By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Jack Farr smiles as he asks the question: "So, you ever been around a road course before?"
Before I have a chance to make sure my seat belt is buckled or amend my "no" with "but that's probably because I tend to get a little car sick," Farr is power-sliding his Ford Mustang through the first turn on the 1.7-mile track. He invited me here to take a tour of his 5-year-old MotorSport Ranch, "a sports car country club" in Cresson, 14 miles southwest of Fort Worth. He's definitely giving me one.
"I'm only gonna go about 75 percent," Farr says as we slide through another turn. "If you've never done it before, you're gonna think that we're flying."
Flying, dying--guess it's close enough. I'm not sure what's louder: the motor revving, the tires screeching or my stomach churning, trying to stamp this morning's breakfast "return to sender." My skin has the temperature and texture of a can of Coors at a backyard barbecue. My nervous system has cashed in its 401(k) and split for the beach. My voice sounds like something heard on a 911 tape.
Other than that, I feel fine.
"We're not gonna spin. We're not gonna flip. I'll be braking early," Farr calmly assures his jittery passenger. He must have picked up on the fact that I'm about hip-deep in a panic attack. Which is strange, since I'm only exhibiting about 15 or 16 of the telltale signs. "We're still gonna squeal the tires," he continues, as the Mustang does just that, sliding through another turn. "Took that corner at 80 miles an hour." Farr smiles again. At least I think he did, since he's maintaining a pretty good poker face behind his wraparound shades, and my eyes can focus only on my knees.
Farr is comfortable behind the wheel, and he should be: Between driving schools and tours like this one, as well as driving for the pure enjoyment of it, he's racked up more laps at MotorSport Ranch than anyone else. Knowing this, somewhere around the sixth or seventh turn--there are 11 of them in all, with ominous names like "Tombstone" and "Buzzard Neck"--I begin to relax. More than that, I begin to enjoy myself. I start to understand why someone would pay $2,400 to become a member, $75 in monthly dues and $20 for every half-hour of track time to have access to a place like this. Why a man would sink more than a million dollars of his own money into little more than a dream.
That's all this was almost a decade ago, when Farr returned to Texas after attending his first performance driving school. Unable to find a place to pursue his new hobby, he took it upon himself to create one. He believed there were others in the Dallas-Fort Worth area just like him, with expensive sports cars and limited outlets. He believed if he built MotorSport Ranch, they would come.
They did. In five years, Farr has formed a community of like-minded gear-heads at the only private membership road course in the state, succeeding where many others have failed over the past 20 years. More than 420 drivers--weekend warriors and wannabe racers, ranging in age from 17 to 70--have joined the club, taking advantage of the safe, professional-level course and cushy facilities, as well as 40 weekends a year of track time and most bank holidays. All the major auto manufacturers and car clubs have come, too, leasing the track to test new models and spin their wheels in comfort. But the club is still primarily for the members. As far as Farr is concerned, it always will be.
"A lot of people told me it was a stupid idea," Farr says. "A really dumb idea. Wouldn't work. Gotta have a racetrack. Gotta have organized events with spectators and all that hassle. For every racecar driver I find, I can find about 100 guys that just wanna play and have fun and not make it into such a big, stressful thing."
Between Farr's sales pitch and the lap around the track, I start thinking about becoming one of those guys myself. Joining the club, trading in my beat-up VW for something with a little more horsepower, signing up for one of the resident driving schools. While I'm contemplating my new hobby, wondering how my wife will react, Farr asks what I thought of the course.
That was, uh...that was intense, I stammer.
He smiles and slams on the accelerator, throwing the car--and my stomach--into an elaborate fishtail as he points the Mustang in the direction of the exit.
"Did that scare you?" he asks, laughing. "I get a big kick out of introducing people to this, just like I got introduced to it."
Just that quickly, every thought empties out of my head. Except this one: I really hope I don't throw up in Jack Farr's Mustang.