BRAINTREE, MASS. — Alan Young yanks off his shiny black helmet, flashes the kind of grin that comes only with victory, and says to his buddy: "I'm all jiggy now."
He has just won his heat in a tire-screeching go-kart race against his co-workers. It was the moment he had been waiting for as he sat through a four-hour meeting just upstairs from the track at F1 Boston, a recreational and corporate-events facility in this Boston suburb.
With the karts topping out at 40 miles per hour, it's not quite NASCAR. But when it comes to motivating employees or entertaining business clients, this high-octane alternative to golf is catching on.
Popular in Europe for more than a decade, the year-round indoor tracks are turning America's 9-to-5ers into race-car drivers in cities from Seattle to Chicago.
F1 Boston sits atop a hill, past a few run-of-the-mill hotels. Shiny cars in the hall are set apart by red velvet ropes. Racing artwork hangs on the walls in meeting rooms that range in size from a small seminar area to 6,000 square feet.
Businesspeople come here annually to network during a big charity event. Individuals come to race other walk-ons. For corporate clients, pro racers will give tailored "motor-vational" talks - with racing as a metaphor for business and teamwork.
"People don't have to love racing and watch NASCAR every Sunday afternoon to want to come here - [it's for anyone] who has a competitive spirit and is looking for an outlet," says F1 spokesman Glen Ransden.
With companies squeezing their entertainment budgets, he says, racing is a good way to give people an interactive adventure that will make the lessons of the day stick in their minds.
The competitive spirit is on full display as Mr. Young and two dozen colleagues take turns racing after their meeting with Crown Lift, a Boston forklift company. Dressed in official red racing suits, clusters of men (and one woman) talk strategy on the sidelines and give the thumbs up to friends who are about to take the wheel. Out on the track, a few drivers get pulled into the "sin bin" after being warned for bumping other cars or otherwise breaking the rules.
"A lot of people don't play golf, but everybody can come here," says Rich Marshalsea, whose driving strategy at F1 Boston is to keep the throttle pedal floored at all times. It's easier to make it through a long meeting, he adds, when "you know something good's coming at the end of the day."
For the less-competitive types (i.e., this reporter), there's something to be gained from learning with each lap that you can take the tight curves faster without losing control. A transponder in the car keeps track of your speed on each lap, and you get a chart at the end - so you can compete against yourself if that's more your speed.
That's what I settle for as the two cars I'm "racing" whip ahead while I'm still adjusting to the stiff steering wheel and flashing lights. Maybe the safety- briefing video - with Kenny Loggins singing "Highway to the Danger Zone" in the background - made me nervous.
Somewhere around Lap 7, I start to relax and feel the thrill: 30 m.p.h. seems a lot faster when your seat is vibrating just inches above the road.
But can this kind of activity really create a more cohesive business team, as promoters claim?
As long as the team in question doesn't have serious conflicts, yes, says Gene Klann, a former US Army officer who works with the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C.
"There's a socialization that needs to happen [after the activity], not to sit down and debrief it, but maybe talking about it over food and drink.... You laugh about who made a fool of themselves or who really did well, and that can really be helpful in establishing a stronger esprit and morale on the team."
Next year, Crown Lift plans to bring the sales team back - and to do more socializing after the race by renting out F1's billiards room. Even without that, this year's participants say they feel rejuvenated.
"It's awesome," Young says. "We've all been working together for years, and this just helps bond us all together that much more. In a year we'll look back and remember this and laugh about it."