Working in journalism all these years has brought me experiences ranging from wading through heaps of dead fish to getting booked into jail (which was a really stupid idea, by the way).
An expedition last week was a lot more fun: I took an electric go-kart for a drive at the new MB2 Raceway in Modesto.
I have to say, I was predisposed to like this place: It is housed in the former Gottschalks at Century Center. As most readers of this column know, I worked on and off at the store – and its corporate headquarters in Fresno – through college and beyond. It’s great to see action at this once-thriving shopping center, which has been suffering since Gottschalks closed in 2009, followed by Raley’s a few years later.
What is there, though, made the spot the perfect place for an MB2 Raceway, marketing manager Gary Custer said.
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“We really liked the neighbors here, and the small-town feel,” he said. He pointed out that parents could bring children by for a race, then go get in a workout at Planet Fitness, or pick up a healthy beverage at Jamba Juice.
Modesto’s is the fifth MB2 Raceway location; it started in Sylmar in Southern California before branching into Thousand Oaks, Clovis and Des Moines, Iowa. (Why Des Moines? Big racing fan base there, Custer pointed out.)
Needless to say, the interior looks nothing like the department store I remember. An asphalt-mix track floor covers the majority of the 60,000-square-foot space, with plastic black-and-red walls supported by tires lining the course.
Custer showed my colleague Linda Zhang and me around; the dressing rooms where ladies once tried on sportswear have been cleared away, and ramps to what used to be the furniture department have been removed.
He gave us a run-through of how the raceway works: First-timers come in, create a profile and sign a waiver. Then they are fitted with a helmet and go through a safety orientation. After that, they are assigned a car and hit the road, so to speak.
It was pretty surreal to be back in that building again. The office where I wrapped gifts and ran credit reports with Carolyn, Erika and Chris is now a shop where mechanics repair karts. I found that somehow kind of fitting.
I walked through what used to be store manager Mr. Boudreaux’s office and settled into a car, which I then took on a spin through cosmetics and men’s before rounding a sharp turn in the china and gifts department, where I used to help my friend Vicki set up the Christmas display.
The adult cars go up to about 45 mph. I was sure I coaxed my car up to about 80; when I got back, Custer informed me I topped out at 25.
Children can ride, too, in cars that don’t go quite as fast and are a bit smaller. Drivers must be 48 inches tall.
The cars are “clean and green,” Custer pointed out. They run on electricity, so there is no exhaust. And, upon return to the starting line, they fully charge in 15 minutes.
As for the cost, it’s about $23 for adults and $20 for children just to stop in and take part in a race (14 laps for adults, nine for the younger set). But there also is a membership program and occasional specials that reduce the per-race cost for those who try it and like it. MB2 also offers birthday party and corporate event packages. And, just like in NASCAR, you can get your business advertised on a car if that appeals to you.
Just to be clear – I may drive slower than a snail maneuvering through molasses, but I can still wrap just about any gift lightning-fast.
ELSEWHERE AROUND THE BUSINESS BEAT: You likely read that Sports Authority filed for bankruptcy last week. The company plans to close 140 of its 463 stores, as well as two distribution centers.
The company filed a list of stores that will be affected on Wednesday. The Modesto store, at McHenry and Standiford avenues, isn’t among the 19 California stores set to close.