I am writing to inform you that I have sold the bulk of the assets and intellectual properties owned by my company Interactive Motorsports Entertainment Corp.to a new owner as of July 1, 2009.
As most of you know, I spent nearly a decade working for the famed Skip Barber Racing School in Connecticut when it was actually owned and operated by Skip himself. I truly enjoyed the work there and had hoped that my career with the company would go on for many more years. In 1996, new personnel and a new push to centralize operations led me to resign. I had been there since 1988 and had survived many management shake ups over the years.
In 1996, the Information Super Highway was still in its infancy and most of us didn't even know what the heck that meant or what it was. I spent some time trying to understand what the new technology was about and what it's potential growth in popularity would mean to the business world in general. I figured out that there could be huge opportunities to use the Internet and the World Wide Web to launch a new business concept that had never been tried before within the still relatively small auto racing and high performance driving school industry.
So in October of 1996 I quit my job at Skip Barber and I incorporated as Interactive Motorsports Entertainment Corp.. The idea was to launch a website that would provide consumers with information and enrollment services for as many of the racing and high performance driving school operators I could track down at the time.
Back then, there were few well known operators other than ones we still recognize today: Skip Barber, Jim Russell, Bob Bondurant, Buck Baker and Bertil Roos. I figured that my many years of experience selling race car and sport car driving experiences for Skip Barber would allow me to convince many if not all of these independent racing school owners to let me sell their various programs from my new website location. Most school owners thought the concept would never succeed and some fought me for a while, but I felt there was enough interest in that industry and the sport of racing in general to make a go of it.
Originally, the domain RacingSchools.com was owned by a professional webmaster who lived in Washington state. Since I knew nothing about creating an "Internet website" on the World Wide Web, I contacted this person and asked him how I could get my services up on the Information Super Highway or the Internet. I felt pretty dumb at the time for asking so many questions about this new technology but my inquiries would pay off in the end.
The owner of the RacingSchools.com domain name agreed to add my company and its content to his site. That meant that my home on the Net, my web address would be www.RacingSchools.com/IMEcorp and clients from anywhere on the planet with access to this technology could find me and my services listed there for years to come. Those were great times when the Internet was full of promise and entrepreneurs were working hard to create new business models and new revenue streams that had never existed before.
I was now a true maverick, a DOT COM entrepreneur before the term had even been coined. Within a couple of months, I had secured a sales relationship with a the latest of the racing school owners to join the industry, Derek Daly. For the next six months, I would be his company's sole sales representative on the WEB. In fact, I was his ONLY sales rep. for the first six months he was in business. Once he hired some people to work on site in Las Vegas, IME Corp. remained his only independent sales agent. That exclusive sales relationship existed until the school was sold in December of 2005.
All the while, I was using my faithful AOL Internet dial up service to scour the Web for more schools to add to my Sales Network. Within a few weeks, I had added several new and upcoming schools to the website. Five schools turned into eight and then ten and fifteen and twenty and pretty soon, if you weren;t part of my Sales Network you were passing up on some important revenue opportunities. Most schools still hadn;t caught up with the Internet. I added ON-LINE enrollment capability in late 1997 and in late September of 1998 I found an investor and $100,000 to help me fund the full acquisition of the RacingSchools.com domain name and expand our sales services to an even wider audience around the globe.
The site was gaining in recognition with every passing month, so much so that in the summer of 2008 a Canadian businessman by the name of Patrick Schwareb contacted me with an idea. He wanted to launch what would be the first authentic Formula One Driving Experience in North America. I was fortunate to play a small role in getting the program off the ground and, as a result, had the incredible good fortune to drive a 1994 Footwork Arrows Formula One race car several times that year and next. What a priviledge - what an amazing sensation of power and handling capability. Unbelievable, believe me.
Being the owner of RAcingSchools.com had its perks. I was regularly invited to attend driving experiences at a variety of driving schools all over the country and at all the famous tracks. It was an exciting time of growth and new opportunities.
In 1999 I successfully established a sales relationship with the Richard Petty Driving Experience and soon thereafter, began selling the iconic RacingSchools.com Super Certificates, an early version of the gift card whose face value could be applied towards the program cost of any one of over 35 racing schools all over the US, Canada and Europe.
By early 2001 sales had grown from about $300,000 a year to well over a million and much of the company;s income was derived from the sale of gift certificates. By 2003, sales were over 2 million annually and by 2006 we had exceeded the 3 million dollar mark. Times were great.
It was in December of 2005 that I made a deal with Derek Daly to buy his racing school in Las Vegas. Since my early days at Skip Barber, I had visualized what it would be like to run such a company. My dream of owning my own road racing school was about to come true. I was in heaven.
The Derek Daly Performance Driving Academy soon became the American Racing Academy and it belonged to me along with its fabulous purpose built Formula 2000 race cars and a fleet of 14 BMW Z3 Roadsters. The new business signs went up on the building located directly in front of the headquarters for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I was making deals with the track director for track days and I was putting together the best employee team in the business. I repainted the race cars and re-branded everything as quickly as cash flow would allow. Within 3 months of buying the school, I was rolling our first authentic Formula One race car into the garage bay.
The American Traffic Academy at the Las Veags Motor Speedway was THE ONLY LOCATION IN THE UNITED STATES where anyone could sign up to drive a real FIA Championship Formula One race car on track. No speed limits, no rev limiters, no pace cars. Just you and the 600 horsepower of a finely tuned F1 machine. I had struck a strategic relationship with a businessman from France to house and run the cars out of my school and facility. It was the best of times.
It was indeed the best of times. I must have completed the 5 hour one way drive between my office in Phoenix and the race track in Las Vegas over 200 times in 18 months. The school was renting a 3 bedroom condo just a few minutes from the track to accommodate longer stays in town and important visitors.
My wife and I flew to London in 2005 to oversee an important corporate program and I once again drove an F1 car at the Three Sisters Race Circuit. The following year we accompanied a group of clients to Monaco for the Monte Carlo Historic Races and stayed for the famed F1 Grand Prix. My life has been a virtual fairy tale since joining the Skip Barber Racing School in 1988.
There was even a brief time in early 2006 when the top executives at Automobili Lamborghini had informed me that the American Racing Academy and its Las Vegas location had been selected to be the North American home of the Lamborghini Academy. The announcement had been made by a top Lambo executive during a Lamborghini Ride & Drive at the school, in front of over 35 Lamborghini dealership representatives from all over the US and Canada. I had accomplished all of my stated dreams at that point and I was enjoying the fruit of my hard work over the past 15 years or so.
As the saying goes, "all things must pass" and by early 2007, I could sense an enormous shift was about to happen in the world economy. At first it was suspicions driven by the quickly increasing price of oil. I knew that wasn;t a good sign for businesses in general and consumer prices in particular. That was followed by a sense that the housing market was about to peak. I was beginning to get concerned about the effects of a bubble especially in Las Vegas where population and housing growth had eclipsed every other city in the country until that point. Life was getting TOO good.
I was smart enough to anticipate an inevitable drop in demand for racing school programs and driving experiences so I set out to find a buyer for the American Racing Academy. In July 2007, I sold the company to the owners of the Mario Andretti& Jeff Gordon Racing Schools. Just in the nick of time if I may say so myself. I turned a low five figure investment into a high six figure return.
I wish I would have been smart enough then to realize that the problems in the housing industry were going to affect the rest of the economy in ways that none of us had seen in nearly 70 years, going back to the Great Depression. Had I known, I would have sold RacingSchools.com at that time also. But I didn't and I waited, hoping that the worst would pass and that the economy would stabilize. I was wrong.
By the summer of 2008, it was now clear to me that the catastrophic economic downturn experienced by a few of the investment banks earlier in the year would spill over into every sector of the economy. I was predicting $50 a barrel oil for the end of the year when the price of the commodity was hitting its all time high in July. I knew then for certain that the outrageously high price of oil combined with an imploding housing market and failing investment banks marked the beginning of some very bad times for all of us. I still didn;t know how bad it would get. Who would have thought?
As the economy continued to worsen through the end of 2008, I understood that the unique business model and company I had created nearly 14 years ago was no longer viable and a recovery was unlikely in the near term. I would have to let go of my hopes for a comfortable early retirement and focus on keeping the lights on for the foreseeable future. Things were getting worse. I found an industry veteran who agreed to purchase many of the assets of Interactive Motorsports Entertainment Corp.including the RacingSchools.com AND RacingSchool.com domain names. It was effectively the end of a era for me as well as an opportunity for a new beginning.
As luck would have it, I was contacted back in January of 2007 by a District Attorney in Henderson, NV who had just seen a report on TV about the American Racing Academy's High Performance Driving School programs. He asked if I could produce a proposal for that city's traffic courts that would make it possible for judges to sentence young traffic offenders to attend a "Defensive Driving Program" in lieu of paying the usual fine. To make a long story short, I formed the American Traffic Academy to respond to this need and have now operated the program successfully for the past 18 months. We've processed nearly 1000 young traffic offenders during this time and I'm now looking to expand our market by offering our unique low cost hands-on car control & collision avoidance programs to Active Adults and Taxi Companies in the metropolitan Las Vegas area.
With all this said, I am certainly melancholic about loosing control of my prized domain names but the racing school and high performance driving experience industry was never a friendly environment to work in and nobody ever cared about anyone else in the business during the entire time I was a part of it. I am truly happy to no longer be a part of it and I will remember the good days fondly but set my sights on the better days yet to come.
Adieu RacingSchools.com and long live the American Traffic Academy!
What do you think?