By Shari Valenta,
It’s a gorgeous day and you have a four-hour wait between flights. Most of the morning involved working in the limited space of a Learjet 35. Getting out and walking around sounds good but what’s there to do at Centennial Airport? Here are a couple of fun suggestions that are outdoors and not far from home.
The Track at Centennial
If you have the need for speed, then karting is a lot of fun. It’s basically driving small, four-wheeled, open-air vehicles on a small asphalt track. Most people are more familiar with the name go-kart. They’re also called gearbox/shifter karts, depending on the design. By definition, the vehicles have no suspension or differential.
“It’s a serious miniature race car but the term go-kart is kind of a misnomer,” explained Jim Keesling, owner of The Track at Centennial. “They’re really calling the sport karting because the term go-kart insinuates something you bought for your backyard to race around with. The real competition cars are pretty impressive pieces of equipment. For the competition side, it’s a full-on racecar. The shifter karts that we race out here can go 120 miles per hour and have the capacity to pull a 3G around the corner.”
For some enthusiasts, this is the gateway sport to more expensive auto racing such as Champ Car racing or NASCAR. Normally, the downside to pursuing this hobby is the long drive to a rural area to find a track.
“Being here at Centennial Airport is great because there’s no noise ordinance,” said Jim Keesling, owner of The Track at Centennial. “This issue, or the perception of noise, is usually the biggest hurdle to overcome when opening a track.”
The Track at Centennial officially opened in April 2006 but was in the planning stages for two and a half years. It’s located on Eaglerock Road, the east side of the airport, near the intersection of South Potomac and Otero Road. The full track is eight-tenths of a mile and can also be reconfigured into two tracks running in either direction.
“Our track is unique because it’s not a flat piece of ground,” said Keesling. “There’s 24 feet of elevation change. It’s really one of a kind.”
Keesling hired a world famous designer, Alan Wilson, to create it. Wilson raced cars and motorcycles before he started designing the tracks. To date, Wilson has designed 26 tracks internationally. His most recent design is the Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City.
The Track at Centennial caters to individuals, groups and special events.
“Karting tracks are the new golf course,” explained Keesling. “Everybody knows how to drive, so the intimidation factor is very low. We have corporate parties. I hate the term ‘team building,’ but it really does get everybody working together and having fun at the same time.”
As with most tracks, there’s no need to bring equipment; suits, helmets, neck collars and karts are provided. It also has plans in the future to install a 2,500-square-foot storage facility for teams and individuals to store their karts. For a fee, The Track at Centennial will maintain and store your kart for you. Call ahead of time; they’ll have it warmed up and waiting upon arrival. Karts made by Birel may be purchased from their store if desired.
What most people don’t know is that karting isn’t only easy but is also a great way to stay in shape.
“I know it’s physically demanding because some people come back after seven minutes and say they’ve had enough,” said Keesling. “Karting tracks are still used today for training. Racing is more physical than running a marathon. With the heat and the G-force, there’s a lot of physical strength required just to keep the car running at full speed.”
According to Keesling, NASCAR, Indy Racing League or Champ Car World Series drivers are constantly training just to handle the forces put on them while racing.
“The force is three times your body weight being pushed through the corners,” said the speedster. “We have to wear protective gear so that the seat doesn’t crack our ribs. Shoulder and neck muscles are working to keep your helmet on straight. It also uses arm muscles, and lots of stamina is needed just to keep air in your system.”
With that said, Keesling reassures that the sport is safe and pilots don’t have to worry about injuring themselves while visiting during their lunch break.
“Pilots have a better understanding of how the game works,” said Keesling. “They’re usually fast right off the bat because they understand forces and what the kart’s trying to do. We have a lot of pilots in the racing club. They already have the mechanical ability, so it’s easy for them to maintain their kart.”
Keesling jokes that many pilots go too fast and run off the track.
“Sometimes they end up in the dirt and we have to dig them out. Someone mentioned at the airport that if you bounce a landing and everyone finds out about it, the pilot owes a case of beer. He suggested that maybe a case of beer would be an appropriate penalty for falling off the racetrack. Now our refrigerator stays fully stocked by the pilots,” chuckled Keesling. “If you’re fast enough, it’s pretty easy to go off the track.”
Keesling got started in the sport himself by going to a track and renting a kart on his free time. Then he started racing and loved it. The kart enthusiast says that to this day, he’s never had a bad day karting.
Before opening The Track at Centennial, Keesling enjoyed the thrill of racing 24-foot competitive sailboats. He was the president for the J24 sailing class for the country. He was also commodore of the Dillon Yacht Club. From 1992 through 2002, Keesling ran the Rocky Mountain Boatworks, a sailboat shop off of County Line Road but left during a drought-ridden summer. It was then that Keesling opened the Track at Centennial because there were no other tracks in the area, and he thought corporate events would be popular there.
The business owner also enjoys planning charitable events.
“I helped organize the Denver Gorilla Run, which is an event where you have to run a 5K in a gorilla suit to help the silver back mountain gorillas in Africa,” said Keesling.
His grandfather started the Morris Animal Foundation. However, it was his brother’s comical idea to have everyone running around in gorilla suits. This fall, Keesling plans to host a Gorilla Grand Prix at The Track at Centennial. The entry fee includes a gorilla suit to race in the kart.
“It will be in October, the weekend before Halloween, so everybody will have a gorilla suit in time for the holiday. The event will be Sunday following the Denver Gorilla Run,” said Keesling.
All proceeds will benefit the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, a separate organization the Keesling family’s been involved in for more than 25 years.
“People will be able to do something they enjoy and still help out an endangered species,” said Keesling. “We’ll have trophies for the kart race, but the big winner will be the one that raises the most money.”
Another event to mark on your calendar is July16, for The Track at Centennial’s grand opening.
“That weekend, we’ll have our first state race with more than 150 teams racing. There’ll be a full day of intense racing Sunday. People will be able see what competitions are like all the way from the 5-year-olds to us old guys,” said the owner.
The company’s also involved in traveling road events. It recently went to the Houston Grand Prix and is also planning to attend the Cleveland Grand Prix in June.
On your mark, get set, go! The Track at Centennial, located at 13600 Eaglerock Rd., is a great place to speed the hours away. Hours are from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., Tues. – Sun. Cost is $35 for 10 minutes.
For more information, call 303-708-9400 or visit [http://www.thetrack.us]. For more information about the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, visit [http://www.saveagorilla.org].