

    The two then landed jobs at Calix, with Mr. Stearn in sales and marketing and Mr. Towery in customer service and support, but were commuting from Windsor to Petaluma.

    Over the past two years, their concept of a racing business took on the family element and then the corporate-events aspect. Yet when they initially commissioned real estate agent Rich Fenske of NAI BT Commercial to scout Sonoma County they had significant challenges not only finding or possibly building a facility large enough but also a property owner willing to take a chance on a startup entertainment business in a slumping local economy with lease terms agreeable to a bootstrapping venture.

    The partners then pieced together funding. They received Small Business Administration financing through Redwood Credit Union and Safe-Bidco, were approached by local investors and chipped in their own money and friends-and-family resources.

    Mr. Fenske also worked out a helpful lease deal with the Linens ‘n’ Things building owner, Rohnert Park-based Codding Enterprises. Instead of a light-industrial building, where other karting-only facilities are located in the Bay Area, Driven Raceway will have Highway 101 visibility and be in a Wal-Mart-anchored shopping center.

    “They saw the potential in the business and what we’re trying to do in the community,” Mr. Towery said about Codding. “They were flexible in lease terms and are taking a risk with us.”

    Pricing for racing is set to start at $25 for adult members of the racing club and $15 for children, plus a $6 annual license and $2-per-day head sock rental and excluding member discounts and specials. Corporate events pricing starts at $40 a person.

    For more information, call 707-585-DRIVEN (3748) or visit www.drivenraceway.com.

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    1. July 6, 2009, 11:23 am

      by Mary Byrne

      I think this is a fabulous idea. A year round activity for young adults and families……….Great Idea. The idea of corporate team building is great also, what a great stress reliever for an office. I can’t wait to drive.

    2. July 6, 2009, 2:42 pm

      by robert lee

      go carting coming to soco!

    3. July 6, 2009, 3:57 pm

      by Rosie Norgard

      So happy to hear the good news, Cant wait! Something the whole family will enjoy and not have to drive far from home. YaaHoo!

    4. July 6, 2009, 5:13 pm

      by Eric Wildt

      I’m the marketing manager for The Racer’s Group, a professional Grand-Am and NASCAR team located in Petaluma CA. I’ve shown this article to all my racing friends and coworkers in the area. And while we’re excited about the prospect of a local kart track opening in Sonoma County, we’d much rather see the emphasis placed on karting, and less on arcades, miniature golf, and bowling. To me, it’s a case of doing one idea correctly, instead of multiple concepts less than ideal.

      Besides, with Scandia Family Fun center and Double Decker Lanes so close, and Go Kart Racer and Le Mans Karting so far away, why not just focus on karting?

    5. July 6, 2009, 6:29 pm

      by Margaret Velasco

      Congratulations! Wish you the best and may God continue to bless you in your new venture.
      Margaret Velasco

    6. July 7, 2009, 9:20 am

      by Trish Griffin

      You go Rod!!!! This is going to be a great thing for R.P. you rock. I can not wait to bring my family there to ride the carts. Thank you in advance for some great memories.

    7. July 7, 2009, 10:18 am

      by Julie Carslon

      I am in the marketing communications field and have to find events for our sales force and this is perfect. Only 5 minutes away from the office.! Way to go Rod!

    8. July 8, 2009, 10:33 am

      by Sandra

      GREAT Idea, family oriented activities are always worthwile and supported.

    9. July 8, 2009, 11:12 am

      by Jeff Quackenbush, Business Journal Staff Reporter

      Consultants in the “concession karting” business advise entrepreneurs to offer more than one attraction to maximize profit potential.

      “FECs [family entertainment centers] usually incorporate a combination of activities like miniature golf, arcade games and concession go-karting to attract a wide range of family members, and to extend the length of stay by patrons. Today, concession go-kart track are undoubtedly one of the fastest growing and most profitable attractions in the FEC industry.” (“THE CONCESSION GO-KART BOOM: A PRIMER“)

      See also: Family Entertainment Centers: Developers Start Here

    10. July 9, 2009, 3:12 pm

      by Eric Wildt

      “FECs [family entertainment centers]”

      Ah, now I see. This new business wants to go head to ehad with Scandia. I guess I was hoping they would be like Go Kart Racer in Burlingame or Le Mans Karting in Fremont.

      My mistake.

    11. July 9, 2009, 4:22 pm

      by Christian

      There is solid creative capital at play here as well. Good people, good idea. Poised for success.

      Oh and for those that think Scandia is an alternative.. Scandia staffers blow, forget about leagues, try racing in the rain/heat/dark of night, and try watching your kids race without being in the car, static track tracks that never change…

    12. July 10, 2009, 2:03 pm

      by Matt Stearn

      Hello Eric, thank you for your feedback and thoughts on our business. Driven Raceway is an indoor European kart racing facility and our racing is not concession based. All of the racers are equipped with helmets, racing suits (during race leagues and events) and the karts come from Italy and are capable of reaching speeds up to 45mph. We have a separate adult track and a junior track that will allow new young racers an opportunity to begin racing and graduate up the ranks of racing to even beyond karting. This is one of the many reasons why we have elected to provide other attractions so that families will frequent the facility as well as racing enthusiasts. We will also have some racing leagues where we will combine our adult track and junior track into a super track. Our goal is not necessarily compete with Scandia, but to offer another venue for families as well as race enthusiasts. We invite you and your club to come and check out our amazing track and we believe that you will be more than satisfied. Thank you again for your input and we look forward to meeting you.

      Matt Stearn (owner)

    13. July 21, 2009, 8:59 pm

      by Bakersfield Gang

      Congratualations Rod and Matt! You guys have worked so hard on this project. Its finally going to happen! Cant wait for the grand opening! Wish you two great success in the future ahead!

    14. July 24, 2009, 2:28 pm

      by Eric

      Hi Matt,

      We’re definitely going to check it out.

      I’ve already gotten calls from friends and family that are interested in leagues, using your parking lot for Ground Pounder RC car races, and corporate events.

      We love any and all forms of racing, so there would have been no way we weren’t going to come out.

      I wish you nothing but success!

    15. August 10, 2009, 7:05 am

      by Jeffrey Myers

      Way to go Matt & Rod! If you guys work at this like you two did in the corporate world back when I worked with you two, this will be a smash!

      Good Luck!

    16. August 13, 2009, 8:11 pm

      by Dave Arens

      Rod & Matt
      Good luck! Great idea, probally a lot more fun than telecom these days. (Still selling NLC at CTDI)

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