FOUNTAIN – Watching someone zip by at 120 miles an hour, it’s difficult to tell if they’re smiling or merely fighting the g-force facilitated by the banked walls at the Pikes Peak International Raceway.
Bob Boileau, general manager of the PPIR, said smiles are part of the package for race fans, gear heads and adrenaline junkies. Boileau said there’s plenty to go around as one of the best-kept secrets in Fountain is back and has something to offer nearly everyone.
The race venue has had some bumps in the road since it was built by construction magnate C.C. Meyers in 1997 to host NASCAR and IndyCar races, as well as a multitude of other spectator motor sports.
“That was the focus of the track for first eight years until 2005,” Boileau said. “In 2005 the track came up for sale and it was purchased by the International Speedway Corporation (ISC), which owns NASCAR. They shut it down and it stay empty for three years.”
According to Paul Jensen, PPIR track manager, the facility fell into disrepair.
“They didn’t do a great job of winterizing it,” he said. “There was damage occurred because of that. Vandals broke in and stole a bunch of copper and destroyed stuff.”
In 2008, Reef Partners — comprised of John Molloy, Guy Kathe and Bob Brockway — purchased the raceway and the 13,000-plus acres it sits on. Only about a third of the land is currently developed.
With the purchase came a change in vision.
“The most common question is, ‘When is your next big race?’” Boileau said. “We don’t have big races. We have a whole bunch of little events. The formula never worked for it to be a big spectator venue. There just isn’t the population base to support it. But, we still ran 50,000 people through the gates last year.”
PPIR, according to Molloy is now a venue for a variety of motor sports.
“We’re basically like a rental facility,” Molloy said. “People assume PPIR is putting these events on, but we are the venue. We’re no different from the Broadmoor World Arena hosting ice skating events.”
When Reef Partners purchased the facility from ISC, the seller required a deed restriction in the transaction that stated the new ownership would not be allowed to host any nationally sanctioned motor sports event with more than 10,000 spectators.
According to PPIR Public Relations Manager Vince Salas, ISC protected its own interests by restricting possible competition.
Many small events
“That was fine with us,” Boileau said. “Our focus when Reef Partners bought the track was to have maybe two to three big spectator events a year, which were never successful before. We took that focus and turned it around and said we are going to have a bunch of participant events. So in 2013 we did over 200 events. We’ve heard a lot of people say ‘You’re kidding me, I didn’t even know you were open.’”
Salas said obscurity doesn’t necessarily equate to irrelevance.
“The track is really a business-to-business operation,” Salas said. “Because this business is focused on that approach, then we are not necessarily looking to a larger consumer audience to validate whether we’re open or not.”
Boileau said, if it has an engine and some wheels, there’s a place for it at PPIR.
“Events can be as small as a two-person group where we have an instructor teaching one motorcycle racer, all the way up to 1,000 people for the Spears Race.”
The Spears SRL Southwest Tour stockcar race is a “minor league” stockcar racing event, one of the few spectator events still offered throughout the year.
Ample parking and more
In addition, the venue facilitates military training in addition to several themed racing events throughout the year. It also hosts corporate events for local institutions such as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Pikes Peak Region and the Convention and Visitor Bureau. In July PPIR will host a Corvette-themed weekend with world-renowned racer Johnny O’Connell and, according to Boileau, a wedding might be on the books for the next day.
“What’s nice about doing those here at PPIR is you don’t have to worry about any permitting issues, having to close the roads or having to bring in portable toilets and so forth,” Boileau said. “As a result you can just come in, we have ample parking, we have influxes of 7,000 people in six hours without any traffic problems.”
Jensen is from Indianapolis, home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis 500. He said PPIR is as world-class as it gets.
“Really we’re extremely lucky to have a facility like this here in our backyard,” he said. “There aren’t that many facilities like this around the country. Certainly there aren’t many facilities like this the general public has access to, especially 365 days a year.”
A fast track
The 1-mile “D-shaped” oval is the fastest of its kind in the world, according to Boileau.
“When the Indy cars raced here, one went around this track in 20.1 seconds,” Boileau said. “That’s an average of 178 [miles per hour.]”
Boileau said with auto racing’s popularity at an all-time high, PPIR is reaping the benefits, and so is the community.
“We certainly have a pretty good economic impact on Fountain and Colorado Springs,” Boileau said. “Two weeks ago we had a corporate driving event with a company with offices in Denver and Europe. They flew people in from all over the world for that event and they stayed at the Broadmoor. I’m pretty sure zero of those dollars spent came from Fountain.
“For last three years we’ve had about a 97 percent retention ratio of all of our customers,” Boileau added. “Basically, if they don’t come back, it’s because we don’t want them to. We’ve been growing every year.”
That growth means the full-time staff of six is looking to hire two additional staff members, including a full-time sales and marketing associate. Boileau said PPIR doesn’t court big-name sponsors normally associated with large spectator venues, but the recent increase in business means they will consider broadening their sponsorship efforts.
In addition to sponsorships, according to Salas, ownership is exploring how best to use the additional land not currently developed.
“The vision of the raceway really is to leverage that real estate,” Salas said. “That’s a tremendous asset in terms of opportunity for expanded programs and behind-the-wheel experiences. That will take the appropriate partnerships and investments to come alongside the current owners to help develop the track further.”
Molloy would not say if any partnerships were currently in the works, but explained a “one-stop-shop” for car enthusiasts where maintenance and storage facilities could be a possibility.
He said, no matter the future of the raceway, it will continue to be a driver of economic growth in the region, and a place to come and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Hopefully this will be very good for the community,” Molloy said. “The idea here is to support what’s happening in Pikes Peak region. We are working towards being a premium amenity for hotels and resorts in the future. … We want people to know we’re here. I can explain all day long that we’re not what you think. People every time say ‘I had no idea.’ And where else in the U.S. can you go to train to be a racecar driver? I can’t think of anywhere.”