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?

Atlanta Motor Speedway to delay repave at least a year

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The cries of drivers have been heard. Atlanta Motor Speedway will not repave its track as previously scheduled. Instead, track officials will evaluate the surface following the 2018 race there.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, had planned to have the track surface repaved beginning in late March. It would have been the first repave there since 1997.

Engineers examined the track after the March 5 race to determine if the track surface could last another year with modest repairs. Track officials also consulted with Goodyear and others.

“There’s no question that the surface is worn out, but probably the most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C., was the biggest influence,” Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, told NBC Sports of the drivers. “They kind of put the pressure on. I understand.”

After winning there, Brad Keselowski made his pitch not to repave the track.

“Drivers hate repaves,” he said. “We want to see the surfaces last as long as they can.  But the reality is nothing lasts forever, and this surface has made it a really, really long time, 20 years, I think, this season, and they should be really proud of that.

“My hope is they can get another year or two out of it, and I understand if they can’t, and you have to kind of leave it to their expertise and so forth.”

Clark said that work will need to be done to the track before next year’s race.

“The worst part is down the frontstretch in front of the grandstands,” Clark told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of issues there. We’re actually going to have to cut a few areas and patch … to make it last through 2018. We consulted with Goodyear on that. They don’t think, as long as it is on the straightaway, it is a big issue from a tire standpoint.”

Clark said that the track surface will be sealed in October and should have the patching done before then.

“Let them go ahead and slip and slide one more time in 2018,” Clark said.

Clark said that while anything can change, he doesn’t foresee being talked out of a repave job too many more times.

“You have to see how the weekend goes and what happens,” Clark told NBC Sports. “We had to patch some places after the Saturday events this year, small places. Hey, if we could go two more, great. All you’ve got to do is walk out there and look at it. It is absolutely worn out. But if the drivers say, hey our choice is to race on this surface as it is.

“There comes a point (when a repave is needed). We do have a few drainage issues we do need to correct, some other things when the time comes. Right now, we’re going to get through 2018 and evaluate and see if that is the time or when is it.”

Clark said that when the track is repaved, Goodyear has expressed interest in having two test sessions to determine the proper tire for that 1.5-mile track instead of the customary one because of the track’s challenging surface.

Clark warns that with the excitement of Tuesday’s news, the day is still coming when the track will have to be repaved.

“I can’t see this going two more seasons, maybe only one,” Clark said.

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NASCAR America — My Home Track: 50 States In 50 Shows — Arkansas

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we continued our series of My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows as our trucks rolled into Arkansas!

We visited two short tracks in the state that produced President Bill Clinton and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

Plus we talked to NASCAR Hall of Famer and Arkansas native Mark Martin about racing in his home state.

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.