Tire Tracks: Autobahn Country Club
Owning a sports car can be a catch-twenty-two. On one hand, the thrill of high performance driving can be addictive, but on the other hand, the morning commute and speed traps can certainly limit the fun factor. However, our own Roger Mecca has tracked down a place where you can take a spirited drive anytime you want, without ever hearing someone say “license and registration please.”
ROGER MECCA: For almost any car enthusiast, including myself, owning a vehicle like these is the ultimate dream. Just you, the machine and the open road. Sounds perfect.
But there’s a problem. You see, if you own a car like this Ferrari California, you never drive it the way it’s meant to be driven. You’re usually stuck in traffic or keeping it in a garage. Unless you happen to be a member of the Autobahn Country Club here in Joliet, Illinois. And at this country club, you can leave your nine iron at home.
Greens and fairways have been replaced by more than 3 miles of perfectly maintained racetrack. Members can bring their favorite cars to Autobahn anytime during operating hours to race all day, or just turn in a few hot laps during lunch. And afterwards, they can grab a gourmet meal in the clubhouse or even pull into to one their on-property homes, dubbed garage-mahals.
But as spectacular as the idea sounds, making it happen was anything but easy.
MARK BASSO: Convincing the skepticism of a group of enthusiasts- ‘Oh you’re going to build a race track country club? No one else has done that before. Good luck with that!’- So everybody said ‘yea I’ll join WHEN it’s built’ and banks weren’t about to give us any money.
ROGER MECCA: Co-founder Mark Basso and his two partners faced more than just naysayers and unwilling bankers to get Autobahn race ready. Building a track may seem simple… but…
MARK BASSO: The developmental hurdles of engineering a 350 acre property to make it safe for cars to be going over 100 miles per hour is something you never appreciate until you actually try to do it.
ROGER MECCA: But once it was completed, those same doubters happily paid the 30-thousand dollar membership fee for the dream of unlimited laps around the incredible track. Today, Autobahn boasts more than 400 very happy members from all walks of life. Accountants, doctors, insurance salesmen, teachers and even racing legends.
BOBBY RAHAL: I had all this memorabilia and I had my car collection and I liked the idea of being attached to a racing circuit so that if I did want to go out and drive my race cars around or drive my streets cars around competitively, you could do that...So whether you have a race car or you have a high performance street car, or whatever, you can really fulfill your dreams.
ROGER MECCA: Now while many of the members do have Ferraris or Lamborghinis or an AMG Mercedes like this, they actually don’t drive these on the track very often. What they use are not quite as fast as a Lamborghini, but they’re no less exciting.
MARK BASSO: We have 85 members that have spec Miatas, and formula Mazdas, and Mustangs and BMWs that are really set up for the track. And it’s a lot more affordable to run. The interesting thing is, a lot of guys have Ferraris, they actually don’t drive them on the track.
ROGER MECCA: And when you consider that a track-ready Miata costs about as much as a Ferrari oil change, but delivers just as much enjoyment, the choice becomes an easy one. As is the decision to get family members out on the track, too.
You might be saying to yourself, ‘That’s nothing more than a high-revving boys club’. But, in fact, over the years, wives and even daughters have started to come to Autobahn and the speed has proved to be… contagious.
The driver of this yellow Porsche Cayman is 20-year old Leigh Martino, daughter of member John Martino. While it’s not a typical bonding experience, it’s one the two love to do together.
LEIGH MARTINO: People don’t expect a daughter and a dad to be doing it. I think it’s more of a son-father thing so it’s definitely unique, we’re out here every single weekend in the summer together.
JOHN MARTINO: Our whole family is actually a little tighter because everybody’s interested and likes to see what her progress is and we get along. So it just sort of, gives us some commonality to talk about.
DEBBIE KECK: Going into a corner at high speed, it’s just, it’s a rush and maneuvering and coming out of it safely is even better.
ROGER MECCA: And it’s safe to say you won’t get that same rush from a good putt. So driving enthusiasts, it’s time to celebrate. At last you have a country club with plenty of hairpins, and not a sand trap in sight!