By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
But as Farr is fond of saying, performance on the track has more to do with the driver than the car. And Loth has proved to be a damn good driver, a fact that still surprises her dental patients.
"I have pictures of my racecar in my office," Loth says. "People will walk by and go, 'Oh, does Dr. Loth sponsor a racecar?' And my assistant will go, 'Oh, no, she races it.' 'She races that car!' They get a kick out of it."
There is, however, a tradeoff: The more competitive Loth gets, the less time she spends at MotorSport Ranch. She has special tires on her car, so she has to haul it to the track in a trailer when she wants to hit the course. Loth could store it in one of the 200 garages on the property--if you can afford a new Viper, you can afford the $175 monthly garage rental fee--but then she'd have to make a special trip to the Ranch before she leaves for a race.
"The faster you go, the more trouble it is," Loth says. "I actually miss the days where I just kept my helmet in my trunk and just came out here on a Friday and took a few laps."
That's more or less what Jesse Shelmire decided to do today. It's always an easy decision for Shelmire, an investment banker from Dallas, since he has a flexible schedule and stores his Ducati motorcycles and Formula Mazda open-wheeled racecar in a garage at the Ranch that's the size of a small airplane hangar.
So Shelmire and his 8-year-old son Bedford made the hour-long trip this morning. Bedford hung out on the couch in the garage Shelmire rents with four of his buddies, watching cartoons while his dad got in a few laps in his Mazda. Fresh off the course, Shelmire looks the part of the gentleman racer, tan and gregarious, dashing in his red racing suit. He joined four years ago, after hearing about the place from one of his friends. Back then, he drove motorcycles only. A year ago, he bought the Mazda.
"I'm 47," Shelmire says. "I was getting a little old for dicing it up with the 20-year-olds. What I tell my golfer friends is, it's like the equivalent of, you know, every time you hit the ball in the rough, your caddy got to come along and whack you once with a club and then throw all your clubs away and you gotta go home for the day." He laughs. "At least, that was my motorcycle racing experience. Because it always cost at least a couple of grand in bodily pain, and you crash a lot when you're racing bikes. I'm a big Formula One fan, so now I can do my racecar-driver fantasy thing on the weekends."
Shelmire comes out to MotorSport Ranch twice a month, and more often than not, Bedford and his 13-year-old sister Twyla come as well. They both have dirt bikes, and they share a go-cart. But even when they stay home, Shelmire has family here. He's developed close friendships with a lot of the other drivers, which is easy enough since they all share a common interest. That common interest makes everything else irrelevant.
"The thing about it here: It's not about the haves and have-nots," Shelmire says. "It's not about money. It's really all about that track. All men are equal on that track. You can take it to the extreme like we do. Or you can do it on a budget. You don't have to have a garage out here. You can have a Suzuki 650 and a trailer, and you're good to go."
Don't get the wrong idea. Family fun and friendships are part of the reason why Shelmire comes out here. It's part of why many of the drivers come out here. But only part of it.
"It is kind of fun--my wife hates when I say this--but to come out here and see if you can sort of cheat death on the track," Shelmire says, "I get off on that part."
In 2000, three racecar enthusiasts, Oscar Pineyro, John Zouzelka and Brian Shibley, bought 407 acres in Grayson County, about 40 miles north of Dallas. Their plans for the site were ambitious. GunterRing Motorsports Country Club would offer three different road courses, as well as a swimming pool, tennis courts and other amenities. The $12 million complex would bring even more of a country club atmosphere to auto racing than Farr's project did. They planned to sell up to 500 memberships with prices ranging from $6,750 to $15,000.
In April 2003, $4 million into the project, they gave up, deciding to turn the acreage into a residential development instead. According to a Dallas Business Journal story, they couldn't raise enough money to build the tracks themselves, and banks deemed the project too risky to provide construction loans. Maybe that's the key to Farr's success: He never depended on a bank to make MotorSport Ranch work.