Leave the Golf Bag, Bring Your Helmet to These Country Club Racetracks
The South Carolina Golf Club was inaugurated on September 29, 1786, a scant 40 years after the first organized game of golf was played in the same state. In the intervening 280 years about 9,000 more country clubs have appeared in the United States.
Now there's a new type of club sweeping across the country. Professional grade racetracks, many complete with condos and clubhouses, restaurants and spas, are popping up in all corners of the nation.
These clubs usually have a yearly membership fee, which allows guests access to the facility and private driving days so they can drive their cars as fast as they are able without looking in the rearview for police cruisers. Professional licensing courses so members can go racing in leading race series is an option.
Many have garages for members to store their cars either inside or near the condos. Some feature driving schools for members, others were already famous tracks, before adding the amenities traditional country club goers insist upon.
"This model has taken off more in the last few years. There are really two formats. We are one of these private garage communities with a track, but then you have a lot of them around the country where people can keep their cars and congregate together," M1 Concourse CEO Tim McGrane told Newsweek.
"The social community that we've been able to build here is probably more active than most of the other places. And I think that's for a couple of reasons. I think the prime reason is most of our owners are within 15 to 20 minutes of us, making us a rare breed. We're sort of a suburban racetrack while many are out in the countryside."
The M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan, open in 2016, is about 20 miles north of Detroit and features a 1.5-mile track with tight turns, one quarter-mile straight and about 30 feet of width to move around on. The purpose-built circuit features runoff areas for safety and a new off-road track is coming soon.
Private garages are offered ranging from 507 to 4,800 square feet. All units are engineered steel and feature sprinklers, one-hour rated fire walls, full insulation, and oversized garage doors. The units are metered for water, gas and electric and are pre-wired for cable television and high-speed internet.
Memberships are only available to condo owners and require a one-time initiation fee of $30,000. There is an annual fee of $4,950 per year. Membership benefits include open lapping sessions, semi-private professional coaching sessions with racers Pippa Mann and Johnny O'Connell, autocross events, drifting events and guest days.
A 600-square-foot condo is currently for sale, already completed with a lower-level garage and upper level entertaining space, for $389,000. The most recent, and last phase of condos started at $200,000 and went up to $1 million for a three-floor unit in a prime spot.
"We now have two clubs. The Motorsports Club is what a garage owner must join to get access to the track. And we have about 150 Motorsports Club members now. Then we've just started the M1 Concourse Car Club, for people that don't have a garage here," said CEO McGrane.
"But because of the events that we're doing here, people like to be part of the group. They like be connected and with the number of people that come to our cars and coffee events and our signature events, we thought we'd create this club where it would give them some benefits, discounts on some admission tickets, some advanced opportunities on activities and special parking."
Stellantis' Ralph Gilles, now Chief Design Officer, worked his way up through the ranks from designer to vice president of design and eventually President and CEO of Dodge before landing at his current role. A car enthusiast from birth, Gilles is one of the more famous names on an M1 Concourse garage.
"I don't play golf, so this is a great way to build a network. There's probably two degrees of separation in the entire community, so you kind of get to know people very quickly and you're all connected somehow," said Gilles to the glossy M1 Concourse lifestyle magazine sent to members.
"My garage is a diorama of my life. It's a place where I can put memorabilia, trophies, art. There's something about this car-enthusiast space that I find very peaceful, when you look at all the things that surround us in modern times. Having cars in common has been a great equalizer; something that has allowed me to integrate into new places quickly."
On the other side of North America, just north of the U.S. border is a small island off the coast of Vancouver. The whale-watching, bear-heavy island is home to VIMC's 1.5-mile, 19-turn track carved into a mountainside with complex turns and huge changes in elevation.
The Vancouver Island Circuit has several ways to go racing including its Taste of the Track for $495. The half-day course lets guests learn car control, how to handle under and oversteer and helps them perfect cornering and braking.
A high-performance driving school, designed for those looking to take their driving skills to the next level, focuses on racing lines, trail braking, motorsport vision and other skills that will put a driver a step ahead of their competition. There are two levels, starting at $800. Guests can add $1,000 if they want to drive one of the school's vehicles.
For those looking to spend less, Vancouver offers autocross days. It calls them "autoslalom," and utilizes a cone course to practice car control in tight quarters. This is one of the safest ways for a guest to race their own vehicle as there are no walls to hit and no gravel runoff emergency sections are needed. The autoslalom event is just $119 for one day. Vancouver is one of the few of these newer tracks that currently doesn't offer condominiums on the premises.
Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch is located about an hour outside of Las Vegas in Pahrump, Nevada, and counts about 400 members. SMMR now features nine miles of track and is expanding even more, expected to eclipse the famed German Nurburgring and its 13-miles of track. It can be configured in more than 70 ways.
Weekend and weekday guests can stay at Spring Mountain's condominiums, with prices starting at $125 per night for the smallest condo. The large rooms are $200 for with a balcony and kitchenette. Member gets, their guests and driving school students get upgraded bed, kitchenette and balcony arrangements.
The membership fee is $75,000 and includes 16 track days a month. Those that rent the condos full time also get a garage underneath to store race and recreational vehicles.
Amenities include a clubhouse with outdoor patio, fire pits, pool area and workout facility, along with an indoor racquetball court and gun range. Guests can also book a massage or go to Lake Spring Mountain and fly the jetblade, which is like a water powered jetpack. Charleston Peak is its new 3.2-mile road course that SMMR says is a favorite to club members and professional racers due to its premium asphalt, elevation changes and off-camber turns.
The Ranch also offers several driving schools including the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School, the Cadillac V Performance Academy and even a Cadillac V Certification course for those dealers selling Cadillac's most powerful variants. The track recently brought back an older program that can make weekend drivers professional racers.
"The Radical Racing Academy, a revived and reimagined program of Spring Mountain's, just launched in March 2023. Track enthusiasts get the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a real racecar. The progressive curriculum targets and expands a student's skillsets through various track, paddock, and classroom exercises, turning them into a better technical driver. At the end of the course, students may also be eligible to receive their SCCA Novice Permit or Full Competition License," Todd Crutcher, director of marketing at Spring Mountain told Newsweek.
Virginia International Raceway, colloquially known as VIR, features two Grand configurations with more than four miles each. There are several other formats too, ranging from 12 to 28 turns along with 130 feet of elevation change. Track initiation is $3,000 including 18 track days a season. Yearly membership is another $3,200.
The track features camping grounds for families and go kart for kids. It's also one home of the Skip Barber Racing School where amateurs can up their driving skill. The one-day school features open-wheel formula cars (they look like Indycars), and costs $3,495. A three-day school is $6,995 and uses Ford Mustang GTs for track cars.
VIR offers luxury two-floor villas for rent or sale. They're 2,200 square feet and the floors can be separate and locked if the owner wants to rent one out. A garage on the bottom level is for villa owners and measures 12 by 20 feet. Like many of these tracks, they can build to suit the owner.
Some of these tracks also come with a history less as VIR has hosted the SCCA National Sports Car Championship and IMSA race series, as well as the AMA Superbike Championship. Both the Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series used the Full Course configuration and driving greats like Carroll Shelby, Mark Donohue and Richard Petty have won there, along with dozens of other aces.