Top Golf could be a model for a similar racing experience, writes Parker Kligerman.
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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?

Xfinity crew chief Chris Gabehart penalized $5,000 for loose lug nut at Indy

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NASCAR has issued one penalty resulting from last weekend’s races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Chris Gabehart, crew chief for the No. 20 Xfinity Series car of Joe Gibbs Racing, was fined $5,000 on Wednesday.

Gabehart was penalized for violating Sections 10.4 and 10.9 of the NASCAR Rule Book covering Tires and Wheels: Lug nut(s) not properly installed at the conclusion of the Lilly Diabetes 250.

There were no other penalties related to last weekend’s Xfinity or NASCAR Cup races in Indianapolis or the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.

Richard Childress Racing to announce plans for a third Cup team ‘at a later date’

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With Paul Menard and his family’s home improvement chain sponsorship on the move to Wood Brothers Racing for 2018, Richard Childress Racing has a major funding gap to address.

Menards has adorned the No. 27 Chevrolet for RCR for seven consecutive Cup seasons and is among the last full-season sponsors in NASCAR’s premier series. It assuredly is the most lucrative of RCR’s sponsorships.

Though the team is committed to fielding Chevys for Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon next season, the impending departure of Menard leaves questions about whether RCR will remain a three-car team in 2018.

In a statement Wednesday morning, team chairman and CEO Richard Childress said the team “will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.”

Here’s the full statement from Childress:

Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years. Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.

Our entire RCR organization is 100 percent focused on getting all three of our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs in the playoffs this year, and bringing another Cup championship to RCR in 2017.

We will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.

 

Paul Menard will move to the Wood Brothers for 2018 season

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Paul Menard will join Wood Brothers Racing next season, the team announced Wednesday. He will replace Ryan Blaney, who will move after this season to run a third Cup car for Team Penske.

Menards will sponsor the car in 22 races. Additional sponsorship, including plans for long-time partner Motorcraft/Quick Lane, will be announced later. The technical alliance between Team Penske and the Wood Brothers will continue.

“It’s fantastic to have the ability to continue to race in the highest level of motorsports full-time and something we look forward to doing with Paul for years to come,” said co-owner Eddie Wood in a statement. “I know this will allow us to continue to perform as an organization and will give Paul a great opportunity to go out there and compete for wins. Paul is not only a great driver with a lot of experience in the Cup Series, but he’s great with partners, which is a big part of what we do these days. We are looking forward to finishing out this season with Ryan (Blaney), going for more wins and maybe even a championship, and continuing that with Paul in 2018.”

Said Menard: “I’ve really enjoyed my time in NASCAR and as a Cup Series driver, but to get the chance to drive the iconic No. 21 for the Wood Brothers is the coolest thing I’ve ever got a chance to do. I’m looking forward to working with the team, working with Roush Yates, Ford Performance and Team Penske to see what we can do. Ryan (Blaney) has done a fantastic job and is a constant threat to run up front. Hopefully, we can do the same thing and keep the momentum going into 2018 and beyond.”

Also, Menard will run a handful of Xfinity races for Team Penske next year.

Menard had been with Richard Childress Racing since 2011, scoring his lone Cup victory — the 2011 Brickyard 400 — with the organization.

Menard’s best finish in the points with the organization was 14th in 2015. He is 23rd in the points with no wins, two top fives and three top-10 finishes this season.

The move marks the fourth organization the 36-year-old Menard has raced full-time for in his Cup career. He drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. from 2007-08, Yates Racing from 2009-10 and Childress since.

Car owner Richard Childress issued a statement:

“Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years. Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.
“Our entire RCR organization is 100 percent focused on getting all three of our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs in the playoffs this year, and bringing another Cup championship to RCR in 2017.
“We will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.”

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Ryan Blaney to join Team Penske in 2018

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Ryan Blaney will move to Team Penske and drive a third Cup car for that organization, the team announced Wednesday.

Blaney will drive the No. 12 Ford in 2018 and has signed a multi-year contract extension.

“For some time now, we have wanted to bring Ryan in to run a third car for us, but things just needed to make sense from a timing and business perspective,” said team owner Roger Penske.  “We have been working on making this a reality and 2018 is the right opportunity to make this move and return our organization to a three-car team. The benefits of having three full-time teams under our roof, along with the continued technical partnership with the Wood Bothers, will help us remain competitive in the ever-changing NASCAR landscape.”

MORE: Paul Menard to take over Wood Brothers ride in 2018

Blaney, who won at Pocono in June, is 12th in the standings. He has seven top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season.

“This is a huge opportunity for me and my career,” said Blaney, a third-generation driver from High Point, North Carolina, in a statement. “I’ve always enjoyed racing whatever car I was in and trying to win each and every race. I’ve had some great moments with both Team Penske and the Wood Brothers over the last few years. I know for a fact I wouldn’t be where I am today without Roger (Penske), Eddie and Len (Wood) and the opportunities their organizations have given me. I’m thrilled knowing that Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano) are long-term teammates for me at Team Penske and Paul (Menard) will have input with our team now that he’s with the Wood Brothers organization. Hopefully we can go out there and win races and compete for championships year after year.”

The 23-year-old Blaney first signed with Team Penske in 2012. He has raced for Wood Brothers Racing, which is aligned with Team Penske, since 2015. He ran about half the 2015 season and has done the full season the past two years for the organization.

This marks the first time since 2010 that Team Penske has fielded three full-time entries. It did so that season with Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr.

With adding a third car, Team Penske will need to acquire a charter for that car.

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