Top Golf could be a model for a similar racing experience, writes Parker Kligerman.
David Becker/Getty Images for Tifanja

Kligerman: Who wants to be a billionaire? Here’s how: Battle Karts!

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A couple years ago I was in a dingy underground bar in Hong Kong. Sitting in a dark red leather booth (at least I think it was dark red, hard to tell through the synthetic E-cigarette smoke), it had the smell of the back mudroom in a small frat house mixed with a plastic fruit flavor of bananas and berries.

I had met a big group of young Brits on one of the million vacations that young, affluent Brits take between birth and death. Sweat was pouring from every single orifice of my body in seemingly 1,000-degree heat that had been concocted via spicy foods and our latest shot of something they called “Brilliant.”

I sat at the end of the booth when a blonde British girl asked, “What do you want to be in life?”

Without a moment’s hesitation — and surely for the first time in my life — I replied, “I want to be a billionaire.”

Maybe it was the drinks, the foreign locale  or the Travie McCoy song “Billionaire” playing those exact lyrics at that moment.

She looked at me with pause and dropped to a mix of flummox and disappointment. Like when you tell your mom about the “harmless” prank you played on a friend of yours.

She replied “That’s DISGUSSSTTTINNNGG” in a way only the British can. It simultaneously sounded profound but uneducated Valley Girl.

I laughed loudly and carried on into the night. And I never uttered those words again, as the truth is I don’t really care to be a billionaire.

A millionaire would be nice. Which is why I am going to offer you an idea that — if correctly executed — surely will make someone a billionaire … or a millionaire …  er, maybe broke.

In the tech world if you have an idea, you inevitably will try to convince potential investors by way of “It’s the Uber for X” or if you’re writing a new sitcom, you may say “It’s The Big Bang Theory meets X.” The point is you will be using the most successful version of a concept and saying your idea has the same potential.

But it most likely doesn’t, and everyone will stare at you, nod, smile, say “I get it.” And then move on to something else and hope you never bring the idea up again.

So here is my pitch:

Top Golf for NASCAR!

Bear with me. If you are hanging with a group of friends. Inevitably you will try to find something to do. Some will want to go to the nearest bar, others will want to play a sport or Xbox. And some will want to sit on the couch and watch It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia reruns all day.

Eventually you will Google things to do. If you’re lucky, a place called Top Golf will emerge in the results.

Everyone will agree it seems the best compromise. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by a facility more akin to space travel than golf. You’ll be bombarded by trendy music, information screens and a mass of people. None of which looks like golfers.

And that’s what is so great. They are not golfers, and that’s why you’re there. Because not all your friends are golfers.

But over the next couple hours you’ll consume many beverages, eat overly acceptable food and most importantly, enjoy the company of your best friends.

All the while, you competitively are vying for golf shot supremacy. And by the third massive bucket of beverages and seems-like-a-good-idea tequila shot, you’ll be betting who can drive the ball the farthest.

Why?

Because the ball has a microchip in it that tells you how far it goes, and you’ll be drunk.

It’s the sensible thing to do.

As you lean back in the comfortable couches and take in the party atmosphere, you’ll glance up and notice one of the two TVs in your area is playing your favorite It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

You’ll be smiling and giddy like a child watching their favorite cartoon, eating an endless bucket of candy.

I got to experience this in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago in a group with my brother. As we looked at what seemed a million people enjoying this high-tech driving range, I turned to my brother and said, “These guys saved golf.”

If you didn’t know, golf as a sport is struggling. More than 800 golf courses have closed in the last decade. The PGA Tour has endured declining TV ratings in 40 of last year’s 64 events. And their fan base is aging.

Sound familiar?

There is hope, though, Top Golf was created when two brothers in England got bored with the monotony of a driving range they owned.

A global phenomenon has followed: 21 locations between the United States and England and an estimated 12 million players in 2016. And astonishingly, more than 50 percent never hit a golf ball before.

What does this mean for racing?

Unless you are a race car driver or want to be one, most go-karting facilities are, let’s face it … boring.

They have a flat track and beat-up karts. You always are slower than the guy who spends an unhealthy amount of time there (thinking Rick Hendrick will walk in, see the time sheet and exclaim “Hire that man!”).

You are told don’t bump, don’t smile, don’t scream and don’t have fun.

And most importantly, don’t race.

Because some actuary in Ohio probably saw a description of “40 mph, people motorized vehicles”  and immediately wrote, “DEATH.” So the only way to proper insurance for track owners is to prohibit fun.

It’s a hard sell for people who don’t understand the fascination with racing or care about cars/driving. For them, it’s like a dodge ball game in P.E class without knowing how to throw or run. You’re an inferior, overwhelmed, scared, depressed, overflowing-with-anxiety battering ram.

And you paid $40 plus for the honor.

But I am going to change that — Battle Karts!

A quick Google search summons a sad attempt of Battle Karts in France, where modern technology was used to lightly create a real-life Mario Kart.

My idea is bigger than that. I want to have two to three activities all involving driving of some kind, but with a team aspect and points structure that don’t necessarily equate to winning a race.

Activity 1: This will be the centerpiece of Battle Karts, as it will be contested on the largest track. But the object will be not only to win the race – there also will be team competition (designated by kart colors). The vehicles will have roll cages and be a bit beefier than what you normally find these days.

The track will not be your normal kart track, as it will have banked corners made of metal ramps. It will be very slick so you can’t go too fast, and the karts will have the steering lock to allow you to drive sideways. So whether you are Kyle Larson or Betty Smarson, you will be able to compete.

As you climb into one of the Battle Karts, you will notice buttons on the steering wheel. These will be your “weapons” to use against the other teams on the track. Points will be awarded for a “hit” on the other team. Points will be awarded for fastest laps, finishing position and “battle points” from hitting your opponents.

This is about making a structure that allows anyone of any skill set to compete equally. (OK, maybe it’s very much like Mario Kart and needs a bit of work. I never said this idea was complete.)

Activity 2: This is my favorite — beside the main track will be an area similar to a hockey rink but smaller. Inside will be karts that look more like bumper cars, but the surface once again will be slick.

Inside, the karts are split into two colors designating their team. In the center is a giant ball.

This will be Kart Soccer. Similar to what others have done with cars on certain big TV shows — how this is not a thing yet, I don’t know. But it will be at Battle Karts!

Activity 3: Well, that’s where you come in, as I haven’t come up with the third activity. No worries, because if you actually are creating this idea and becoming a billionaire, someone will come up with the third activity.

Lastly, I know a keen reader will say, “But wait, Top Golf is successful because it allows drinking and is a party atmosphere.”

How dare you question my genius? I have a plan for that, too. Elevated above all the tracks in the middle will be the main bar.

It will wrap around the balcony, so you can look at all the competition and races as they happen. There will be on-board cameras in all of the karts and TVs around the bar – as well as two free drinks for anyone over 21 (after completing the competition). You can use the points accumulated in competition to “bet” on the other competitions (using iPads) to win drinks or food.

Maybe it’s not a perfect idea. But the point is, Top Golf took something boring and made it fun — effectively helping introduce new people to a sport they never thought would interest them.

We have to be able to figure out how to do the same with racing. And whoever does accomplish this…

As of writing this, Top Golf most recently was valued at an estimated $2 billion. The opportunity is there.

Do you want to be a billionaire?

My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September. While still in the rumor stage, there’s a lot of talk that IMS may change the race to something akin to its Verizon IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix race in mid-May, where half the race is run on the infield road course and the other half on the traditional racetrack surface.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

Tony Stewart pulled over by state trooper, but it’s not for speeding

Photo courtesy Damein Cunningham Twitter account
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Retired NASCAR Cup driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart was stopped by an Illinois State Trooper over the weekend near DeKalb, Ill., about 90 minutes west of Chicago.

But before you think Stewart was stopped for speeding by Trooper Damein Cunningham, he wasn’t.

Rather, Cunningham pulled Stewart over for improper lane usage, although exactly what the infraction was is unclear.

After getting a verbal warning, Stewart gladly posed with Cunningham for a selfie, which the trooper promptly tweeted out.

“Just pulled over NASCAR LEGEND Tony Stewart on I-88 in DeKalb, IL, what you think I got him for? #NASCAR #ISP”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham’s bosses apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about the incident or realize the good PR it meant for the Illinois State Police.

That, or they’re not Stewart or NASCAR fans. They ordered Cunningham to delete the tweet, which he did.

It’s unclear what Stewart, who was stopped on his 46th birthday, was doing in the Land of Lincoln.

But his luck went from bad to worse a few hours later. According to USA Today, Stewart and others were stuck in an elevator in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

We can just imagine what the elevator riders talked about while trapped.

How much do you want to bet Stewart said, “Man, do I have a story about a cop that I have to tell you.”

Cunningham then posted another tweet on Sunday after attending church services.

 

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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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