You only need one ball to play golf, it’s been said…
For many decades, churches, corporations, charities have done the same old golf outing/rubber chicken dinner for clients and fundraising. While golf itself is a fun game (for some – for others, pure frustration) that allows for socialization and a feel-good atmosphere. But what it has in a long ride in a park, it truly lacks the adrenaline factor.
A recent development in the events business – particularly in fundraising and corporate teambuilding — is the competitive autocross. An autocross is a racing event where cars navigate a relatively tight course, usually set up with traffic safety cones where one at a time the cars race against the clock.
The Sports Car Club of America calls it “Solo” and say, “Despite the low overall speeds attained during competition, it’s one of the most intense, rapid-fire forms of motorsports you can enter, with barriers to entry low enough that many drivers are able to be quite competitive at it.”
A group out of Indianapolis, Indiana called Miles Ahead, with ties to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has been at the leading edge and is creating a paradigm shift in the overall marketplace through ways to provide an exciting motorsport event for the layman.
Miles Ahead conducts a variety of driver training programs with an elite instructor team comprised of current and past Indy 500 drivers. They have designed and executed performance driver training programs, advanced teen driver training, fleet driver safety training, exclusive incentive trip experiences, scenic drives, and corporate team building events. Their MINI Challenge has become a favorite of many charities and companies.
Ted Woerner, Miles Ahead’s CEO, is a longtime fan of motorsport since going to the Speedway for the first time as a kid in 1967. He went on to race for two years in the Skip Barber Formula Ford series. While never making the big show, he had worked with groups developing IndyCar sponsorships.
“We are the shiny new toy in the fundraising event world, Woerner said.
Woerner founded Miles Ahead with former IndyCar driver Stéphan Grégoire who saw the opportunity to have a driving school at the famed speedway. While it took the Hulman/George family nearly five years to approve their business plan, they were able to start the business in a parking lot within and on the track. The business has grown over the past 9 years into a traveling road show with John Cooper Works MINI Coopers, full timing and scoring and a host of guest drivers who serve as instructors.
The main thrust of the business, recently, has been working with regional Mini dealerships who invite prospective customers to have some fun in the “go-kart-like-handling” vehicles. Needless to say, the program’s success was revealed by significant sales increases wherever the event pitched their tents.
The concept is simple, show up, get basic instruction on flags and driving, form teams or develop a roster of individuals, strap in and race the clock. This can be done as individuals or as a three-person team, where each member posts a time and the average is pitted against other teams.
Instructors who have been part of the company include famed drivers Gabby Chaves, Pippa Mann, Alex Lloyd, Zach Veach and Stefan Wilson. The celebrity presence adds to the excitement and real world driving concepts are related to participants from these high-level professionals.
One of the key employees of the company, who coordinates the events, is Angela Savage. Angela is the daughter of famed IndyCar driver David Earl “Swede” Savage who was killed racing in the Indianapolis 500 in 1973. Angela was introduced to Ted Woener when she came to the Speedway five years ago, for the first time, to make peace with the track that claimed her father. The outpouring of fans, drivers and participants to Angela made her embrace the culture that she had missed all those years.
The cars themselves, identical MINI John Cooper Works hardtops with turbocharged DOHC 2-liter four-cylinder BMW engines making 228 horsepower through an eight-speed paddle shift transmission
“With the electronic timing, the time appears on the screen right as the car crosses the finish, and people are high-fiving and having a great time,” said Woerner.
Interestingly, no safety equipment is required. There are no firesuits – or even helmets. The BMW engineers that designed the restraints and airbags recommend not using helmets and to let their on-board safety equipment do its job. Normally, the cars never exceed 45 mph on the course – despite the intensity of running on the tight autocross circuit.
For a number of the fundraising operations that work with Miles Ahead, it is a very simple process. The charity invites their participants, who have collected sponsorships or made donations themselves. The event then proceeds. At the end of the day, Miles Ahead gives a check of the proceeds to the charity. It is a turnkey situation.
Woerner says, “We have a saying: not everybody plays golf, but most people can drive a car. We bring a little Indy with us to each event.”