Karin Davis-Farage Is Cruising Towards A Cool New Career With Pole Position Raceway

Starting over is never easy, whether it’s in a relationship or in the workplace. But that’s just the position (ha) that Karen Davis-Farage found herself in. After 30 years working in the software industry, Davis-Farage had to figure out if she was going to make a return to her career — or contemplate something totally different like revving her entrepreneurial engine and becoming the President and Co-owner of Pole Position Raceway. Davis-Farage talked to Celebrity Parents about taking a leap of (financial) faith, what it’s like working with her husband, and why being an entrepreneur means always having a strong commitment to community.

How did Pole Position Raceway come to be?

I have 30 years working in the software industry on executive teams from small to very large companies. My husband was a contractor and designer for 28 years. I lost my job four years ago and I had never been without a job; I’ve only been with 5 or 6 companies for my entire career. I didn’t believe the skills that I had learned and the experience I had would transfer over. So I spent a year in a very down mode, and with very little self-esteem. My whole professional identity had been around that career.

We have three kids, and my oldest was on his way to college. My husband has an old Porsche and he told me years ago that as each of our kids goes to school that he wanted to do a cross country road trip with them. So my son got into USC in California and my husband and son built an itinerary traversing the U.S., going to the most beautiful places in the country doing the most exciting things. They jumped out of planes, rafted down rivers, shot rifles and bows, and when they got to Los Angeles, the last thing they did before my husband deposited my son at his dorm was do indoor electric go karting. And when my husband and son got out of their carts after their race, my son pulled up his visor and said, “Daddy, I know what you should do with the rest of your life.”

That’s a major moment. What was your reaction to starting something like this?

I was absolutely not on board. I was going back into the software industry; I had found another job on a leadership team. I told my husband that if he found a company that he wanted to bring to the East that did indoor electric go-karting that I would be supportive, but I would continue to be the member of our house that has a stable job in corporate America with benefits!

My husband found Pole Position Raceway; it had started in California in 2005. They built five Pole Position Raceways themselves as a corporate and their strategy for growth was to create a franchise or a licensed model. They did so but it was still the recession, and nobody could convince them to bring the brand somewhere else in the U.S. So in 2009, he found this space in Jersey City and his goal was that he wanted to build five in five years. In July 2009, he started getting trained by Corporate and it was at our kitchen table.

And I realized that it was all wrong because everything they were trying to teach him came naturally to me. It was operational, managing, and operating from a template, and things like time management, marketing, and sales. This was all the stuff I did for years. So the guys at Corporate said that we should think about our roles, and I decided to come in and took the roles of Operation and President and GM.

We’re really looking at taking the brand and making sure that we can keep it at the level of experience that represents the brand well and make it scalable and repeatable and we’ll probably have about 15 in a couple more years.

That’s incredible to build not just one location but so many.

We basically took everything we had in the world. I like to say my 401k is over here, and my mortgage is over there! [laughs] We really took everything we had and there are very few couples who would risk something that dramatic with three kids in private schools. My husband is a visionary and he’s never steered us wrong. I think it’s a little bit in his blood; he’s Israeli, so he grew up with risk and always the question of, “What will tomorrow look like?” and a feeling of living in the moment. I think it’s those attributes about him that make him the kind of person people would also be behind.

It’s so fascinating to see how, even though you had the skills necessary to take this on, that it was such a departure from your previous jobs.

The most important thing to us was since this is a second career for both of us, you kind of look at it like, “Well, what’s my legacy?” We’re selling a great experience, but we’re also looking around and asking, “What does this all mean for everyone around us?” We need to provide the best experience to our racers so that when they walk out the door, they’ve had such a great time that they can’t wait to walk back in again. And what’s also important to us is that we can be part of a community and that we give back to the community. So we created a give back charter; it’s something that I’ve always done in corporate America. It’s our own money and our own choice. It’s called CARS: C is for cancer, A is for Alzheimer’s, R is for recovery, and S is for those who are in it. Our first year we raised over $60,000. We want the community to know how much we appreciate that they come to us.

Now, I’m a child of the 80s and I loved playing Pole Position. Did your kids play?

They didn’t because I’m a little older. I didn’t know about Pole Position, but that’s why our name is Pole Position Raceway, because Pole Position is trademarked by Atari. So anytime someone says “Pole Position” I correct them because I have been trained. We’re not the game; we’re a raceway.

What can people expect when they come here? It’s definitely not a pixelated experience.

[laughs] No, no, no. We like to say that we’re all about authenticity, exhilaration, and safety. Authenticity because these cars come from Italy; they’re high=performance carts that can go up to 45 miles per hour. And we bead blast the track to make sure that the cart is optimized for the European track. The exhilaration comes because you’re on straightaways and you also have curves. You do have to learn and develop a strategy if you want to have fun with it.

We have a leaderboard so if somebody comes, they race 14 laps. It’s a very safe experience as well. These carts are electric, so there’s no emissions, no smell, and you don’t have to wear a suit. We also have a controller that can start, stop, speed up, or slow down any vehicle or cart on the track at any time.

What’s your fastest time?

I would never share it! [laughs] What I will say is that I’m 10 seconds away from the fastest time. I have a callus and that callus is proof that I love to race. When I go out there, I’m like, “Why don’t I spend more time out here? It’s so much fun.” Even though I don’t have the fastest time, our kids are some of the fastest racers on the planet.

It has a very family-friendly vibe to it.  

When people come in, we race everyone based on three different classes that reflect the regulations of the State of New Jersey. We race kids who are between the height 48-60 inches in a junior cart which is the same frame but goes more slowly. And the adults are classified based on if they have a driver’s license or not. The competency of someone driving on the track with a driver’s license will be better than someone who doesn’t have a license. There are medals for racers in first, second, or third place. We really pride ourselves on knowing what the goal is of your visit here and designing an event that meets your goals. It’s truly a fun day for a whole family.

Could you ever have imagined that you would switch from software to racing?

It is the most gratifying experience of my professional life. I was the one who didn’t believe in myself. It’s all truly a gift. If there’s anything I can do, it’s to make sure that our story inspires others who were put in the same position that I was in. It’s never an end; it’s about picking yourself up and being creative and believing. To self-fund is a gift, and to be a part of a community where you have choices on how you give back is a gift. To be an entrepreneur at this point in my life is a dream that I never dreamt. But now that I’m living it, I could never go back.

It didn’t matter if I was in corporate America. There are choices that you make for work-life balance. I used to travel all the time and my kids did great. But you have to set some guidelines and create some order because it can take over your life. There have been a lot of lessons learned and I’m personally trying to learn from others. It’s definitely been a ride for our family; our son has been very active in the business. They have learned what it takes to persevere, and they have been part of our journey.

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