For nearly a decade, 37-year-old Scott Sanders sat in hotel rooms during business trips across the United States and the world, twiddling his thumbs and listening to a special sound coming from his childhood memory: The grinding roar of race karts.
“I’ve always loved race karts,” said the former Scottsdale business consultant. “And business trips can be very, very boring.”
“So, one day during a trip to California, I left the hotel and went to a race kart center and — wham! — I realized what I wanted to do with the rest of my life — open my own kart racing track,” he recalled.
As his mental starting flag waved wildly, Sanders accepted a six-month partially-paid leave from his global consulting company employer, Accenture, and in October 2003 created an enterprise that today is one of the largest indoor kart racing venues in the nation — F1 Race Factory.
Sanders, who at the time specialized in helping firms increase their revenue through technology and other programs, used his business experience and the financial backing of a small group of investors to begin his venture.
He also did a lot of marketing research and spent countless hours preparing for the opening of his kart raceway and activity center.
First, he purchased an empty former Sam’s Club on 48th Street just south of Washington Street at the Tempe-Phoenix border, near state Route 143, Loop 202 and not far from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Then, he had to obtain special building and business permits from city and state agencies that would allow him to hold indoor racing, using gasoline-powered karts.
“It was scary at first,” said Sanders. “Especially during those first few months. We had no idea how many people would come. That’s why I took a temporary leave of absence.”
He’s not worried about his relatively new company’s financial success anymore.
Gradually, word of the new facility spread and kart enthusiasts throughout the Valley, including corporate officials and their employees, began streaming to F1 Race Factory. A staff of F1 Race Factory sales people pushed the customerdriver count even higher.
The first year, Sanders earned more than $2 million in gross revenue. Last year, income reached more than $4 million. This year, business is expected to grow by 10 percent or more, said Sanders.
He started with about 40 employees and today has 55, with more being sought. The raceway is on a 12-acre site easily accessible from nearby freeways.
Attendance last year totalled 100,000 customers for about 100 events per month, including an average of eight to 10 monthly birthday celebrations and dozens of company conferences. Many of the business meetings and employee gatherings are held by Fortune 500 companies.
Initially, he opened with 32 karts made in the United Kingdom, then bought another batch made in Italy after the first had a combined total of 40,000 miles per kart in two years. That’s about 160,000 laps per kart over the quartermile track.
“We not only offer racing, but other activities that help break down any communications gaps among employees and improve their work-together attitude,” Sanders said.
Among them is a new game in which employees form teams who participate in The Pit Crew Challenge where team members race against each other changing tires on a NASCAR race car provided by Phoenix International Raceway.
F1 Raceway Factory is aimed not only at individuals and company employees but youngsters and women as well, Sanders said.
“We have a training program for kids that helps put their parents’ minds as ease,” he said. “And we’re seeing more and more women compete in races.”
“The difference between a successful workplace and an unsuccessful workplace depends entirely on the excitement and motivation of its employees, and team-building serves as an excellent way to reignite enthusiasm,” Sanders said, then added: “It helps break down barriers.”
“We offer a great entertainment experience,” he said. “It’s outside the normal comfort zone.”
Sanders traces his enthusiasm for kart racing to his childhood when his father, Richard Sanders, an attorney who practiced in the Valley for more than 30 years before retiring and moving with his wife, Ann, to Utah.
“My dad used to take me to the Indy 500 in Indianapolis and Phoenix International Raceway,” said Sanders. “It was a great father-son bonding. I never drove a race kart until I was older, but I liked speed.” He regularly rode dirt bikes through the desert as a youngster and a motorcycle.
His father also introduced his son to some of the racing world’s biggest names, including Roger Penske, NASCAR and Indy cars owner who went to high school with Richard Sanders.
“Kart racing can be an expensive sport,” said Sanders. “It’s not like baseball or football. That’s why we’ve designed F1 Race Factory for the so-called average Jane or John Doe. They can afford our prices and enjoy not only racing but playing together.”
Sanders selected his company name spontaneously.
“I wanted something that people would easily remember,” he said. “The first thought that came to my mind was Formula One, thus F1.”
Formula One is considered by a global audience to be the most elite form of racing.
Besides F1 Race Factory, other large kart racing tracks in the U.S. are in St. Louis, Atlanta, Boston and Chicago.
F1 Race Factory’s third annual Indoor Kart World Championship runs Aug. 2-5 and is expected to attract more than 80 racers from 13 different countries.
And, as they enter the raceway, they’ll be greeted with the recorded noise streaming overhead similar to the imaginative sound track that brought a smile to Sanders during those boring moments in hotel rooms — the grinding roar of race karts.
Activities Track: Two, quarter-mile indoor race kart tracks, a rock climbing wall, a billiard room, an arcade, a bar and grill and a conference meeting room
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Scott Sanders Age: 37
Family: Wife, Julie; parents, Richard and Ann Sanders
Occupation: Founder and president of F1 Race Factory, one of the largest indoor race kart and entertainment centers in the United States at 317 S. 48th Street, Phoenix
Key Achievements: In less than four years, Sanders converted a former, 113,000-square-foot Sam’s Club on 12 acres at the Phoenix-Tempe border into a unique business that attracts more than 100,000 paying customers a year and is steadily growing
Background: A Phoenix native, Sanders earned a degree in management information systems at the University of Arizona and worked for nine years out of the Valley for a global consulting firm until he decided to start his own company — an indoor kart racing center.
Philosophy for success: “Deliver a great experience for your customers ... entertain them ... work hard, and, do in life what you really want to do.” - Scott Sanders
Information: (602) 302-7223 or www.f1racefactory.com
F1 Race Factory FAQs
• Minimum age to drive a race kart is 10; children under age 16 are required to be accompanied by parents at all times.
• No prior experience is needed to drive; drivers receive pre-racing sessions before the starting flag is waved. Speeds, in adult karts, can reach up to 45 mph; junior karts for young drivers can hit speeds of up to 25 mph.
• Race suit, helmets and a handbuild European style race kart is provided. However, drivers may bring their own race suits, helmet, gloves, and racing shoes that conform with minimum industry safety standards. They cannot bring their own karts.
• Drivers and rock climbers must first sign a waiver that releases F1 Race Factory from liability.
• Rock wall climbers under age 18 are required to have a parent present to sign a written consent form.
• Beer and wine is served at the Trackside Bar & Grill, but any driver suspected of being under the influence of alcohol will be asked to take a Breathalyzer test. Failure to take the test or the presence of alcohol will disqualify the prospective driver and prevent him or her from getting behind the wheel.