After more than 30 years working in technology, Karen Davis-Farage believed she was set in her career. Then — like so many in 2009 — she lost her job.
“I did not see it coming,” she said.
Nor could she anticipate the winding course her career would take shortly after — with Davis-Farage herself behind the steering wheel.
Today, as co-owner and president of Pole Position Raceway, an indoor electric go-karting experience in Jersey City and other sites in the region, Davis-Farage is just as (if not more so) successful in her second career as she was in her first.
“But I did not believe in a million years that I could transfer my skillset from software to indoor go-karting,” Davis-Farage said. “The reality is, I had a competitive advantage.”
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At age 54 and at the height of the recession, Davis-Farage was working as vice president for business development of a mobile software company in Jersey City.
She and her husband, Eyal Farage — a contractor and designer by trade — were just about to send the first of their three children to college at the University of Southern California and were planning a father-son, experiential road trip in order to get him there.
That’s when she got the bad news.
“To be in your early 50s and a woman and lose your job … it played havoc with my personal and professional esteem,” she said.
“But it also made me realize much faster that I could do anything I wanted to.”
In a serendipitous turn of events, the last experiential activity Eyal and their son Andrew planned for their road trip was indoor electric go-karting.
“My son Andrew got out of his kart, pulled up his visor and said, ‘Dad, this is what you and Mom should do with the rest of your careers,’” Davis-Farage said.
But when her husband researched and found P2R Karting, the Corona, California-based owner of the Pole Position Raceway brand, she still wasn’t sure.
“My husband built a small business and kept it small, and I lived for 30 years in a much more traditional corporate setting,” Davis-Farage said. “My background in running a business was a lot different than his.”
That’s when she realized both their skillsets would be necessary in order to make Pole Position Raceway a reality.
“My husband’s got a risk-oriented, visionary mentality, but is not necessarily the best day-to-day executor,” Davis-Farage said. “My skillset is exactly that.”
Before she knew it, she and Eyal were licensing the right to bring Pole Position Raceway to the Northeast — starting with Jersey City in 2010.
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“Jersey City was the first (location) to reach back out and say, ‘We’ll help you make this happen,’” Davis-Farage said.
“The Jersey City Economic Development Corporation embraced us and helped teach us how to build a business (in Jersey City).”
But Davis-Farage and her husband Eyal weren’t finished. Within five years, they’d build four additional New York tracks in Syracuse, Buffalo, Long Island and Rochester.
“We, in essence, made Pole Position Raceway a national brand,” she said.
As Eyal, co-owner, worked on increasing the look and feel of the brand, Davis-Farage helped hire more than 200 employees — all of which are paid more than minimum wage and offered benefits.
“If you want to create a culture where people are truly committed, and come to work to have an impact and create the best experience for our racers, then you have to show them how much you value that from them,” Davis-Farage said.
“In a lot of ways, the more you pay people, the more you make.”
Her philosophy has helped bring in an average of 130,000 racers a year per location, with each facility grossing millions of dollars.
But they bootstrapped to start.
“I often laugh and say my mortgage is in that corner, and my savings are in that corner,” Davis-Farage said.
Now, Pole Position Raceway is expanding and looking for capital to build between 30 and 40 total tracks.
“We are looking to open another location in New Jersey. … We’re looking at several higher-density locations right now” Davis-Farage said. “The challenge is finding affordable, industrial space of at least 40,000 square feet.”
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Any space fit for Pole Position Raceway must be able to encompass at least one European bead-blasted racetrack with straightaway and hairpin turns of more than a quarter-mile.
The Jersey City and Long Island locations have two, in addition to a plethora of high-performance Italian carts.
With an average racer that’s 33 years old, this is some serious stuff.
“Indoor karting is the new bowling,” Davis-Farage said. “It’s a skill everyone can learn, and also improve.”
Therefore, Davis-Farage developed multiple marketing segments in order to capture all applicable demographics for the adult-oriented venue with a kid’s experience.
“I build marketing plans based on the way I worked in the highly competitive market of technology,” Davis-Farage said. “We’re building very substantial business this way.”
Anyone can walk in seven days a week and join an Arrive and Drive race — but where Pole Position Raceway feels it really shines is its ability to host corporate, employee and client appreciation events, birthday and bachelor parties, and summer camps.
Pole Position Raceway was named one of the top five attractions for the website Destination Jersey City.
“There’s a tremendous amount of comradery within destination tourism,” Davis-Farage said. “It’s what I like to call ‘co-opetition.’ I don’t want to compete for their business — I want to partner with them.”
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Don’t be confused: Pole Position Raceway tracks feature actual racing.
There is a leaderboard letting you know how fast you’re going and your ranking on the course.
For safety, the speeds of the cars are monitored. And since the cars are electric, their speed can be controlled remotely.
Davis-Farage said there’s personnel watching cars at all times. So if you drive erratically, you’ll just go slower.
The activity is on the upswing.
Davis-Farage said racing is the fastest-growing industry in sports.
But even as like-minded businesses begin to crop up, Davis-Farage knows exactly who Pole Position Raceway’s competition is: Perception.
“People might think of their experience racing a go-kart at a county fair, or of bumper cars, or the cars on the track at Disneyland,” she said.
“But clearly, that’s not what we do.”
New Jersey Biz
Karen Davis-Farage knows how difficult it can be to own a family entertainment business in New Jersey.
“We have to work harder and smarter in New Jersey in the destination business, because New Jersey does not have a tax that goes toward the budget for tourism, whereas most states do,” Davis-Farage said.
Davis-Farage believes one still needs to take responsibility for her business.
“It’s easy to say taxes are high here, and employee benefits are working against you, but
I think it’s really just about getting more involved in the community,” Davis-Farage said.