Tuesday
Apr172012

A Club for Speed

As driving enthusiasts, it’s a safe assumption that many of us have similar daydreams when it comes to our automotive passions. We may dream that we someday have enough skill to make it as a driver in a pro racing series, or find a classic Ferrari in good shape sitting in a barn with an owner that would be happy to get rid of it for $500. Another could be the dream of owning a great sports car that we could take to the track whenever we feel like it. Thanks to the Monticello Motor Club, that last dream can be reality for well-heeled car enthusiasts in the New York metropolitan area. 

Private motorsport and track-day facilities have been cropping up over the last few years as tracks look to expand their business opportunities beyond pro racing or renting to public track-day organizations. Circuits such as Lime Rock Park, VIR and New Jersey Motorsports Park all offer private clubs that give members special track access and privileges that go beyond what you can get through local club chapters or track-day organizations. Problem is, the private clubs at these tracks have to work around the schedules for pro racing and track rentals. Monticello Motor Club (MMC) is one of the relatively few private clubs where members can show up and drive nearly any time they want, except when it’s closed in the winter.  

MMC sits on over 600 acres in Monticello, New York, and can be reached in a 90-minute drive from New York City. MMC began as an idea in the mind of founder and co-owner John Barker, who collects classic cars and was intrigued by the idea of a private track that was easily assessable from Manhattan. Bill McMichael and Ari Straus signed on when the club was just a concept and ended up buying out the original developers. These men are all partners in the venture today, with McMichael acting as MMC Chairman and Straus acting as President and CEO. MMC opened in the summer of 2008 and made it through a tough start when the economy was in the doldrums. There have now been tens of millions of dollars invested in the club, with the heart of that investment being the 4.1 mile track that was designed by Bruce Hawkins with guidance from racing legend Brian Redman. The track can be utilized as a full 4.1 mile course that features up to 22 turns and many elevation changes, or can be broken down into two shorter layouts.

Besides the track, the investment in MMC also went toward a clubhouse with classrooms, lounge areas, lockers and garage space, as well as a conversion of the building that was once an airplane hangar into a service center that has lifts, tire-changing equipment and alignment racks. As you may expect, the club is targeted at the wealthy, with various membership levels ranging from Gold (if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it), down to Bronze, which are sold to groups of four and are more affordable, though you don’t get as much track time as with the higher level memberships.

In addition to access to the facilities and track, those fortunate enough to have the resources to join MMC get a lot of extra benefits from the club, like car storage if it’s needed, pro driver instruction and trackside support. MMC members don’t have to use their own cars if they don’t want to, as the track also has a fleet of race-prepared cars available for rental, from Spec Miata’s to a Porsche Boxster or a Ferrari F430 Challenge. MMC also has a partnership with Cadillac and has a fleet of CTS-V coupes and sedans that can be rented out to members or guests, as well as driver training courses that are held throughout the year. MMC even has their own on-site racing school for members that wish to get a racing license, which they can then use to compete in the member racing series, which runs to NASA rules.

MMC is keeping the private use of their track as a priority, but has also made the track available to pro racing teams (such as Dyson Racing and Turner Motorsport) that wish to test at the track, and the club has also hosted private testing of high-profile sports cars for members. “We’re constantly asking ourselves what else we can do to excite our members,” says Straus. “While we’ve increased our memberships, manufacturers and others have recognized that some of the most active and influential car enthusiasts in the market, who also happen to have deep pockets, are members of MMC.”

I’ve been to MMC on several different occasions as a guest, and after spending a few hours at the facility you start to seriously consider playing all the lotteries or locking yourself into a room until you come up with the next must-have product that will make you a millionaire. The track itself may not as exciting as legendary tracks like Watkins Glen, but it has a very high speed straight where you can reach close to 150mph in a stock BMW M3, as well as some technical corners with elevation changes and beautiful scenery.

There are also some fun turns on the full course, such as turn 9, which is a sweeping uphill banked turn, and the run from turn 15 to turn 18, which can be taken at high speed and gives you the “pucker factor” that makes track driving such a thrill. Being a club track where there is some novice drivers in really fast cars, there are also some corners that are made to slow drivers down, such as turn 12 that leads onto the long, high-speed straight and turn 18 that leads onto the front straight. The track would be a lot more thrilling without these, but it also wouldn’t be nearly as safe, which was a priority when the layout was designed.

With plenty of acreage still at their disposal and memberships on the rise, MMC has plenty of plans in the pipeline for the next few years. There’s only 170 of the over 600 total acres that are currently developed, so there’s lots of room to grow. “Once we get to around 250-300 members, we’ll start construction on our next clubhouse, which will be by the north pits and will have garages on both sides, a small spa, children’s play areas, as well as more classrooms and meeting areas,” says Straus.  

Other future plans include the building of dedicated karting tracks, an off-road course, and condos with two-car garages and trackside access. Straus says they have a target of 750 total members that they feel they can maintain at MMC without taking away from the quality of the membership experience. After that, the only way you’ll be able to get a membership is if you find a member that’s willing to sell theirs. We don’t think there will be too many members looking to sell though. MMC is an impressive place and it’s pretty amazing that they’ve managed to grow as much as they have in challenging economic times. Anyone know what the latest Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot is up to? I think I need to go buy a ticket… .

 

More info: www.monticellomotorclub.com

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