The Community Voice: September 10th, 2009 9:39am

FAST TRACK TO FUN IN ROHNERT PARK

By Heidi Bailey

Brianna Stearn on the track

Brianna Stearn and friends

Duo leaves tech firm, opening Sonoma County’s first indoor electric kart racetrack on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009

ROHNERT PARK - What used to be a retail bed and bath warehouse has been transformed into a mini Infineon Raceway, complete with a miniature golf course, bowling alley and arcade.

“We wanted to create an attraction adults and kids would all enjoy,” said Matt Stearn, co-owner of Driven Raceway located in the former Linens-n-Things building on Redwood Drive.

Stearn partnered up with friend Rod Towery embarking on a serious endeavor in a time of economic recession. Both left jobs with a high-tech company in Petaluma after working on a business plan for over three years. Pouring their life savings into their vision, their dream of running Sonoma County’s only indoor European electric kart racetrack is now reality.

They chose Rohnert Park because, as Towery puts it, “It’s centrally located in Sonoma County. We wanted it to be convenient for people in Marin County as well.”

At first it looked like the former Levitz building would be the spot and negotiations began for that property, “but it completely fell through.” That would have placed them within walking distance of Scandia, which also offers kart racing, mini golf and an arcade.

“We then looked at (the other) property and presented our plan to Codding. They not only went for it, but Codding Construction did all the remodeling for us. The timing was everything.”

Italian-Inspired Racing
Driven Raceway is designed around real racing using Italian-built high-speed electric karts mirroring the look and feel of a mini European racer. Sitting low to the ground with a bumper surrounding it for added safety, adult karts can reach speeds up to 45 mph with junior karts reaching 20 mph. 

Decked-out in red, black and white checker patterns with pictures of famous racecar drivers along the walls, not one small detail has been overlooked inside the racing-world warehouse.

Towery and Stearn purchased 20 adult karts and 10 junior karts. Though there’s no definitive age limit, minimum height for the junior karts is 48 inches and adult kart minimum is 55 inches.

Towery said staff uses their discretion on who can race, going by level of experience, size and attitude. Safety is at the forefront of their entire business. “These are true custom race cars built for reliability and safety,” he said.

To drive, one registers at the front desk via laptop computer. Towery then debriefs racers on the rules of the racetrack, flagging and car operation. Racers are placed on a race schedule according to availability, age range and experience.

“No one can go faster than we want them to,” said Stearn. “We can control every car with a push of a button, stopping them completely if necessary, all at once or one individual car at a time.”

For each race, two track marshals sit out on the track with hand-held remote controls, making adjustments if necessary for those less experienced or getting out of control. The pit master keeps track of everyone in the pit, getting everyone situated for the race. A screen projected on the wall shows every racer on the track, their time and where they’re placing for the duration of their laps. Once one races at Driven, their stats remain in the system and are logged after each race.

Not Just Racing
Don’t feel like racing? No worries. There’s a two-lane mini bowling alley, an arcade, and Sonoma County’s first blacklight miniature golf course. From themed party rooms for birthdays to a VIP room with a flat screen TV for corporate events and other private parties, there are many custom packages available. Rumor has it a racing league could start up in October or November.

“We really are trying to give back to the community as well,” added Stearn. “We’ve created 35 jobs, hiring locally, and we’ve used mostly local companies in getting the place set up and helping us open.

“We will be doing fund raisers for the schools and have an aggressive plan to help nonprofits too.”

What can folks expect at the grand opening?

“Expect it to be busy,” Stearn jokes. “All kidding aside, people can expect to see indoor European car racing probably for the first time. We’re going to be doing all the races - the adult racing, the junior racing, mini-golf will be fully operational as well as the bowling and arcade.”

Grand opening event is Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. The event is free with a minimal cost for racing, and racers get a free T-shirt while they’re in stock. For more information visit www.DrivenRaceway.com.

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