By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Somehow, this one did. But it wasn't easy. Farr decided to fund MotorSport Ranch himself, using his personal holdings and "robbing" Digital Print, his electronic printing equipment business. He spent $1.2 million to get started, and loans from members eventually covered the rest. He designed the course mostly on his own, after abortive attempts to collaborate with racecar drivers and professional track designers. It took him 18 months spread out over three years, but he did it. MotorSport Ranch opened in 1999 with a grand total of five members.
Since then, the club has taken off. So has the idea of the "sports car country club." Similar courses and clubs have sprouted up all over the country: BeaveRun Motorsports Complex in Wampum, Pennsylvania; VIR Motorsport Country Club in Alton, Virginia; Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois. But none has progressed to the level of the original.
"Oh, they're years behind what he's got," Bobby Archer says. He holds his Championship Driving Clinic at the club once a month. He's also a longtime member. "The fact that we can do this 12 months of the year...I mean, I moved here from Duluth, Minnesota. You know, the racing people go out of business next week. It's Mother's Day to Labor Day. Here, we're just getting our second wind." He looks out over the track as a few of his students rev their engines nearby, ready for another lap. As the engines growl louder and louder, every other sound vanishes as a big smile creeps across Archer's face.
His yell barely can be made out over the din: "This is great!"
Underneath all that, however, pumps the heart of a true racecar driver. Schade caught the bug early on, when he started drag racing as a 14-year-old in Reno, Nevada. For the past four years, he's entered his competition-class Viper in Viper Racing League events, driving to tracks all over the country to get his fix. He comes out to MotorSport Ranch a few times a month to stay sharp, but also because he just loves driving.
Schade probably wouldn't mind driving full time, but his wife might. It's an expensive hobby.
"In the Viper Racing League, for a three-day weekend, with tires, meals, transportation, housing, it's about $5,000 for the weekend," Schade says. "About like a ski trip to Aspen. As I tell my wife, 'This is a lot cheaper than a mistress.'"
As far as I can tell, he thinks it's a lot more fun, too. Like all the other drivers at MotorSport Ranch, Schade loves talking about driving and cars almost as much as he loves driving cars. A question about the highest speed he's reached on the course--"a buck 65 on the back straightaway," he says--leads to a lengthy show-and-tell presentation about his car and its particular configuration, why it has a big wing on the back and an equally large arrow under the front bumper. It all has something to do with down force and air resistance, but I can do little more than smile and nod.
For most of our conversation, Schade sounds like any pro driver. It's only when he's asked how long it took him to be at ease at such high speeds that he reverts back to amateur status.
"I'm still not comfortable," he says, laughing. "It's just a hobby for me, so I don't do it every week, and so it doesn't become comfortable. The adrenaline and the heart rate is way up there every time."
If Schade seems to be an unlikely candidate for membership at MotorSport Ranch, then Deborah Loth, a dentist from Fort Worth, is even less so. Not because of her appearance or disposition; though she's a 40-year-old mother of three, Loth is a firecracker who looks like she could hold her own in just about any situation. It's something far more obvious: She's one of only five women who belong to the club.
Loth joined MotorSport Ranch about six months after it opened; her member number is 29. She'd never really driven seriously or competitively before signing up, just a few driving school events and things like that. She'd bought a new Porsche, and the dealership told her about Farr's place in Cresson. She dropped by during her Christmas vacation and never left.
"The car that I had was becoming less and less competitive in its class," she says. "Before I went out and spent $80,000 on a brand-new Viper, I thought, 'You know, a $20,000 car is looking pretty good.'" She laughs. "Actually, this little Neon, it's a fun car, and it's very, very competitive in its class right now. It's one of the hot cars going."