Interview : Ken Faught Pole Position Raceway
Posted by Tom on 04/02/2010
Ken, if you would please go over your competitive motor sports and most importantly your motorcycle background to familiarize my readers about you.
I actually started racing motorcycles in the mid-'80s in southern California. Within a few years I started doing product testing for a magazine called Dirt Rider which was the number one off-road motorcycle magazine in the world. About the same time I met a 14-year-old kid named Jeremy McGrath who later became the greatest Supercross rider of all-time. I was a little older than Jeremy, and it was at his house 20 years ago that I met my business partner and co-founder of Pole Position Raceway, Jason Williams. I've raced over 650 times in motocross, off-road, enduro, hill climbing, Grand National Cross Country, and hare scrambles. I also have three land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Racing has been a huge part of my life and I later became the editor-in-chief of Dirt Rider, and two television shows (Motorcyclist on Speed Channel and Dirt Rider Adventures on OLN) and also handled PR for Team Makita Suzuki and a racer named Ricky Carmichael.
What are you most proud about as far as competitive motorcycling and what do you
miss the most out of it?
I get the most attention from the land speed records, but I'm actually most proud of being a versatile rider and being able to adapt. I went to France last year and made money at a professional hill climb, and I really enjoy the challenge of trying different things. I actually enjoy 100-mile cross country races the most and competing in 24-hour endurance races. I love riding at night because it's so different. Unfortunately, riding with McGrath as a teenager made me realize that I didn't have what it took to make a living in the sport. I chose the college route and it was the best move. Had I realized that my benchmark was going to be the world's most-famous motorcycle racer, I might have stuck with it longer. But I miss the adrenaline rush, and that's one of the things that attracted me to karting.
While you have a long list of competitive accomplishments I also understand that
you have done some magazine publications and been involved in sponsorship.
I've written or have shot photos for over 160 magazines around the world, written a few books, and still love the world of publishing. I worked for the same company who owned Hot Rod, Motor Trend and over 100 other enthusiast publications. It gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of incredible people and taught me a lot about the world of promotions. That's what makes my partnership with Jason Williams so cool. He handles the financial, legal and operations side of the business and I'm able to focus on marketing and expansion products. We make a great team and have a lot of trust in each other.
How did you get together with Jeremy and Jason and begin work on the Pole
Position Raceway idea? Where these guys cycling buddies before Pole Position?
Jason, Jeremy and I have been friends for 20 years and we did a lot of riding together at McGrath's house in southern California when we were kids. When I told Jeremy that Jason and I were going to open an indoor kart track, he was one of the first people to get involved. He's an incredible down-to-earth guy, and has been very supportive.
With the opening of Las Vegas on December 13th, 2007 which I will discuss
a little later, it becomes number four in the line of Pole Position Raceways,
the other being the original in Corona, CA, then Oklahoma City, OK and
Murietta, CA. Give us a little insight into each location and what spurred those
areas to have your attention.
We started with Corona, California in 2005 because that is where we lived. It's also the heart of the off-road motorcycle community and we have a lot of contacts in that area. We had a lot of friends who helped us pull things together and that made all of the difference in the world. We are all about building a brand and promoting an image. Starting out in Corona with so many top-name motorcycle riders involved helped us develop the For Racers By Racers motto that we follow. From there we created our second track a year later in Oklahoma City. Jason lived in Oklahoma for a while and felt that the area needed something like Pole Position Raceway. We opened up an 85,000 square-foot two-track facility, and have now turned it into one massive track. I believe it's the single largest track in the United States. From there we started working on the Las Vegas track, but had the opportunity to open up another facility in Murrieta, California. We worked on Vegas and Murrieta simultaneously and opened up the two tracks within months of each other. Each of the tracks present different opportunities, but all feel like Pole Position Raceway, and each has it's own distinct personality.
As the response to indoor karting from the general public has just exploded,
and the number of tracks has followed do you see you guys settling in for a while
on opening other demographics to indoor karting or are you continually looking?
We want to continue to grow, but we want to grow carefully. Americans really love indoor karting, especially with high-tech electric karts, but the economy is really changing and that will probably limit growth for the next few years. We are approached by several people a month who want to build indoor karting centers across the country and that presents us with a lot of opportunity. Pole Position Raceway is the fastest-growing chain of privately owned indoor kart tracks in the United States and we feel very fortunate that we've been able to position ourselves as such a high-profile company. No doubt people see the huge list of champion racers involved with our company and understand that we are unique in the world of indoor racing. I can't tell you how beneficial it's been to have guys like Jeremy McGrath (7-time AMA Supercross Champ), Kurt Busch (2004 NASCAR Champ), Mike Metzger (Multi-time X-Games Gold Medalist), Chad Reed (AMA Supercross Champ), Jamie Little (NASCAR pit reporter) and some of the other celebrities involved. They really help out a lot, and they are very passionate about karting.
CA has been a leader in opening indoor tracks lately, is this influenced by the
tracks that originally came to the U.S. around the Seattle area, is it the dense
population or another trend?
The population base definitely helps, but I think a lot of people in California are used to motorsports and motorized recreation. Off-road motorcycle, ATV and dune buggies are really popular, and so is boating. I think people are very accustomed to power sports and they have an understanding of karting in general. When people in general first hear about indoor kart tracks in other areas of the country, they typically think of the amusement park kiddie rides that are slow and lack excitement. They really don't think of it as a sport and something that would addicting be for adults. But once they've experienced Pole Position Raceway, that all changes quickly.
Does the number and high density of corporations in CA influence this boom,
I have been told by owners that at many tracks corporations make up 50% of
I think every kart track has it's own customer base and it's own area of sales focus. Corporate business can be really good during a solid economy, and has definitely been good for Pole Position Raceway, but I'm not sure what the next few years will bring. I think that corporate parties offer a great opportunity to introduce customers into the world of indoor karting, but I think the 50% number is exaggerated.
I personally have been to two of your locations, Corona and Oklahoma City
and they both were a pleasure to visit, both have a lot of racing synergy with
all the memorabilia, that must build a lot of excitement for first time visitors!
Kind of makes you want to stand at the front door and count WOW's, I know
you take a lot of pride in the theming of the facility.
That's one of my favorite parts. I believe we have between $1.5 and $2 million of memorabilia in our four tracks. We have three Indy Cars, a bunch of championship winning motorcycles, a few NASCARs, and hundreds of sets of riding gear, driving suits, helmets, autographed photos, etc.. He have stuff from Dale Earnhardt, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Jeremy McGrath, James Stewart, Sam Schmidt, Mike Metzger, Ricky Johnson, Travis Pastrana, Chad Reed, Grant Langston, Jamie Little, Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty, and lots more. We're not a company that buys stuff on E-bay and then puts in on display. All of our stuff is the genuine article and comes from the racers or race teams themselves.
At all of your tracks you have decided to go with electric karts, did this start
off as a "Green" thing and what other benefits did you see in electric racing?
Actually Jason and I never considered gas karts. We knew that we didn't want to be inside a smoke-filled building because we simply felt it wasn't healthy for long-term exposure. We love gas-powered engines in general, but not for indoors. Our arrival onto the indoor kart scene coincided with tremendous technical advances in electric technology. Most karts used at indoor tracks only have 6.5 to 9 horsepower motors. Our karts produce 18 horsepower and have lot of torque. That means people can accelerate harder off the turns and and that's where most of the fun lies with indoor karts. Plus, we don't have to worry about using big fans to suck air out of our buildings. Electric karts allow us to have air conditioning and heating at all Pole Position Raceways, and that's a huge plus. In fact, we have the only kart tracks in southern California and Las Vegas that have air conditioning and heat.
Last time I was in Corona I noticed that on the top times of the week were a couple
of guys who like speed, Travis Pastrana and James Stewart. Are these guys regulars
at Pole Position?
James Stewart is usually at Pole Position Raceway three times a week when he's in California. He actually lives in Florida, but has a second home in our area. He's been a very big supporter of Pole Position Raceway and James is a great guy. I can't say enough about him. I actually don't think anyone has enjoyed our track as much as Travis Pastrana. He was there for 27 hours over the course of three days and even kept the place open until 2am and then took the staff out to Denny's for dinner. Travis is a really good friend and I'm still amazed that he has so much fun driving our karts, considering all of the incredible things he's done on a motorcycle and rally car.
What do you see in the future as far as continual expansion of indoor karting?
I know indoor karting will grow, but I think it's going to slow down for a while until the economy strengthens. People really underestimate the long-term costs involved with running a kart track. There are some areas around the country that could really benefit from our sport and I think there will be some cool tracks showing up in the next 10 years.
Ken, we appreciate your time and wish you and your partners continued success.