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At Lehigh, the Grand Prix Captures the Grand Prize

This model of Sodi Kart's GT3 Sport kart will be used at the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix.

Growing up less than an hour from Dover International Speedway in Delaware, Mike McCreary ’07 would watch thousands of motor sport fans make their annual trip to one of the nation’s most popular racetracks.

It didn’t take long for McCreary to learn that many of those fans were from eastern Pennsylvania—a region torn by the recent closing of another premier racing venue, the Nazareth Speedway.

McCreary says he wasn’t much of a racing fan himself growing up. But that’s about to change.

McCreary is the latest Grand Prize winner of Lehigh’s Thalheimer Student Entrepreneurship Contest. His business plan for the area’s first—and only—indoor motor sport facility was a well-conceived analysis that tapped into the region’s passion for auto racing.

For the first time since its inception, the Grand Prize, first place, second place and third place honors were all swept by undergraduate business students.

“This is going to be a lot different from what you’re expecting,” says McCreary, who will partner with Chris Cooper ’06 to run the 48,000-square foot venue. “The Lehigh Valley is an untapped market. This is racing country here, even with the demographics changing so fast.”

Those changing demographics play right into McCreary’s hands. McCreary is envisioning an indoor facility located in nearby Allentown, Pa. that will serve corporate audiences as well as families and racing enthusiasts. The facility not only includes a track that closely resembles a small-scale Formula One race course with its twists and turns, but it also features other entertainment options and formal conference suites.

“Ninety percent of sales are service-based, and that’s really what we are. We had a very well thought-out plan, and we had consulted with a lot of other people who helped steer us in the right direction,” he said.

Lisa Getzler-Linn, director of the Thalheimer Student Entrepreneurship Contest and associate director of Lehigh’s IPD program, shared those sentiments. “Everything from the executive summary through the basic business plan were well articulated and obviously proposed by well motivated student entrepreneurs,” she said. “The selection committee deemed the venture a possible ‘real business success that could contribute to the business revitalization of the greater Bethlehem/Lehigh Valley region.’”

McCreary talked with business leaders and public officials throughout the area and, specifically, Allentown, to gauge the projects feasibility. On almost all fronts, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

He and Cooper, his business partner, also continue to rely on the advice of similar motor facility owners like Jeff and Rob Schwartz, co-owners of the popular Mid-Atlantic Grand Prix in New Castle, Delaware.

“I love the interaction with people, and we really want this facility to become one the focal points of the community,” McCreary added. “As a member of the community, there are many different ways to get involved. And now that we know we have a green light for the project, we’ll be looking for league sponsors and businesses interested in advertising within our facility.”

That’s what McCreary’s banking on. He’s already reached out to local businesses to establish partnerships, including outside catering for business events.

The Lehigh Valley Grand Prix is tentatively scheduling its grand opening for this summer, which will make the next few months leading up to graduation that much more exciting.

McCreary doesn’t believe this project could have been fully realized without the help of the Lehigh community.

“The entrepreneurship program here at Lehigh is great,” says McCreary. The College of Business and Economics has a minor in entrepreneurship, but it’s also introduced in other classes throughout the business curriculum. “Fellow students tend to be a very tough audience. You’re taught to be on top of your game. I really had to argue my case and defend my idea.”

--Tom Yencho

Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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