Plans are well underway for the
construction of a new private track in southwestern suburban Chicago that will cater
to people who have a penchant for fast cars. Mark Basso of suburban West Chicago
leads a group of investors who are seeking to convert a 325-acre cornfield in the
southern part of Joliet into a 3.56-mile road course.
It will be located within view
of the Chicagoland Speedway to the east and close to the Route 66 Raceway, also in
Joliet. It will provide individuals who have high performance cars the opportunity
to vastly exceed highway speed limits without the worry of being ticketed. Once
approvals have been completed over the summer, Basso and his two partners, Mike Keck
and Tim O’Donnell, plan to start construction this fall and complete the track by
late spring of next year. The partners have named the development the Autobahn
Basso, an insurance broker, has been working for several years to attract financial
backers for the proposed track. The Club had original plans to build a similar track
in far west suburban Sugar Grove, but the proposal drew opposition from residents.
Basso said the Joliet site is suitable for the track because it is in a farmland
area that is zoned for industrial or entertainment development, rather than
residential. Because of the zoning, Club developers won’t have to contend with
homeowners who might be bothered by the track. Basso says, "If you have a Ferrari or
a Porsche or a Lamborghini, obviously you can't do much with those on the city
streets.” But on the proposed track, enthusiasts "will be able to drive those cars
in a safe environment and go fast." The advantage of building such a track in the
Chicago metro area is that members who want to push the limit on their cars won’t
have to drive over two hours to tracks such as Road America in Wisconsin or
Gingerman in Michigan.
Track Design and Operations
Autobahn Country Club Track
The Club enlisted the preeminent road course designer, Alan Wilson, to develop its
Grand Prix track. His work includes the track at GingerMan, the South Carolina
Motorsports Park, the future CART track in Beijing, China and the recently opened
Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. The Master Development Plan for the
track features three track layouts – a 1.46-mile North track for corporate outings,
club usage and other events, and a 2.10-mile South track for members only. Both can
be combined to create a 3.56-mile track for special events and professional races.
The combined track will be the third largest in the country after Road America and
Sebring in Florida. The site will also have a .8-mile shifter kart track.
When Wilson begins laying out straight-aways and corners of a new road course on his
computer screen (using the CAD program Autosketch), he draws heavily on his racing
experience, as well as that of his wife, Desire, who raced in England from 1978-80.
“I like a track to flow,” he says. “I want the driver to go into a corner with
apprehension, and come out with exhilaration. That explains what I try to create.”
To encourage passing, Wilson prefers his track surfaces to be 40 feet wide and his
straights devoid of kinks that funnel cars into single lines. He tries to link
corners together into sequences, and also to give them multiple radii, so that more
than one racing line works. “I’ve got a section at GingerMan where there are
probably seven or eight perfectly acceptable lines,” he says.
Safety is a major concern for Wilson. He specifies runoff areas and gravel traps
instead of barriers everywhere possible, and insists that every runoff be as smooth
as a golf course fairway, to reduce the chance of a rollover. Another characteristic
of a Wilson track is an empty infield, which saves the expense of bridges or tunnels
as well as simplifies the safety infrastructure. His design for the Autobahn Country
Club track will feature long grassy runoff areas (so as not to damage the cars), and
armco steel barriers where necessary. Basso said that there would always be at least
one ambulance on call at the track in case of accidents. With many Club members in
the medical field, there are some early plans to possibly have them available for
medical needs should an accident or other health problems occur.
Although Wilson isn’t an engineer, he works closely with them; his sketches and
designs are converted into engineering drawings. His company, Wilson Motorsports
Inc., based in Castle Rock, Colorado, also helps track-builders in other areas, from
obtaining permits to a final operations plan. And if all goes well, the day comes
when . . .“We get the surveyor in, he stakes my centerline, and I’ll ride the path
of the course with a Quad or a dirt bike. I’ll run lap after lap after lap, trying
to get the feel and flow of it, and I’ll start moving some of the stakes a little
bit, to get it right.”
Included with this article is a track layout. Most of the land is farmland with a
fresh crop of corn and soybeans sprouting up from the ground. Great care was taken
to ensure that the track layout follows the contour of the land with minimal
environmental impact. Several parts of the track have mature trees as shown on the
map, most of which will be saved. Also, there are about 30 acres of wetlands on the
property. Original plans called for converting about 20 of these acres into other
uses for the track, but this was later reduced to only 2.8 acres. With the
undulating features spread out over the site and the number of trees that will
remain, the track layout will be picturesque. There will be a few places where
elevation changes will exist to provide a bit more of a challenge, but because of
the current lay of the land, these will probably be only about 10 feet in height.
However, given Wilson’s design, the track will be a test even for experienced
The South Track will feature a 2000-foot straightaway (far left vertical line on the
map), which is several hundred feet longer than the one at Gingerman. When I asked
Basso about removing the right-hander and slightly curving the track to extend the
straightaway, he said that the planned straightaway would be long enough. He said
that when non-professional drivers get their high performance cars up towards top
speed, they soon have a tendency to want to slow down.
The lines that you see on the map are buried natural gas pipelines. The developers
had to get approval from many natural gas companies across the nation for the track
to be built over the pipelines.
Cars at the Club will run in a clockwise direction. Initially, the paddock will
cover 20 acres and will be bordered on two sides by the pit areas for the North and
South tracks. The paddock surface will be comprised of paved and grassy areas to
suit the desires of the car owners and teams who will use the facility.
Drivers will be classified in one of three ways. A “C” driver is one who just wants
to drive the track with his/her street car. “C” drivers will be allowed to pass in
the straights with a wave, but no passing will be allowed in the turns. These
drivers will have staggered starts with their driving sessions lasting 20 minutes. A
“B” driver is one who owns a street car and has more skill than a “C” driver. An “A”
driver is one who has more skill than a “B” driver and is a licensed racecar driver.
“A” drivers will be allowed to pass anywhere. Only one class of drivers will be on
the track at a time. Club member usage will change day to day using both tracks.
The track will be open for seven months of the year. Teams and non-members will be
able to use the track from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, seven days a week. Members will be
able to use the track until sundown.
Memberships and Benefits
Plans call for a $14 million facility. Phase I consists of track construction. The
Club received commitment for bridge financing from a bank and expects to start
breaking ground sometime this fall. Once started, Phase I of the project will take
approximately eight months to complete. The track will be divided into two areas,
one reserved for Club members and the other available for rent by car clubs or
dealerships that sell exotic or high-performance cars and want a place to test-drive
Basso wants to have the track carved out this fall and paved before winter sets in.
The developers want the asphalt to cure over the winter so that they can officially
open next May or June. Next year, construction will start on some of the team
buildings and member garages. Phase II includes construction of a clubhouse (see
drawing), restaurant, and pool.
The developers are attracting investors to have a stake in the success of the track.
Basso says he needs 40 Founding Members to start construction and has already
recruited 35. The 35 Founding Members committed $100,000 each towards development
costs, payable in installments. The price for being a Founding Member for any of the
five remaining open slots was recently raised to $125,000, however. Once the Club
has reached the maximum of 40 Founding Members, it will only accept regular Country
Club memberships, which will be capped at 200. Country Club Members will pay a
$10,000 initiation fee, plus annual dues of $3,000.
Founding Members will have a lifetime guarantee that includes unlimited use of the
Club with no annual or monthly dues. They are eligible for a preferred rate of
return and have 100% equity. They will also receive these benefits:
• Unlimited Track Time
• Car Storage
• Racing School
• Clubhouse Access
• Corporate Meeting Rooms
• Banquet Facilities
• Swimming Pool
• Locker Rooms
• Founders’ VIP Club
Other Country Club members will enjoy unlimited access to all Autobahn Country Club
tracks, Clubhouse and amenities, excluding the Founders’ VIP Club area.
Corporate memberships are available to companies, sports car clubs, and
organizations. Corporate members will have access to tracks, Clubhouse and
amenities, excluding the Founders’ VIP Club area. Corporate members may rent and
reserve Club tracks for special events. Country-club type amenities with a
family-friendly atmosphere, including banquet facilities, fine dining
establishments, an automotive pro shop, an outdoor swimming pool and locker rooms
are planned as well. Members can also take advantage of temperature-controlled
vehicle storage areas, a service garage with on-site mechanics, and valet services.
Track Amenities and Special Events
Initially, there will be 19 team lots, but this number will probably increase as the
track grows and revenues are generated. The team lot concept is attracting a lot of
interest from a variety of teams. For example, Joe Graziano, a GTS PRO driver in the
Panoz Racing Series, will have a lot for his team at the Club. Each lot will be
approximately 1/3 acre in size. Individual car owners and teams will be able to
construct their own buildings. Most will be about 4,000 square feet, but some are
planning larger buildings. The developers want to have an equestrian/stable-look to
the buildings, and they want to maintain some consistency in the design of the
buildings, so there are some regulations for builders to follow. (See prototype
photos.) The developers want to have a variety of car and motorcycle
organizations/teams who would have an interest in becoming members or buying team
lots at the track.
When I asked about CART inquiring about the track, Basso said that there have not
yet been any inquiries. He said that several costly upgrades would have to be made
to meet the requirements needed to host a major event like a CART race. Current
plans don’t include sufficient parking space for the 50,000+ people who would attend
a major race. However, there is a square track of land on the northwest corner of
Patterson and Millsdale Rd. (see map). This piece of land, if purchased by the Club,
could be converted into a large parking lot. Other improvements would have to be
made to protect spectators and add creature comforts, such as bridges, concession
stands, grandstands, and restrooms before a major race could be held there.
Basso said that the developers don’t want to develop the site too quickly. That’s
why they’re taking a conservative approach in getting the track built, and planning
for expansion as more funds become available. Although hosting a CART race could
happen, Basso doesn’t see that happening for a while. He said tracks get into trouble when plans
get too ambitious too quickly.
Besides being funded by memberships, Basso says that revenue from teams and special
events will also help pay the rent. The developers are particularly interested in
hosting a vintage car race in the not-too-distant future that would be open to the
Approvals and Support
Basso doesn’t see any major hurdles remaining in getting the track built. The
various local zoning commissions quickly gave their approval to construction, in
contrast to the effort that the developers went through when they originally planned
to build a track in suburban Sugar Grove. Basso said when plans were first being
formulated for the Joliet site, one of the local government zoning commissions even
told the developers about a general area of land where they might want to look at
building the track! The developers will present their plans to the Joliet City
Council on August 4th and will need to get final approval from the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers. However, Basso doesn’t think that there will be any major problem
getting approvals from either group. Clearly, with the Chicagoland Speedway just
minutes away, and with the nearby Route 66 Raceway, the city of Joliet is certainly
friendly towards auto racing.
The Club is generating a lot of interest from high performance car dealers and
sports car enthusiasts. Joel Weinberger, another founding member of the club and
co-owner of Continental Audi in Naperville and Continental Acura in Lisle, said he
can't wait for the track to open. Weinberger said he got involved in part as a
business opportunity to accommodate those of his customers who may want to
test-drive a car on a track before buying it. But he said he also is looking forward
to using the course and the amenities of the Club. "A lot of racetracks don't have
good places to hang out," he said, noting that many have just food stands. But the
Autobahn will be "a country club atmosphere, without a golf course," he said.
How to get there
From Chicago, take I-55 south past I-80 and exit at Arsenal Rd. East to Brandon Rd.,
north 1.5 miles to Millsdale Rd, and follow the Millsdale Rd. signs. Turn left on
Patterson Rd. and go 100 yards to the planned entrance that will be on your left.
The Club’s website is
http://www.autobahncountryclub.net. A local Fox TV News Segment clip can be
To contact the Club, click on
http://www.autobahncountryclub.net/contactus.htm or call Mark or a Club
representative at 630-375-7652.
Other Close-By Facilities
Besides nearby Route 66 Raceway and the Chicagoland Speedway, just down the street
from the entrance to the track is the $4 million Challenge Park, which is one of the
country’s largest paintball amusement park. It has four setting for paintball
enthusiasts – Town of Bedlam, Fort Courage, Armageddon, and the Temple of Doom. It
also offers Xtreme sports, BMX (bicycle) racing, Skateboarding, In-line and Mountain
Biking on 150 acres.
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