Shifting into higher gear at Pikes Peak Int’l Raceway

FOUNTAIN — The owners of Pikes Peak International Raceway are all about speed — but they don’t want to crash and burn.

John Molloy, Guy Kathe and Bob Brockway bought the raceway under a yellow flag, just as the downturn was taking hold. But today, two years after buying the track, they say they’re gaining traction on a business plan that’s built for the long haul.

Because of the sputtering economy, the owners were able to buy the $35-million Fountain racetrack for $9 million — albeit with a couple of big caveats.

The seller, International Speedway Corp., plans to build a racetrack in Denver. To deter competition, the seller included restrictions barring PPIR from seating more than 5,000 fans at any nationally sanctioned races, such as NASCAR or Indy Racing League, or more than 10,000 fans at unsanctioned races.

Molloy and his partners bought the raceway after it had been mothballed for three years by the previous owners.

Their facility, built in 1996, is versatile. It boasts a banked one-mile oval, a 1.3-mile infield road course, a quarter-mile infield oval, and a 12-acre autocross lot. It also has VIP suites, a medical-care center, two 15,500-square-foot garages and a classroom for drivers.

Since re-opening, it has been attracting a growing number of amateur races as well as new businesses. Among them:

The Richard Petty Driving Experience offers 600-horsepower NASCAR-style stock cars for race enthusiasts to drive.

Griffith Speed & Custom provides PPIR’s track services and offers “legends” car driving and training.

Speedway Driver Search has its national headquarters at the track. It’s in the middle of filming its second season of a reality show for TV, as it searches for the next U.S. Formula 2000 driver.

Go 4 It Services — owned by Richard Pettiford, 24-time winner of the Rocky Mountain Division Sports Car Club of America national championships — offers high-performance driver training.

Attracting motorheads

Welcome by racing enthusiasts, the track also is making hoteliers and other local business owners happy because it brings tourists to the region.

National car clubs — including organizations of amateur racers — have been drawn to Fountain as a possible destination because of the raceway, said Cheryl McCullough, sports and special events manager for the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“There’s a lot more opportunity for all things automotive and sports-related now than there ever was before. The potential to bring in new business and repeat business is huge,” she said.

Local and regional car clubs already are booking the track because they can race, take driver- or motorcycle-education classes or create their own courses for cars or motorcycles.

For instance, the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Auto Sport Association, or NASA as it’s known in the motorsports world, “runs” at several tracks in the region, including PPIR.

“They’ve taken a track that was pulled out of service and left to rot,” said Revkah Balingit, co-regional director of NASA. “There are huge numbers of racing and auto fans, motorheads, and they’re putting those resources to good use.

“People jump at the chance to go there and drive and garage their cars,” she said.

Members of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of NASA were the first group able to drive clockwise on the track, over the Fourth of July weekend.

In the world of autosports getting to “run clockwise” is a huge coup, allowing drivers to turn right instead of the usual left.

Attorney Arthur W. Porter is one of many local race enthusiasts who regularly drives or races the course. He’s a driving instructor at corporate events at PPIR — and does that without pay.

“I get to drive, which is just jolly enough for me,” Porter said.

He also is involved in competitive historic racing, nationally and locally, in his own 40-year-old BMW 3.0 CSL or 3.5 CSL race cars.

“The track surface is beautiful,” he said. “It’s comparable to every other one of the NASCAR tracks that has a road course — every bit as nice as (the racetrack in) Phoenix, but it’s not 110 degrees.”

Not that cooler weather guarantees success.

Beyond racing

Molloy is the first to acknowledge that it’s difficult to make money in the racetrack rental business.

So far, including the purchase price, the owners have invested about $14 million in the property. They hope to be in the black within two years.

Business and events are steadily increasing. Last year, the track hosted events on 240 days; this year, it will host events on more than 300 days.

Through the various companies that have opened at the track, people can race go-karts, “legend” cars, stock cars and even open-wheel cars that have run in the Indianapolis 500.

The FBI, the Colorado Springs Police Department and various military outfits use PPIR for training. The track is also one of only a few in the nation where testing for NASCAR races is allowed.

While that all looks like a green flag at the start, there’s a lot more in the track’s long-term plans.

Part of the 1,200 acres controlled by the owners includes almost two miles of frontage property along Interstate 25, and they hope to attract even more businesses to the immediate area.

“There’s a synergy that happens between real estate development and a driving facility. Separately, it wouldn’t be the same,” Molloy said.

As they work to create their mecca for motorsports, the partners hope businesses such as engine- testing facilities and metal and machine shops will be attracted to the site — and will buy or lease land from PPIR.

“With many different types of payers headquartered and operating at PPIR, you spread your risk out,” Molloy said.

Although Molloy and Kathe love to burn rubber on the oval, they are serious about the raceway.

“We are enthusiastic, but we’re not ‘enthusiasts.’ We’re businessmen; we want to have fun with it, but it’s still a business, and you have to run it,” Molloy said.

It’s not about speeding to the finish line, he added.

“Maybe we’re plodding along and people don’t like the speed,” Molloy said, “but we will eventually get there.”