Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Choosing the right race car driving experience.

Purchasing a real race car driving experience can be confusing. Where to start? How much to spend? What kind of "on-track" format is used? What kind of race cars are used? For most people buying a race car driving experience is difficult as most know very little about the many different options available to them.

Here's a quick guide that should help you make the right purchasing decisions:

How much do you want to spend?

Every school offers a myriad of driving experiences to choose from at different prices . Most half day programs are three hours in length and offer between 5 and 40 minutes of actual track time. Cost of a half day driving program ranges between $199 and $575. That's a big spread. Why such a big range? Track size, type of race car, actual time on track and classroom sizes all affect what you'll pay for your experience. Ultimately, the best common denominator to determine overall value is the number of actual track miles you'll be allowed to drive.

Example 1: You may get 10 laps on track for $199 on a half mile oval (a total of 5 miles of driving) or

Example 2: Pay $350 for 6 laps on a two mile oval (a total of twelve miles of driving). Which is the better deal?

If you break it down to cost per mile, it would cost you $39.80 a mile in the first example vs $29.16 per mile in our second example. The face value of the program may be higher in example 2 but the ultimate cost per mile is actually 25% lower.

Longer programs offer more track time and more instruction (in most cases). Price for a full day of driving (usually about 45-120 minutes of track time) ranges between $895 to $1,500. Multiple day programs can cost $2500 or more and up to $4000 for a three day racing school.

What do you want to drive?

Most major urban centers in the US are within an hour or so of a well known race track. Most populated states offer both oval and road racing circuits to choose from. Do you prefer NASCAR style stockcars or Formula One style race cars? You must know this before setting out to purchase a driving experience as not all tracks offer all programs.

Where do you want to drive?

Do you want to drive at your favorite race track or where the best driving school is offered? Discussing your needs and objectives with a motorsports entertainment specialist is the easiest way to identify the curriculum that best meets your entertainment goals. Visiting websites such as www.RacingSchools.com can also help you find the perfect option based on your specific parameters. Either way, it's worth noting that the big name schools don't always offer the best value or the best course options.

Aren't all race car driving experiences similar?

No, not at all. In fact, each operator is different. Some programs offer more liberal formats (passing allowed, no speed limits, etc.) while others are truly conservative. Some even misrepresent your top speed after your driving experience. Ask questions - get the facts.

What about crash damage liability?

Another interesting fact is that different operators have different policies when it comes to re-scheduling your program, refunds and crash damage. Ask about all these policies when contacting someone about purchasing a driving experience or racing school program.

Statistics tell us that over 50% of race car driving experience buyers are women buying this for the men in their lives. If this is your case, call the experts, the ones that sell programs for all the schools. This way, you are assured of receiving impartial program information.

If after all this, you are still not sure what program would be best to buy, set a maximum amount you are willing to spend and purchase an open date gift certificate that can be redeemed at many driving schools worldwide and make sure it conforms to your state's gift card expiration laws.

Enjoy the ride!

Beware of race car driving experience re-sellers

Twelve years ago when RacingSchools.com was founded, life was simpler, at least on the Internet. Access was slow and painful. If you ever found what you were looking for within the first few minutes of searching a topic, you were thankful. Today, the masses have access to the Web at work as well as at home and tens of millions of users are connected via high speed modems.

As the internet got faster to use and websites easier to create, a frightfully large number of websites became dedicated to selling general merchandize gift certificates. As the number of such retailers grew wildly so did the need for them to offer more unusual ways for certificate holders to redeem their vouchers. Once those gift certificate pedlers discovered the existence of the auto racing school and driving adventure industry, they began to court school operators to secure permission to let certificate holders use their vouchers towards the purchase of race car driving experiences.

Unfortunately, unlike RacingSchools.com's model, these certificate pedlers never offered to provide the school owners with brand exposure or a full and complete listing of their products and services. Certificate peddlers were happy to list only a couple of the school's less expensive program options in the hopes of selling greater qualtities of generic gift certificates to their visitors. As 35-40% or more of all certificates never get redeemed, the gift certificate sales business turned out to be almost as lucrative as printing your own money.

Because most of these gift certificate sites have zero knowledge of our business, getting more specific or detailed information from their customer service representatives about the racing school products they list is practically impossible. As each and every racing school or driving experience operator offers its own unique formats, curriculums and pricing structures, how does the inexperienced consumer find out about the options available to them? They don't if they've bought their certificates from such fly by night operators as Thrill Planet, to name only one.

Think about this: When you purchase a gift certificate, you are trusting a perfect stranger with your hard earned money. Until you contact that vendor to redeem your voucher, you are trusting them to hold on to your money. How do you know the website operator is trustworthy? You don't. How do you know the website operator has secured an agreement from the merchants it features to accept your certificate? You don't.

Buyer beware. The auto racing school and driving experience industry allows a few independent re-sellers to sell their products but the vast majority of those re-sellers know NOTHING about this industry. Worst, some of these re-sellers are nothing more than thinly disguised criminal enterprises out to get your money and provide nothing in return.

When you go shopping for a race car driving experience certificate on the Net, look for obvious signs that the provider is not really interested in ever having you redeem that voucher. For one, do they clearly list the names of the schools that accept their certificates? Do they provide you with a list of all the different program options? Do they clearly list the dates and locations where the programs are offered? Do they allow you to get a refund of your certificate purchase? Do they tell you how long they've been in business? If they fail in any one of these categories, stay away.

Many of these certificate pedlers actually mark up the retail price of the programs they re-sell by as much as 10-35% over published prices. That's not a good deal for you. Do they charge a processing fee? That's a no no as well.

If you're serious about giving a loved one a certificate to drive real race cars, make sure you're purchasing it from a reputable vendor with a long history of providing quality service to its clients. Ask lots of questions before turning over your credit card and, never use a debit card to make these high dollar purchases as this payment method does not allow you to "charge back" your purchase if for any reason, you are not 100% satisfied with your shopping experience.

Industry Trade Group

Can you think of one industry that has no representative trade group or association to help its members discuss common business issues and identify and resolve common problems? Bet you can't.

A few months ago, I was up late watching CNN and a locally produced commercial came on. It was a 15 second spot purchased by the Northern Arizona Chinese Food Restaurant Association. I was dumbfounded! How was it possible that such non-descrypt businesses such as the Chinese Food Restaurant owners in Northern Arizona could be so well organized while the owners in the auto racing and high performance driving school industry had remained without such an organization for over 40 years now.

Quite simply, the answer is that most racing school owners feel threatened by their piers in one way or another. Larger schools don't want their brands associated with smaller operators fearing that associating with the lesser schools could negatively impact their images. Smaller operators just don't want to spend the time, money or energy necessary to implement such a beneficial organization. In the end, the economies of scale that could come from belonging to such an association are lost on everyone.

Several times a year, I hear owners complaining to me about the excessively high cost of track rental rates and their unwillingness to recognize the beneficial value the school operators bring to these facilities with their frequent visits. I hear about the lack of choices in insurance related matters. I hear owners lament about their inability to identify potential buyers for their businesses. The list goes on and on.

Regrettably, despite years of efforts to bring the auto racing school owners community together under one organization or association, our industry remains without common representation. This frustrates me as I have seen many instances when such an association would have benefited many of its members. Without a convenient forum for racing school owners to share their views and concerns with their colleagues, we are each left to solve problems that are much more difficult to correct alone than if multiple members put their heads together to figure out potential solutions.

NAARSA, the North American Auto Racing School Association was originally formed over 7 years ago to try to bring these independent businessmen to the table. Although a few owners were eager to join, most rejected the invitation without ever citing any reasons for staying out. Although any association that's been around for some years will attest to experiencing disagreements within its membership from time to time, the meer willingness to come together once or twice a year to discuss common issues seems like a no brainer. Apparently, it isn't that simple.

If you are an auto racing school or driving experience business owner, let me know how you feel about this subject and write me to share your thoughts. As a 20+ year veteran of this industry, I am curious to know what motivates you as an entrepreneur and how you think your business can flourish within the industry without ever coming in contact with your competition other than through hearing rumors and innuendo.