By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Ask Don Barnes, one of the first drivers to sign up for a membership at MotorSport Ranch. Barnes met Farr not long after he suffered a heart attack on a golf course that led to bypass surgery. His shorts defiantly show off ugly scars crawling up both legs, his souvenir from the operation. After the heart attack, he decided to enjoy his life while he still had one. That's what brought him to MotorSport Ranch almost seven years ago.
Back then, there was nothing on the property except a sign and Farr's 27-foot RV. But soon enough, Barnes--who's been racing cars since he was a 15-year-old in Gainesville, Georgia--found himself flying around a road course. A very rough one.
"He had this four-wheel-drive pickup truck, and we went bouncing," Barnes says. "My wife wasn't the least bit impressed. He was just skipping these ditches. Jack had it all in his mind. He says, 'This is great! This is where this turn is gonna be!'"
Barnes wrote Farr a check before he left. His wife was even less impressed. It was bad enough that her husband wasted their afternoon. Now he was wasting their money, too.
"My wife says, 'They're never gonna build a track there,'" Barnes says, smiling. He knows better than anyone the doomed history of road courses in North Texas, the proposed sites in Mineral Wells and Waxahachie and on and on that never hosted a single lap. "And I said, 'Yeah, but let me just tell you: If they do, it's gonna be really neat.'"
But Barnes was the exception, at least in the beginning. There weren't many others who shared Farr's vision. They couldn't see the 200 garages, the pro shop and meeting rooms, the covered grid (a pavilion where the drivers park while waiting their turn on the track), none of it. Well, that's not quite true. It's just that not many of them thought he'd manage to pull it all off. Farr never wavered, because he knew there would always be one driver who wanted to use the track: himself.
Farr, 47, has owned enviable sports cars for as long as he can remember, beginning with a 1976 Trans Am. But until a friend persuaded him to attend the Bondurant School of Performance Driving near Phoenix, he hadn't had a chance to see what they could really do, or what he could do with them. After some initial hesitation, he enrolled in the school in October 1995.
For four days, Farr practiced heel-and-toe downshifts and all sorts of other driving maneuvers he'd never heard about. He thought he was a good driver when he left for the school. When he came back, he actually was one. He was also hooked on the sport. The time he spent in an open-wheeled Formula Ford racecar saw to that.
"Even though they have less horsepower, they have a lot less weight, and they can absolutely fly around corners, way beyond what a normal human being thinks a car can do," Farr says. "I came back after my driving school and I had to buy one of those little Formula Ford cars, just to try to continue the experience. Then I spent the next six months frustrated, because there's just no place to go run them. I don't think the police would take too kindly to seeing a little Formula Ford racecar coming down the highway."
He tried to make do with the tracks in College Station and Tulsa, but they were too far away and open maybe only four weekends a year. Even then, there was so much demand for track time that he'd be lucky to squeeze in two 20-minute sessions. Farr's frustration eventually gave way to inspiration: He'd worked in country clubs as a teenager. Why couldn't he apply the same principles of comfort and convenience to the world of high-performance driving, building a country club with a road course instead of a golf course?
Why not? Because it'll never make a dime, the banks said. Because the kind of course you want can't be built, the track designers said. Because no one has ever done it before, everyone else said.
"I found out that once you have a new idea, you're automatically a minority of one," Farr says.
It was only after he sent out a direct-mail survey that Farr realized why so few people believed in him, why no bank would touch him. He mailed 1,000 of the surveys and received 473 replies--an astounding figure when you consider that most people in the direct-mail business are happy with around a 2 percent return rate. People were definitely interested. That was the good news.
The bad: Mixed in with the completed surveys were the sob stories of five other would-be track owners who had failed. They sent him their schematics and business proposals and wished him luck, like a priest performing last rites on death row. Farr asked around a bit, and the news was even worse: There had been almost 20 attempts to build road-racing courses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the past 20 years. Not one made it.