Pri­vate play­ground for wealthy rac­ers

John Mor­ris ex­pects his race­track in Las Ve­gas to have huge ap­peal for speed fans all over the world. John Dean re­ports

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - USED CARS -

He plans to build the world’s long­est pri­vate race track. Al­most ev­ery­thing out­side the win­dow of John Mor­ris’s he­li­copter is his or will be soon. When the semi-re­tired in­ter­net en­tre­pre­neur bought the orig­i­nal Spring Moun­tain Mo­tor­sports Ranch in 2004, in the desert town of Pahrump, Ne­vada, it was a 2.2- mile race­track with a cou­ple of spec­ta­tor tents and por­taloos. The gate to the place wasn’t much more than a swiv­el­ling lead pipe.

“I thought it’d be fun to own a race­track,” says John Mor­ris, 69, angling his red, black, and white Robin­son R44 he­li­copter to­ward a large par­cel of desert scrub that he says he’ll soon lease from the US Bureau of Land Man­age­ment. Last year, Mor­ris paid an undis­closed sum for a 150-acre chunk on the track’s west side; once he has the bureau’s piece, the Spring Moun­tain Mo­tor Re­sort & Coun­try Club — his ever- grow­ing au­to­mo­bile play­land — will to­tal 900 acres, with the world’s long­est track as its cen­tre­piece.

Cur­rently, the long­est track is Ger­many’s Nür­bur­gring, the leg­endary 13.1mile cir­cuit in Nür­burg, near the Bel­gian bor­der, which in­cludes sec­tions of pub­lic road and isn’t open for rac­ing most of the year.

When he’s done, Mor­ris will have at least 15 miles of pri­vate track just 45 min­utes from the Las Ve­gas Strip.

He paid $5 mil­lion for it, in­clud­ing three acres that front Route 160, the main road from Las Ve­gas to Death Val­ley, which an­nu­ally han­dles an av­er­age of 1.7 mil­lion tourists.

Mor­ris says he ini­tially wanted to buy a place where his friends and fam­ily could drive fast — in ev­ery­thing from street cars to Porsches and Fer­raris to ex­otic Rad­i­cals — and have fun, but the more peo­ple came to visit, the more it was clear that other wealthy thrill-seek­ers were look­ing for this kind of oa­sis, too.

Even if the idea wasn’t to start a busi­ness, Spring Moun­tain is one now, with 126 em­ploy­ees and $30 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enue from race- in­struc­tion schools, the mem­ber­ship fees of as­pir­ing Lewis Hamil­tons, and track rentals by man­u­fac­tur­ers for test­ing. Which is why Mor­ris is now in the mid­dle of a trans­for­ma­tion that will turn Spring Moun­tain into a des­ti­na­tion re­sort with a com­mu­nity of lux­ury homes on 200 track­side lots, a ho­tel, restau­rants, the- atres, a car wash, a cof­fee shop, a wa­ter treat­ment plant, and prob­a­bly many other things he hasn’t thought of yet.

“It was also an in­vest­ment,” Mor­ris ex­plains. By the end of 2017 or early 2018, he says, he’ll also have a sixmile, off-road desert course for trucks and ATVs, a track for high-per­for­mance go-karts, and a zip line to the re­sort’s main club­house with a 160-foot drop.

For vis­i­tors who don’t want to race or zip, there’s stand-up pad­dle­board­ing on the 18 mil­lion- gal­lon lake Mor­ris built in 2014, as well as an in­door shoot­ing range.

“The idea was to have a com­plete des­ti­na­tion,” he says, so mem­bers won’t have to leave for any­thing. Two of his wealth­i­est mem­bers even talked Mor­ris into build­ing a 6,000-foot straight on the new track to ac­com­mo­date their jets.

“It can dou­ble as a drag strip,” he says, one he and mem­bers may use to at­tempt land- speed records. “We’ll end up with our own city, and we can do what­ever the hell we want.”

Mor­ris has the dyed­brown hair and joie de vivre of a man sit­ting atop a for­tune. A se­rial in­vestor, he sold his last and most suc­cess­ful busi­ness, Ad­vanced Ac­cess, then the coun­try’s largest provider of web ser­vices to the real es­tate in­dus­try, for $ 30 mil­lion in 2006.

He was ready to have some fun and made the deal with Do­min­ion En­ter­prises on two con­di­tions: He wanted all cash and the as­sur­ance “that I will never hear from you again,” he says. He got his wishes.

Semi- re­tire­ment suits him. Mor­ris has a thir­tysome­thing girl­friend he met at a yoga class in Las Ve­gas.

His hob­bies have es­ca­lated. Once an ex­cel­lent golfer, he says, he quit play­ing af­ter he fell in love with rac­ing his mod­i­fied Dodge Viper. Later he blew up his old golf tro­phies with Tan­ner­ite, a ma­te­rial used to make ex­plod­ing tar­gets for shoot­ing ranges. Golf seemed “too slow,” he says.

Th­ese days, Mor­ris would rather floor his Ital­ian-made Wolf race car 180 miles per hour or fly one of his wa­ter­pow­ered jet packs around the lake. The body of wa­ter is vis­i­ble in its en­tirety from the he­li­copter, as is the palm-tree-shaded is­land in the mid­dle that breaks up the wake from the jet packs, which he rents to mem­bers and vis­i­tors.

Mor­ris briefly owned a jet pack man­u­fac­turer, too. “Have you seen the video of me from the news?” he asks. Mor­ris is re­fer­ring to a 2011 seg­ment in which he takes off from a dock, ac­ci­den­tally hits the pack’s kill switch, and im­me­di­ately face-plants into the har­bour live on San Diego morn­ing TV. The clip, “Fox 5 News Jet­pack EPIC FAIL!,” has more than 3 mil­lion views on YouTube.

The changes to Spring Moun­tain started small. In 2007, Mor­ris added the club­house, a pool, and 140 mem­ber garages. Af­ter he tired of staying in a run­down lo­cal mo­tel, he built a small apart­ment, rac­quet­ball court, and he­li­copter hangar.

Once mem­bers saw his apart­ment, they clam­oured for a place to sleep — so Mor­ris built 42 con­dos, in­clud­ing one for him­self. He wound up spend­ing so much time at Spring Moun­tain that, two years ago, he built him­self a 5,000- square- foot house. It has a base­ment garage for his race cars, a pool, a sec­ond hangar, a wine cel­lar, and a rooftop he­li­pad with a fire­man’s pole. “I climb up more than I slide down,” he says.

The he­li­pad, where the he­li­copter ride ends, of­fers a great view of all 6.1 miles of ex­ist­ing track as well as the two new parcels of land. Mor­ris points out where 3 miles’ worth of track will soon be un­der con­struc­tion, pos­si­bly start­ing in Fe­bru­ary. Most days, that por­tion will serve as its own dis­tinct track, just as the ex­ist­ing 6.1 miles is typ­i­cally di­vided into three or four that can be run in­de­pen­dently, al­low­ing the fa­cil­ity to host mul­ti­ple driv­ing schools and still keep a few sec­tions for the 300 club mem­bers — there are 53 track con­fig­u­ra­tions.

On rare days when Mor­ris or his track man­ager de­cides to run all seg­ments con­cur­rently, Spring Moun­tain is al­ready the long­est track in the Amer­i­cas and the third- long­est in the world. The club is home to Corvette’s driv­ing school, and last fall, Gen­eral Mo­tors opened a Cadil­lac per­for­mance academy on the grounds.

Mem­bers pay $ 45,000 to join and $ 5,000 a year in dues, but rarely stop there. From Mor­ris’s on-site show­room, “they buy a $250,000 Wolf, then a $500,000 lot” for a pri­vate home, he say; one mem­ber bought eight cars and a lot on his first day of mem­ber­ship.

Most en­thu­si­asts, 33%, are from Cal­i­for­nia; 20% live in Ne­vada; 10% are Cana­di­ans. One guy flies in from Aus­tralia for all of the track’s race week­ends. There will be 10 this year.

Jef­frey Cheng, 53, a pri­vate eq­uity in­vestor from New­port Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, who races a Wolf, says: “Spring Moun­tain is an adult Dis­ney­land. We race cars, we go off-road­ing, we shoot big guns, we jet pack, we play with re­mote-con­trol boat s and cars, we fly drones, we fly planes, we fly heli­copters. When you want a great din­ner and some nightlife, you’re only a 40- minute drive from Las Ve­gas. Who can beat that?”

Alain Derzie, a la­paro­scopic and gen­eral sur­geon who lives in Man­hat­tan and drives a Rad­i­cal, made his first pil­grim­age to Spring Moun­tain in 2004 to at­tend Corvette’s driv­ing school. He be­came a mem­ber in 2012.

“When John says he’s go­ing to do some­thing, he does it,” says Derzie, 48. “He said, ‘ I’m gonna build a lake.’ I said, ‘What?’ He built a lake. Ev­ery year there’s some­thing new.”

Mor­ris gazes out on the sprawl­ing scrub. “I want to in­cor­po­rate our own city two years from now,” he says.

Peo­ple keep sug­gest­ing Morrisville, prob­a­bly in jest, but he has a bet­ter idea. “We’re look­ing at Race Town, Ne­vada.”

Spring Moun­tain Mo­tor Re­sort and Coun­try Club, where John Mor­ris is build­ing the world’s long­est race­track, more than 15 miles of pri­vate track 45 min­utes from the Ve­gas Strip, aimed at a wealthy clien­tele.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.